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Building Community Through Chants and Dance while training Primary Teachers in Bangladesh: A Reflection Journey

Back in 2022, I took the assignment of training Primary ESL teachers for a government project in Bangladesh for four months. I had the privilege to meet 44 brave and resilient teachers who taught me about strength way more than I could teach them about pedagogy.

Living amidst the scorching heat of Dhaka during Ramadan presented unique challenges for my students, 99% Muslim, and me as a teacher trainer. After two months of highly motivated and professional participants I saw a sudden decay in morale and levels of energy. We had 5 hours a day of class, Monday to Friday, and they did not have air conditioning in their rooms. We were woken up at 3:30 am everyday by the marches of people banging pots who I imagine said in Bangla, wake up! wake up!. Normally, schools can have reduced schedules during Ramadan, understandably, however the institution who organised the courses had a very Western centric view and did not change the schedule at all. It was suddenly like teaching a different class, they seem to be climbing the Everest daily, some got sick and many demotivated.

Despite the blazing temperatures and the physical toll of fasting, my primary goal remained unchanged: to support the growth and uplift the spirits of my students, who were clearly facing immense challenges in their learning journey.

As I reflect on this transformative experience, I am reminded of the power of community-building in nurturing a positive learning environment. Just as I sought to infuse joy and camaraderie into our classroom amidst adversity,  I shifted my focus towards fostering their emotional well-being and enhancing peer support. Implementing more frequent emotional check-ins, I provided dedicated time for group discussions to address their evolving challenges and coping mechanisms at the start and end of each class session.

Additionally, I introduced an innovative practice of "Class Chants", crafting motivational lyrics myself, tailored to their needs and incorporating simple choreography to uplift spirits and foster a sense of class unity. I got the idea out of their monthly "Feast", as they called it, that were fantastic community events organised by them where they would sing, read poetry, do comedy sketches and even dance. I learnt that Bangladeshi people of all walks of life love to recite poetry and sing, as they worship their amazing Noble Prize poet Rabindranath Tagore. In this case, I was tapping on something that was already present in their culture, and in this group in particular with many of them being very talented at poetry and singing, and using it in a context of formal education.

The response exceeded my expectations, with students eagerly requesting the chants daily and expressing heightened emotional well-being. Even after Ramadan concluded, they continued the tradition, culminating in a special performance at the official closing ceremony. Despite the constraints, my students excelled academically, and we maintained our curriculum schedule seamlessly. Fostering a culture of open dialogue and mutual support transcended the limitations imposed by external circumstances.

At the heart of this journey lies a profound truth: community building and emotion management is not merely a pedagogical tool but a transformative practice that empowers students to embrace their unique inner strength, motivation and community resilience.

As educators, we have the privilege and responsibility to create spaces where students feel seen, heard, and valued. By embracing community building and emotion management as a cornerstone of our pedagogical practice, we pave the way for meaningful growth and collective flourishing in the classroom and beyond.

1 Comment

Jun 22

This is amazing. Thank you!

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