A year ago, a series of bizarre, and fate ridden events changed my life. After working with my students on a Genius Hour project involving Zambia, an email on the NHSLMA list-serv came across my laptop looking for a elementary librarian in Lusaka, Zambia. My students had raised $3000.00 to support a circus school for extremely poor children located in Lusaka. Furthermore, this job had some connections to Plymouth State University, of which I was attending. Being a small town NH librarian for many years and working in education for thirty, had put me on a path of predictability, comfort, and stability. That all changed February 2017, when I applied and accepted the position of Primary Librarian at the American International School of Lusaka, Zambia.
If you had asked me two years ago if I thought I would be living in Africa, I would have laughed. If you had asked me a year and a half ago if I would choose to give up my position at my NH school and stay in Zambia for 2 more years, I would have thought you were delusional. So what made me, someone who had never traveled internationally and always worked in my small community, jump on a plane to fly over 7,000 miles away and work in a city with over 2.7 million people? Two words: challenge and growth.
I have always wanted my students to challenge themselves, become risk takers, and embrace change. I thought modeling this behavior was appropriate and overdue. Once I arrived in Zambia, I had no idea how very challenging the transition would be. Everything was new, and I mean everything. Aside from the personal and cultural challenges, every tech tool for documentation, all rules and protocols, the entire curriculum, and students from 42 different countries with names that were hard to pronounce were all unfamiliar to me. By far, the curriculum has been the most challenging component of this process.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) curriculum is intricate, intense, and involved. Although I took a course before arriving, I found myself drowning in a curriculum with new vocabulary that was embedded in a well laid out format, but was quite dense. I was expected to have weekly library classes with students in preschool through 5th grade. However, I also was expected to work with my Tech. Integrator on a brand new pilot program of teaching during the point of need during Units of Inquiry. Meaning, during specific units, we went into classrooms to support and teach with the grade teams. At this point, I was still struggling with the curriculum and trying to learn what prior knowledge my students already had. Furthermore being an International School, students frequently move around. It is not unusual for students to stay for 2-4 years and move to another country. A significant amount of students will move during the school year. Within all of this, I needed to learn and promote the IB Learner Profile. To say I was overwhelmed at times, is an understatement.
So why did I choose to stay? There are several reasons but the first is: Support. AISL values its teachers and staff and provides an amount of support I have never seen. With all the challenges, I knew that someone was always ready to assist me when I required it. Another reason is simply because this curriculum does inquiry right. Back in the States I was attempting to use student inquiry more in my lessons. Here, I am still wrapping my head around the process and have made some gains but there is still so much to learn. It has also given me perspective as a learner and acknowledging what a steep learning curve I am encountering makes me more empathic to the plight of students walking into a new classroom. I am constantly challenged, intrigued, and learning. These are things I want my students to do on a regular basis. I wish I had known about IB when I was developing my own program back in the States as implementing some if its techniques makes so much sense. Students engage in inquiry and problem solving like I have not witnessed before.
The beauty of all of this is that although I am an IB PYP Librarian in Zambia, I must maintain my NH license so I am still a NH Librarian, and proud of it. I will say the support of NHSLMA is something I still count on heavily to help me through the challenges. Lastly, as I enter a new decade of my life, I am proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Jill Canillas Daley
PYP Librarian American International School of Lusaka Zambia at AISL