Can arts and culture change young lives in Sierra Leone?

Joe Hallgarten is co-founder of Global Arts Learning Action, and senior associate with the Innovation Unit and has recently joined the World Class team. His experience and contribution as an educator is second to none; here is a fascinating glimpse into his latest work in arts education and culture in Sierra Leone…

I got used to the noise, but never quite adjusted to the heat. Whilst, by the end of my too-short first-ever week in Freetown, I could happily navigate the madness of Lumley Junction, I was still sweating as much on day seven as on day one.

What was I doing hre? I’m the co-founder of Global Arts Learning Action. Our mission is to encourage and enable lower income countries to place arts learning at the heart of their education systems, and to mobilise the world’s educators and artists to support these endeavours. We believe that more, better learning through dance, film, literature, music and theatre can help to transform children’s life chances and give them the skills and qualities that will help them thrive. Art-rich learning can also nurture vibrant civil societies, where creativity and freedom of expression are valued. Unfortunately, arts education remains a very low priority in every education system in the world. Whilst the Sustainable Development Goals are galvanising education reforms in low-income countries, reforms are tending not to prioritise the arts in national curricula, assessments or in depictions of effective pedagogy. Whilst, given the extraordinary and immediate challenges that countries like Sierra Leone face in terms of pupil enrolment, teacher quality and, above all, literacy levels, this may not be surprising; but it may also be a missed opportunity. There is evidence from around the world that high quality arts learning can help address these very challenges.

I was invited to Sierra Leone by two school groups — Educaid and Rising Academies — to explore how our idea might work in a particular context. As well as meeting with teachers and pupils, I discussed our emerging plans with government officials and artists, entrepreneurs and politicians. It was clear from day one that education is an issue which Sierra Leone’s citizens care deeply about. On one day, newspapers led with stories of unpaid teachers. On another, headlines revealed accusations of exam board corruption. I had read about Sierra Leone’s low school completion rates, especially amongst girls, its high levels of illiteracy, and its chronic lack of education funding. But as I saw schools who creatively converted classrooms by day into dormitories by night for the most vulnerable children, or who only had ancient books and blackboards to work with, I far better understood the daily challenges that students and teachers face across Sierra Leone.

As well as encountering the generosity of so many people in Freetown, I was also heartened by the way people engaged with and offered critical insights to what is still a very half-formed idea. It’s so difficult to summarise all my thoughts, but here are three insights:

First, in terms of the arts and culture, Sierra Leone has a rich, impressive history to draw on, and a growing artistic talent base which could be harnessed to support schools. A strong tradition of making great theatre has been undermined by the civil war and Ebola. Visionaries such as Charlie Hafner are doing their best to sustain and grow these traditions, in difficult circumstances. Similarly, Ballanta Academy is keeping both traditional and modern music making alive amongst young people in Freetown. Many people I spoke to, including younger artists and filmmakers, were passionate about Sierra Leone reviving stronger expressions of its own cultural outputs, rather than accepting the increasing domination of Nigerian culture in particular. Global university Limkokwing has recently opened a new campus in Freetown, working with the government to provide scholarships for over a thousand students to study creative and IT-related degrees and diplomas. Everyone from the Minister of Culture to Esther, the young gospel singer I met outside the Ministry, saw the arts as fundamental to the regeneration of Sierra Leone, and to the ongoing quest to promote the civic values that provide the best insulation against any return to civil conflict. As renowned theatre academic and former Minister of Information Professor Cecil Blake asserted, ‘arts can be a powerful force for social change in Sierra Leone’.

Second, whilst resources and capacity are of course an issue in almost all schools in Sierra Leone, the biggest barrier may still be the curriculum and assessment systems. Although the arts is included in primary schools, assessed through the ‘creative and practical arts’ track at BECE/lower secondary, and an optional strand for the WAACE, the curriculum is in urgent need of an update. It favours knowledge and understanding — for instance, of types of animal hides — over the nurturing of any creative responses or expressions. Young people in Sierra Leone don’t lack curiosity — far from it. But at school, they tend to lack the space and encouragement to pursue this curiosity and express their ideas and emotions.

Third, both pupils and teachers are very keen to experience more arts learning opportunities in and out of school. Many teachers I met told me of the teachers whose arts teaching inspired them as pupils. They were also keen to tell me about their own artistic interests and talents — from rapping to poetry, drawing to dance. They were desperate to bring these interests into their teaching, so they could inspire pupils in similar ways. Teachers in Sierra Leone are widely criticised for old-fashioned methods and a lack of commitment, but the teachers I met were motivated and ready to learn and teach in different ways.

