February 6, 2017 - Michael Salinger

International School of Kenya

“Africa is full of surprises!”


Barbara, me, Sara and Bobbi

This is how the driver who the International School of Kenya sent to meet Sara and me greeted us. And he was right – Sara and I have been to at least ten different countries on the continent and each has its own style, flavor, and surprises.


Our first surprise was a two-hour Saturday afternoon traffic jam between the airport and the school – our second surprise was the resort quality suite the school has for visiting consultants. So nice that we forgot about the traffic jam. Next we had an absolutely civilized lunch with our host Barbara – the head librarian at the school then we did a little shopping to stock our fridge (did I mention the suite has a full kitchen and two bathrooms – we were really roughing it.)


Sara leading a public speaking clinic with some of the the high school.

Add to the hospitality already received from Barbara and her husband the fact that they are cyclists and arranged for me to accompany them on a ride though the forest followed by a pig roast at another teacher’s place well, even before our first day at school Sara and I were as happy as  baby elephants in a mud hole. Top this with a potluck dinner at the Office of Learning poobah Jodi’s place Sunday before school and we knew we better bring our A game.

Once we did get started working in the classroom things got even better. We met our second librarian, Bobbi, and we were off to the races. I loved how the visit was arranged for a couple reasons. One, Barbara did not assume that Sara would work with all the younger kids and I would be more focused on the older ones (we worked K-10 this visit), which happens with some regularity. So I got to work with second and third graders back to back with tenth. We both like the challenge of going from primary to upper school in a bat of an eye. But, for whatever reason we often get pigeonholed when scheduled. Not this trip. Throw in a PD session that was not mandatory but still filled a room with what I’m guessing was around 75 teachers and assistants and it ain’t getting any better.


Warning – poetry at work.

I especially enjoyed working with the 8th graders on found poems from the text of their class novel The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. One of the tricks to getting success out of this particular workshop is to select particularly image rich excerpts from the text to be used. The Humanities teacher, Cam, did a great job of doing this beforehand and it sure made the lesson soar. In fact, I added a couple twists to it this time that produced some stellar work. Once we had identified our “power phrases” by highlighting the text we took those and formed our list – our poem skeleton as Sara and I call it.


Beginning the transcription from highlighted text to laptop.

From here I usually ask the student to incorporate a poetic element or two and we end up with some good work. This time I gave the students challenges. One I might tell, “Lose 20 words bust your images into three stanzas and use alliteration twice.” Or I might ask another to distill the images into a Tanka, another to change theirs into a quatrain with an ABCB rhyme pattern etc. etc. The kids accepted and excelled at this poetic prodding. Bobbi and I shared more than one look of amazement while the students cranked out these things. You could almost smell the wood burning as they set to the task. They were having fun, they were close reading the text, they were writing, they were employing poetic elements, cognitive dissonance was running rampant. I had a ball.


And if you don’t have your laptop today – use a smartphone!

We also worked on simile, personification, poems for two voices, point of view, public speaking and infomercials.

But none of this could have happened without the great advanced planning – both by this humanities teacher and by our librarian hosts. This was a well-oiled machine of a visit – we swung between grade levels like Colobus monkeys from tree branch to tree branch with Bobbi and Barbara acting as our Safari guides keeping us fed, watered and accompanied. They made sure our evenings were as restful or busy as we wanted and drove us to school every day and supplied us with enough coffee coupons for the schools café to caffeinate a buffalo.

Then after our week they along with Jodi (who could make a second career as a hospitality guru) made sure we got out and saw some wildlife, lions, rhinos, giraffes, warthogs etc. etc – a visit to a tea plantation, more bike riding, good food, lots of laughing.

I’m just scratching the surface but can you tell what a great visit we had? Well it was no surprise – a lot of hard work went into this by a lot of great folks and we are so very very grateful

Thank you ISK!


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“Sara and Michael bring infectious energy and joy leavened with deep knowledge of best practices in literacy to their work with children and teachers.” Ellin Keene – Author of Mosaic of Thought and The Teacher You Want to Be
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