Teaching Africa: Africa Through the Lens

January 28th, 2019

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.

What responsibilities do teachers have when they view, share, and discuss media in the classroom?

Created to support school leaders, teachers, global programs coordinators, and others with a passion for global education, the Teaching Africa program is a series of interactive workshops which seeks to share insights and lessons learned from educating the next generation of African leaders.

The November 2018 workshop, titled Africa Through the Lens: Stories of a Continent Through Photography, Film & Social Media, was inspired by an African Studies course that is unique to the Academy and currently offered to our Year Two students. The day and a half long event invited attendees to connect new media sources to their own curriculum, supplementing and reinforcing their pre-existing text and lecture-based resources. Africa Through the Lens took participants on a journey to explore how they could use various forms of media to bring Africa-related topics to life in their classrooms.

Educators at Africa Through the Lens represented Phillips Exeter Academy, The Park School of Baltimore, Head Royce School, and The Westminster Schools

Led by Bowen Kelley and Lisa Simelane, two of ALA’s own faculty members, the workshop began with a wide-ranging survey of African media sources. The group looked at everything from maps and documentary photography, to newsreels and movies, to street portraits and fashion photos on social media. The variety of sources spanned the pre-colonial era, through recent history, and into the present-day. While discussing the importance of form, content, and context, educators also practiced using detailed terminology to describe sources’ framing, focus, style and more, ultimately building the skills and vocabulary to lead their own students through in-depth media and primary-source analysis.

Other sessions, included a discussion of best practices for grading creative assignments, a hands-on exercise with examples of creative project work, and a review of several grading rubrics used at ALA. The educators particularly enjoyed, “getting ideas for practical activities for class that work on multidisciplinary levels,” and, “the interplay of useful content and engaging activities.” At the end of a day packed full of content, the group enjoyed South African cuisine at a local Atlanta restaurant.

Teaching Africa-Africa Through the Lens
Teaching Africa workshop series
Teaching Africa Photo Practice

The following morning was devoted to discussing ethical dilemmas surrounding the creation and consumption of images of Africa. Acknowledging that everyone looks at media through the “lens” of their own personal biases, participants were challenged with questions such as, “What responsibilities do teachers have when they view, share, and discuss media in the classroom?”

These questions sparked further discussion on the influence that individuals' own social and cultural backgrounds can have when teaching about people and places that they haven't experienced firsthand. After much thoughtful dialogue on these and related matters, the workshop culminated with educators working together to develop a set of guidelines for teaching Afrocentric content ethically.

In addition to all of the content gleaned from the workshop, attendees were inspired by the chance to interact with others who shared their passion. Attendees listed “collegiality,” “great ideas and conversation,” and “the combination of genuine enthusiasm and expertise,” as their favorite parts of the event. In the words of one participant, the workshop, "enabled a group of strangers to become a cohesive, collegial, and energetic group of collaborators.” ALA is grateful to all of those who attended and extends thanks to The Westminster Schools for hosting such a wonderful event!


As we celebrate the success of this most recent workshop and look forward to the next one, we invite you to become a part of this exciting, collaborative network. Discourse on Diversity: Meaningful Conversations on Identity and Culture in the African Diaspora will take place at Grace Church School in New York City from Thursday, March 7th to Friday, March 8th. Register to join.



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This is an article from the ALA Journey Journal – the blog that tracks our 50 year journey to develop 6000 leaders. Visit the Journal here.


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