Teamwork in the Classroom: Greater than the Sum of its Parts

Translator Arien helps Tasneem and Lana communicate with intern Laura The dynamics between international interns and local volunteers are crucial to the success of TYO's English language classes.  The team's performance not only influences the classroom atmosphere and students' engagement, but it sets a powerful example.  Through these classes, children regularly experience an environment driven by positive relationships - relationships that transcend gender, language, nationality and culture.  All of these factors could be perceived as potential barriers to harmonious interaction, and indeed, the children may not have encountered this type of situation before.  However, TYO’s non-formal educational techniques help children to develop valuable life skills.  Self-confidence, respect, communication and teamwork are some of the capacities nurtured through art and craft, drama, sport and games during English classes.  Local, native Arabic speakers make a considerable impact in terms of their ability to handle cultural nuances and recognise behavioral signals that internationals may not easily identify.  In this way, volunteers are instrumental as additional 'eyes' and 'ears' for the intern, who must closely focus on the timing and content of the lessons, and thus cannot always detect signs of frustration, reticence or similar indicators that may require additional support.

Cooperation between volunteers and interns is particularly expedient to ensure smooth transitions between class activities.  Transitions can be tricky to execute, but an orderly approach is fundamental to TYO's desire to provide a structured environment when supporting children whose lives may be characterised by instability and discord.  In order for interns and volunteers to deliver fruitful and engaging classes as a team, communication must extend beyond the classroom.  Discussion in advance of lessons helps to prepare the team to lead the planned activities and to adopt different roles within them.  Post-lesson debriefs are equally important: interns glean valuable information from soliciting volunteers' opinions and feedback, to shape forthcoming activities and report progress towards learning objectives.  On-going communication guarantees meaningful involvement for every member of the team, demonstrating that each one of us is a contributor to an evolving process.

TYO's Youth Service Learning Program furnishes local volunteers with much sought-after practical work experience, as well as professional training sessions.  Leadership opportunities in the classroom are a critical source of empowerment, and as such, interns are keen to entrust each volunteer with responsibilities for class activities.  Tasks are usually fulfilled most successfully when assigned according to volunteers' individual strengths; however, challenging them to move beyond their perceived capabilities both enhances their self-confidence and allows them to support the students in ways that their teachers may never have done for them.  Ultimately, each team's priority in the classroom is to maintain a safe space for children and youth to develop psychosocial skills and to learn in a positive and encouraging atmosphere.

These examples of teamwork between interns and volunteers have begun to be mirrored by the children.  At the beginning of this session, many of us encountered resistance or hesitation concerning mixed gender participation, cultural interaction and creative confidence. However, now in our eighth week, such difficulties have dissipated as relationships between interns, volunteers and children have blossomed.  These relationships are all underscored by trust,  and it is trust that continues to drive our collective contributions in the classroom.

-TYO Interns, Laura, Katherine, and Mariella

This program - as part of Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!) - is sponsored in part by the Abdul Hamid Shoman Foundation.