The other day the education team was huddled around the table at Nyabikaye discussing school management best practices and drafting a plan for our school. The topic of the hour was how to set and enforce rules effectively. Sabora was sharing his thoughts on how teachers around here typically maintain order in the classroom. The approach is usually one of punishment and uncontested authority.

Moses softly spoke up and suggested that we implement an approach centered on guidance and counseling rather than strict discipline. When he was a teacher, his school asked students to draft rules for their classroom during the first week of school. Students embraced the responsibility, thoughtfully crafting a set of rules. The first item on their list was “No phones in the classroom” – a clear message that students expected the teacher to be engaged.  The rules were comprehensive and focused on respect for their peers and creating a positive learning environment. The idea of empowering students in this way is uncommon here but effective.

The other team members looked a bit skeptical but Moses went on to say that the students enforced the rules with their peers, teachers and visitors. Upon breaking a rule, students were quick to seek forgiveness and correct their behavior. In a place where kids are frequently caned and disciplined, teachers enjoy free reign and school is often more of a holding pen, you can imagine how novel it for the students to be trusted with such a responsibility.

The team latched onto the idea. They decided it is not only an effective way to engage and inspire students, but it is also a powerful way to monitor teachers. The discussion had evolved into a brainstorm about designing a school that prized students’ development and let them know it by providing meaningful ways to contribute and participate. We talked of student-run leadership clubs, a student-led newspaper or radio, a shamba (farm) planted and harvested by the students that would be used for a feeding program…  We talked of experiential learning and unconventional teaching tactics. It was a creative breakthrough. I could see their minds deviating from the way “things are done” and branching into the “way things should be done” territory.

As we continue to form a management plan for this school, it is essential that we think outside the box – and not blindly accept the way things are now as the way they must be. We have to think critically and creatively. We have to solve problems and be innovative. It took courage for my team to shed those perceived boundaries and take the plunge toward innovation.  The value of wild ideas is a tough thing to teach but this week I think we made some serious headway.