International Award Winning Teaching Techniques? We Got 'Em!

On March 13, 2016, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization was delighted to hear that the most prestigious award in all of teaching, the Global Teacher Prize, was awarded to a Palestinian teacher named Hanan al Hroub.  Hanan, who teaches at the Samiha Secondary School in Bethlehem, has inspired many throughout Palestine and within TYO. The Global Teachers Prize was created in order to spotlight the important work of all teachers around the world, and awards a 1 000 000 USD prize to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the teaching profession. Hanan’s success, and its recognition, is well-deserved. Ms. al Hroub grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem, where she and other children were frequently exposed to acts of violence.  Now she works with children who, like so many children throughout Palestine, have experienced great trauma in their lives.  But the children of Palestine do not need to be defined by their trauma. Hanan adopted a ‘No to Violence’ mantra that permeated her teaching and she focused her curriculum specifically on the benefits of learning through play.  In her classroom, supportive group work is encouraged, and she focuses on the individual needs of the students and rewards positive behaviour.  The effects of such dedication on her students is palpable.  

TYO shares many of these values and we have also seen some amazing successes using alternative teaching methods to engage our students. While rote memorization may have its uses, there are so many different ways to get kids and adults excited about learning! On any given day in TYO, you can find classes incorporating movement into lessons, writing and performing skits, analyzing songs, and even studying scenes from movies. All age groups can benefit from more creative approaches to teaching and we are so proud to help provide support to the community in Nablus.

When this session started back in February, students of the  STEP! II English as a Foreign Language (EFL) class for adults were not used to these alternative teaching styles.  School meant one thing – memorization – and this certainly did not appeal to everyone. Especially with a beginner adult class, teachers can struggle with appropriate content; the students are fully-fledged adults, with complicated, astute, and deep thoughts about the world.  Yet they lack the vocabulary and confidence to express these ideas, and so they are left studying endless variations of “The dog goes to the store.”  Needless to say, this can get boring.  

Last week, in one of the beginner classes, we listened to instrumental music from around the world.  Students were then inspired to write how the music made them feel – to see if Vivaldi’s Four Seasons sounded like the seasons, for example.  This reinforced vocabulary from previous lessons, such as emotions, while giving students a chance to express more complicated ideas and show their inner thoughts.  The results were remarkable! Students responded so positively to the activity, and wrote descriptions that were beautiful in their simplicity. When listening to the first movement of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, one student wrote, “When I listen[ed to] the music [I] remember [my] Grandma when she care[d] for me and move[d] my hair.” So much would have been lost in a traditional classroom setting – the student would not be exposed to this new piece of music, would not get a chance to try and write a more nuanced idea, and would not be inspired to seek out new vocabulary like nostalgia to better represent her thoughts. Additionally, the teacher would lose out on this chance to recognize and connect with the inner lives of the students.

Teaching must go beyond the textbook.  TYO has embraced this philosophy wholeheartedly and it enriches the lives of both our students and our staff everyday. Hanan al Hroub embraced this philosophy, and she has bettered the lives of countless Palestinian children and now inspires millions across the globe.  Once again, our sincerest congratulations to Ms. al Hroub.  Palestine is lucky to have such a teacher in its midst.


The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.


Ally, EFL Fellow, Spring 2016