So I returned to the relative cool of London much more optimistic about the chances of success and impact in Sierra Leone. It seems that there is an appetite amongst both educators and artists for a new programme that builds on existing initiatives, is locally owned and encompasses curriculum innovation, teacher training, and new school-artist partnerships. Over the next few months, We’ll be talking to more people in and outside the country. We hope to return in December, having secured support from global foundations and companies, and work with local partners to co-design a programme that can start from 2018.

So imagine if, over the next generation, arts became central to all young Sierra Leonean’s lives, in and out of school. What might be the impact and benefits, for young people themselves and for Sierra Leone’s society? How might we get there? And how could you, as citizens, parents and educators, contribute? As one of Sierra Leone’s most successful musicians Emmerson said to me: ‘we artists are here, we are ready to help.’


Objectives then activities
As a teacher, it can be tempting to think of an activity and then base some learning around it. However, this could mean that you end up wasting time tasking your students with something that has no end goal. Instead, always start with a learning objective and then base an activity around this. That way you can always be sure that they are going to reach their goal.

Think about whether everyone needs a recap
Children are different, and they have different approaches to learning. You are likely to find that some will need a direct instruction in order to get a task completed, whereas others can work alone or in groups. During the lesson you may need to give a recap of the learning or what is expected, however, you may find that this is only necessary for some of the children, rather than all of the children.
Decrease the distractions
Distractions, in whatever form they come in can be harmful to lessons. What you may not realise however is that you may be the one causing the distractions. Sometimes you will need some additions to your standard approach to teaching, but all the flashy extras may end up distracting your students rather than helping them.
Structure your lessons well
One way that you can make the most of your lesson time is to structure it as best you can. Of course, no two lessons are the same, but you will have a rough idea of how a lesson is best organised. A great way to get a lesson underway is start with an activity that is linked to the previous lessons learning. Not only does this get the students focused on working, but also encourages them to think about their previous learning.
Think about lessons as a sequence 
Whilst lessons are separate in the sense of time, they often follow each other in a sequence, with the learning linked. If your aim is to guide students towards an end learning goal, then you will want to make sure that lessons are ordered in a logical way. Not only so that they make sense, but also so you can pick up on any gaps in learning that you have noticed.
Be prepared
There is so much that can be said for being prepared. In fact, teachers can soon learn that a large chunk of their time is taken up, simply by not preparing properly for a lesson. They should have all their resources out and ready on the tables, or at least be prepared to hand them out as soon as the students take their seats. They should also have stationary to hand, the whiteboards premade and any websites that will be used ready to go.
 Structure a routine
The best friend of being prepared has to be the routine. Routine’s offer a consistent approach to lessons, and makes sure that students know what is expected of them, as well as what to expect. Routines can come in the form of passing around lesson material, entering the classroom and leaving the classroom too.
Provide written instructions
Written instructions are important to a lesson, no matter whether they are printed out or on the board. They offer the students something to refer back to, when they need it, meaning that you minimise the time spent re-explaining things and clarifying what they need to do.
Manage negative behaviour
One of the main causes of wasted behaviour for many schools is negative behaviour from students. There are a number of ways that you can manage this negative behaviour and it really will depend on the age of your students, as well as the students misbehaving too. Sometimes all you need is to let them know that you have noticed their behaviour perhaps with non-verbal communication.
Pay attention during the class for feedback
How often do you monitor the work that is being done by your students? Chances are that it isn’t as much as you should. Lesson time is often wasted when a child hasn’t understood the task and is getting things wrong. It may seem like it would take more time to go around and ensure that every student understands what they need to do, but the truth is that this can be beneficial for the students and for their learning. You can tackle issues as they pop up, and challenge students that are finding the work too easy.

No matter which way you go about it, it is important that you try your best to make every minute count in your lesson. Do you have any additional tips for maximising learning in the classroom? Comment below or find us on Facebook or Twitter.


Do you spend more time managing behaviour than teaching? Are you at your wits’ end trying to control some of the children in your class?  These ten tips should help you gain control and get back to doing what you do best:  teach.


Rules are important to establish expectations of behaviour in the classroom.  Ideally, rules should be discussed and decided upon by the whole class, in order that the children understand why they’re needed.  They are more likely to abide by the rules if they are involved in writing them. Limit the number of rules to no more than 5 and make sure they are phrased positively. Rules should be clearly displayed and children reminded of them frequently.

Understanding the Behaviour

All behaviour happens for a reason and is a way for the child to communicate with us. We need to look beyond the behaviour to what’s driving it.  It’s important we address the causes of the challenging behaviour, rather than just managing it when it happens. By meeting the child’s needs, we can prevent it from happening again in the future.  Reflect on what happened and look for patterns by using an Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence (ABC) chart.  Be proactive, rather than reactive.

