Lessons Learned

Top Ten ‘Lessons Learned’:
Reflecting Back over Two Decades (1994 to 2014)

Since our inception in 1994, Uplands Outreach has learned many useful lessons in effective interventions. As we celebrate our twentieth anniversary, we’ve paused to reflect on what we’ve learned.

Here is a list of the top ten:

    1. A consultative approach is best, ensuring that we understand and respect multiple perspectives without swooping in, prescribing, and ultimately disempowering people.
    2. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Keep abreast of international evidence-based interventions in school reform – for example, there is little evidence that providing additional inputs such as textbooks has much impact on learning. Avoid simplistic, paternalistic, gut-based opinions.
    3. Accept that there is no linear, simple path to school reform. Each school, and in fact, each individual working in education has a unique context and set of issues to be explored.
    4. Solutions often emerge only when a programme is well underway, despite the best-laid plans of donors and of Outreach. An adaptive mind-set is handy.
    5. A big dollop or two of patience is needed. Meaningful change takes time and is incremental. It’s quite frankly naïve to think that a one-point intervention over a handful of years will suffice in the long-run.
    6. Don’t underestimate the tremendous effects of poverty on a learner’s performance. Academic press is a hollow shell without ongoing social support.
    7. Measure what matters, not just output data. Our participants submit written journals to Outreach, reflecting on their learning and growth. These journals are a rich treasure trove of knowledge and feedback - and develop reflective practitioners who have a compass to guide them, instead of a predetermined map.
    8. Avoid a ‘deficit’ mind-set by acknowledging the skills that already exist in our participants. Our experience shows that people (especially teachers and school leaders) have much to offer already, and may just need encouragement and support to blossom and thrive.
    9. It’s indisputable that fostering bonds of caring among teachers and learners is the most effective way to unleash talent.
    10. Nurturing the individual while cultivating the joy of learning is probably the most powerful intervention we can undertake at Uplands Outreach - taking time to build the confidence of each individual and empowering them to become independent thinkers. Sound familiar? This is actually the mission of Uplands and our overarching community of parents.

To end with John Dewey’s famous quote, written a century ago:

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.

~ John Dewey