By UNIVERSITY RELATIONS
Fort Hays State University’s Dr. Jerrie Brooks, assistant professor, and Dr. Robert Moody, professor in the Department of Advanced Educational Programs (AEP), held a virtual workshop on Differentiation in the K-12 Classroom on June 15th and 16th.
This workshop was unique, with 35 K-12 teachers from over a dozen countries, all currently living and working in Saudi Arabia. A genuinely international group of educators, their home countries included: Yemeni, Sierra Leonean, Kenyan, American, Saudi, Jamaican, Indian, Pakistani, South African, Palestinian, Lebanese, Jordanian, Canadian, Eritrean, and Egyptian.
This workshop marks a milestone for FHSU. According to Dr. Sherry Crow, chair of the Department of Advanced Education, “Several attempts at organizing and conducting such workshops with teachers in Saudi Arabia have occurred over the last few years, but this is the first time a workshop in education by FHSU has actually taken place.”
Raynor Roberts, FHSU alum and member of the Association for Professional Educators Abroad, has worked for several years to bring programs like these to fellow teachers in Saudi Arabia. In conjunction with the FHSU Office of Global Partnerships and the AEP department, Roberts’ efforts are paying off.
According to Roberts, “many teachers in Saudi Arabia are doing great work, but lack resources, particularly in areas like differentiation as this is not a major component of the education system in this region.” He has found the teachers are open to new perspectives and are eager for the direction and support for their teaching that workshops like this one from FHSU provide.
For those who may not be familiar with the concept, “Differentiation” is the practice of adapting instruction to meet the educational needs of a diverse group of students. This approach is not the norm in middle eastern countries.
The desire for these teachers to expand their knowledge of individualized instruction has helped open the door for Roberts and Fort Hays State University. The ability to provide resources that will ultimately help students who these eager educators teach, whether in Saudi Arabia or in one of the many home counties that they come from, closely aligns with the greater mission at FHSU to “provide accessible quality education to Kansas, the nation, and the world.”
The recent workshop is not the first time Roberts has collaborated with FHSU on a professional development opportunity for teachers in Saudi Arabia. Roberts worked with Dr. Gary Andersen, assistant professor of advanced education programs, in 2017, providing a lecture series on classroom culture. The success of this activity, and the receptivity of the teachers involved, inspired Roberts to provide an interactive educational opportunity for the Saudi teachers.
Another significant difference between the recent workshops and these initial activities is that Roberts, with the assistance of Cindy Elliott, assistant vice president for global partnerships, was able to acquire official recognition and approval from the Saudi Ministry of Education. Dr. Ibrahim Alfarhan, director of the International and Foreign Education Office, gave a welcoming speech for the event. Dr. Alfarhan’s office is also providing a certificate to all participants. This workshop marks the first time an educational program at FHSU has gained governmental approval to work with teachers in Saudi Arabia.
To make this meeting possible, the successful use of technology was vital. Moody, Google Certified Trainer and ISTE Certified Educator handled the setup and technology on the Fort Hays State University end of this meeting.
Moody discussed the success they had, not only in the video discussions with the participants but also with the Google Classroom features that allow materials to be shared long after the conference has ended.
“I just checked, and people are still going to the Google Classroom and reading and downloading materials from there, nearly three weeks after the conference,” Moody said. Roberts added that he believed the Google site would see even more use as the new school year approached, noting that this is the type of support these teachers want, and he hopes Fort Hays State University can provide more of it in the future