Building a Relationship 

According to James Comer, “No significant learning happens without a significant relationship”. Having a positive relationship also encourages the children to behave appropriately, and will make your behaviour strategies more effective.  Use every opportunity to get to know the children; greet them as they come in, find time out of the classroom at break time and lunch time to chat, show an interest in them and their lives.  Your interest may be rejected at first; you need to be committed to building trust. Little and often works best.


A countdown is useful at the end of an activity, as it gives children time to finish what they’re doing.  For example, 5…. Finish the sentence you’re on, 4…. Put your pens down, etc.  This is especially important for children with additional needs or attachment issues as they find change and transition particularly difficult.  Countdowns are also useful for getting the children’s attention.  For example, “Give me 5” (show high 5 with your hand):  5… Eyes on me, 4 … Ears listening, etc.  A “High 5 hand” listing the steps can also be displayed on the wall.


The ‘Attention Rule’ states that what we give attention to, we will get more of. Children strive for our attention and if they’re not getting it for positive behaviour they will often resort to negative behaviour.  This means that effective praise is a really powerful strategy.  Make sure praise is genuine, immediate and labelled, e.g., “Well done for putting your hand up, Zach.”  Use proximity praise to make sure attention is given to those doing what you’ve asked; praise the ones lining up on either side of the child who isn’t. Praise the challenging children more often – spot the good. Use more subtle praise for those who find it hard to accept; thumbs up, pat on the back, wink.

Tactical Ignoring 

The Attention Rule also means that tactical ignoring works well to eliminate unwanted low-level behaviours, but it’s not easy.  Start by saying what you want; “Hands up, who knows…” then ignore those who are calling out.  Ignoring means no interaction; no glowering, raised eyebrows, tutting. The ignored behaviour will usually get worse before it gets better, as the child seeks the point at which you will give in.  You must continue to ignore until the behaviour stops, then make sure you look for the next opportunity to praise.

Secondary Behaviours 

These are the additional behaviours that children engage in, often in protest to doing something you’ve asked.  For example, putting their gum in the bin but kicking a chair on the way past, or rolling their eyes, or muttering under their breath.  They’re trying to get a response out of you but if they’re doing what you’ve asked, don’t rise to the provocation of any secondary behaviour; ignore it and use labelled praise for doing what you’ve asked them to do. You can always make a note of and address the secondary behaviour later.


Using choices is a great way to get the behaviour you want, whilst teaching children to take responsibility for their actions. For example, “You can either put the football cards away in your drawer, or put them on my desk. It’s up to you, it’s your choice.” You could also add a consequence – make sure it’s logical –  which helps children learn that their choices have consequences and teaches them to make good choices, e.g. “You can either continue to play with your football cards and I will take them away until the end of the day, or you can put them in your drawer now and then take them out at break. It’s up to you, it’s your choice.”

‘When – Then’

‘When-Then’ is another great strategy for getting the behaviour you want, without nagging. However, the ‘Then’ must be something the child wants to do, e.g., “When you have finished that sentence, then you can go out to break”.  By using ‘When’ instead of ‘If’, there is an assumption that the child will do what they have been told to do and there is no room for argument. If the child does try to argue, just repeat the statement like a “broken record”.

Clear Instructions & Positive Language 

Often, the way we give instructions to children is not as clear as it could be.  Remember, children are usually very literal.  If we say to them, “Would you like to put your books away now?” they could quite easily say, “No.” Don’t phrase instructions as a question, simply say, “Put your books away, thank you.” Saying ‘thank you’ assumes compliance, whereas, ‘please’ sounds like you are asking and not necessarily expecting compliance.  When giving a child an instruction, use their name to ensure you have their attention.

Always use positive language; say what you want, not what you don’t want.  If you say, “Don’t run”, children hear ‘run’, so instead say, “Walk, please”.  Children are more likely to do what they hear you say, as mentioned above for rules.

We hope these tips are useful starters for taming the children in your class! Remember not to take it personally as all behaviour is for a reason.  Think about WHY the child is behaving the way they are.  It might be the only way they can think of to express their needs.  We need to understand them to make our behaviour management strategies most effective.

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Stamp out Ineffective Exam Study with these Simple Solutions

What is the secret to successful exam study? All too often, pupils think they have mastered the art of studying for examinations, leading to a false sense of security. There is always room for improvement. If they fail to organise their study time properly, they will probably not do themselves justice in the exam.

