Connecting Educators Through the Teaching Africa Workshop Series

African Leadership Academy’s Teaching Africa program started with two successful pilot events in 2017. It features a series of professional development workshops that explore interdisciplinary approaches to teaching about the continent of Africa.

Early March marked the second edition of this series during the 2018-19 school year. As with previous workshops, the event brought together a diverse group of educators from across the United States to exchange insights and ideas, while exploring curriculum that ALA faculty has used in teaching the next generation of African leaders. With sessions on a variety of cross-curricular topics, the Teaching Africa series supports school leaders, teachers, global programs coordinators, and others with a passion for global education.

The recent March workshop, hosted by Grace Church School, was themed Discourse on Diversity: Meaningful Conversations on Identity and Culture in the African Diaspora, with interactive sessions covering content, pedagogy, and ethics. Fifteen teachers from ten different schools gathered for this day-and-a-half long workshop in New York City, more than doubling the size of the previous Teaching Africa event in Atlanta. The workshop was led by Lisa Simelane, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Academy, and Bowen Kelley, an experienced African Studies teacher.

Participants started by developing a comprehensive understanding of the term “African Diaspora,” and all that it encompasses. Building upon that foundation, they were then introduced to a variety of Diaspora-related sources, from medieval paintings of Saint Mauritius, to interactive maps depicting centuries of Trans-Atlantic slave trade shipping, to contemporary Afropolitan movies, music, and news. Studying the bustling slave market that operated on land that’s now known as Wall Street brought the lesson full circle, showing yet another way for educators to engage with content that brings the African continent to life in the classroom.

As the day progressed, the workshop’s focus shifted to pedagogy and participants engaged in animated discussion on the difference between discourse and dialogue. A deep dive into Socratic and Freirean frameworks as well as the Harkness method led to thought-provoking conversations on how dialogue methods could be used to increase shared understanding of ideas in middle and high school classrooms. The afternoon culminated with a study of Sibaya, a traditional meeting in the country of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) that allows every citizen to gather and engage in dialogue around matters of national importance. One participant remarked that the hands-on activities and group collaboration made these sessions particularly impactful.

The following morning, facilitators led a Sibaya of their own. Lisa and Bowen called on participants to reflect on their personal cultural backgrounds and identities, before gathering to discuss how these affect discourse within their home classrooms. Educators were deeply engrossed in the exercise, stating afterwards that they found it engaging, informative, and generative to the ongoing discussion.

Before departing, participants were treated to a visit from students at Grace Church School who are alumni of the Academy’s summertime Global Scholars Program. Their passion and enthusiasm for learning more about the African continent and engaging with African Leadership Academy ended the workshop on an inspiring note.

Although it was bittersweet to close this final workshop of the academic year, many participants are already eager for the next season of Teaching Africa workshops. “I can’t wait to repeat this experience so I can cement some of the techniques in my own repertoire.”

African Leadership Academy and the Teaching Africa team extends our sincerest thanks to Grace Church School for hosting the workshop, as well as to all of the participants whose engagement and insights contributed to yet another successful event.

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