Students use different coping strategies to prepare for exams. As their teacher, you are no doubt supporting them through this stressful period by giving them advice, guidance, and sensible tips to help them reach their true potential. We’ve gathered together some helpful tips which you might like to pass on. Please share any of your top tips with us.

Quit reading for the sake of reading

How many times have you read a page of a book then had to go back over the same page again because you didn’t digest any of the information contained within the text? This happens frequently during revision periods. The mind wanders, you lose focus and concentration, you are reading a passage but your brain isn’t taking anything in. Simply reading a text book is an act of passive study. Encourage pupils to engage with the information they are reading by writing, drawing and analysing the information they are being provided with. Get your brain busy with the material to fully understand what is written on the page.

Be proactive with your time

Organise a careful sturdy plan that ensures you allocate enough time to each individual topic. If you know you are stronger at some subjects than others, work the study time around this so you can spare more time to study the areas you have difficulty with. A wall chart can be useful when you are planning for exams. Jot down each individual exam date and have a structure of revision in place that helps you to revise for each topic in plenty of time.

Don’t rely on single cramming sessions

Putting all your eggs into one basket by carrying out single cramming sessions can be a risky exam strategy. It’s much better to revise for individual exams a week or so before the date, then have smaller cramming sessions for each subject a little closer to the date.

Rest your brain

Your brain will only be able to absorb so much information during one cramming session and it is bound to forget some of the most important details. Revisit individual subjects as much as you can to really achieve the grades you want.

Remove all distractions

Be strict when you are revising. Having your mobile next to you or your laptop open on your favourite social networking site is a recipe for disaster if you are trying to concentrate on studies.  Leave anything that might distract you out of the room, whether this is your tablet, smartphone, or your pals! Revising with other people might seem like a great idea at the time but unless you are extremely disciplined, which is very unlikely, you really are better off working on your own.

Ask for help if this is required

ASk for help

No matter how confident you feel about certain subjects, or how adept you are at studying for exams, there will always be topics you struggle with or parts of the syllabus you simply don’t understand.  Don’t ignore this if you are struggling to revise key topics at home. Seek help from your friends or ask the teacher for assistance and get them to explain it to you. As a teacher, you can encourage this by making it very clear that nobody understands everything straight away. Sometimes, all a pupil need is some very basic pointers to make everything nice and clear.

Take brilliant notes

Note taking is a bit of an art. Students either take too many notes or don’t take enough, failing to get the balance right. This only becomes apparent when the pupil is back at home trying to revise and they realise the notes they have taken are woefully inadequate. Effective note taking is a vital part of revision study.  For starters, take down anything that is written on a whiteboard or projected onto a screen. If your teacher has written it down it has to be important. Next, listen for audible clues during lectures such as, “Here are a few key points” or something similar. If the teacher is stressing a point it should be notated for use afterward.  Listen out for verbal clues to become an amazing note taker!

Don’t leave it too late!

late night study

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when revising for exams is to leave studying until the very last minute. As already mentioned, you have to be proactive with your study time and have a structured plan in place to effectively cope with exam stress. Plan your time efficiently and never stay up late studying for a test you have the next day.  Sure, you might think this last minute cramming session will keep everything fresh in your mind but you couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, you will simply go to sleep with your mind buzzing and your sleep pattern will suffer as a result. You’ll be tired the next day, your brain will feel frazzled, and this is going to affect your performance.  Do some revision the night before but get to sleep at a decent time so you feel fighting fit and fully refreshed in readiness for your exam.

Pass this advice to your pupils and you will actively encourage them to adopt effective study methods.

If you have any other tips for effective exam preparation, please let us know by mailing Corinne at We will try to incorporate them in future blog posts.

Whatever level you teach, if you are looking for London teaching jobs we are sure to have the perfect fit for you here at World Class Teachers.  Simply submit your CV to us today, contact us online or call +44 (0)208 579 4501 to embark on your next teaching challenge.

Learn How to Develop a Positive Pupil-Teacher Relationship for Increased Classroom Success

Your pupils, like everyone else, enjoy feeling valued and cared for by the significant people in their lives. Teachers play a pivotal role in the life of young people and understanding how to make the most of this relationship is an integral part of helping your pupils to reach their full potential. When your students feel that you value them as individuals and their contributions, they are more likely  to work hard in your class.

Children and teenagers deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect that we expect to be given as adults. We’re much more likely to go the extra mile for the boss who praises us when we do a good job; who gives us slack during personal emergencies and takes an interest in our lives, and your pupils are the same.

There are various small tips and tricks you can employ as a teacher to develop a strong, positive relationship with your pupils, maintain an ordered classroom and see attainment improvements.

 Read more