Ungraded 2020 Student

Dear future teacher,

The year is 2020.

We treated each other like equals and held each other accountable. We ate our snack when we were hungry and went to the bathroom when our body said so without asking for permission.

On some days, we threw out the schedule because we needed to say somethings with our chest and that takes a lot of time.

We negotiated homework, we were honest and explained how pointless it was . On some days we gave up. We complied. We kept the peace. We were tired.

We were woke! We spoke about racism and the radicalness of feminism. We questioned protests and we discovered that some things had to be done, by any means necessary.

We explored our privilege and unpacked it. We checked our teacher and held her accountable for when she acted like a dictator. We lent our voice to those who needed it. We spoke truth to power.

The learning was messy and exhausting on some days. We hated the mandatory testing. We did organise a petition along those lines but COVID-19 happened.

We were distraught because everything came to grinding halt. This was our last year of Junior school. Some of us were slowly warming up to the end as we transition. Some of us were worried that we would never truly be free to learn what we chose and what we wanted as senior school would be all serious and no play.

A lot of the learning that I am doing now you will never document and assess because it doesn’t lie within the confines of the specific subject areas. I can assure you, I did a lot of learning. I looked after my brother who had a high fever, I prepared meals for my family this week, I had to go back home and live with my grand parents on short notice. I am not in touch with many of my friends and I cannot wait for this to end.

I’m sorry that none of this can be reflected in the benchmarks or the grade level expectations. These life lessons couldn’t be captured on the report card and could never be learned within the confines of the school walls.

I especially enjoyed opting out of lessons and ignoring your emails because I had a lot going on that day and your assignment could wait.

I did what was important, I did what I had to do- survive…

Yours truly,

Ungraded 2020 student



My year of Agency

I haven’t felt successful in a while. I’m glad this feeling has come to me on a Friday afternoon knowing that I will ease into the weekend feeling like this has been a great finish. Starting this year off in Grade 5, a class I had never taught and adding the agency concept into the mix of it all is to say the least, overly  ambitious. 

My team and I started off the year in pretty great spirits. We were all on different journeys in regards to agency and we had our lives outside of it all. We were determined to empower learners to design their learning, plan their own trips and write their own budgets. We knew what we were doing and couldn’t wait to get on this exciting path.

Two weeks in and all hell was breaking loose(this memory still triggers me).We had thrown out the first unit and attempted to write the new unit from scratch. The biggest mistake of them all is that we had no systems in place that would keep us together before it could all come tumbling down. Those were the most stressful 7 weeks ever.

What I had not seemed to prepare myself for is that agency does test you as a human. Agency will force you to have the conversations you seem to be shying away from. You and your new found beliefs will be put to test. Like, Is your teaching really grounded in solid pedagogy? Is your image of the child really what you seem to think it is? Do you have agency as a teacher? Do you truly understand agency? These are all the questions I have had to dig through to find myself because at the end of it all, if I don’t know who I really am then the foundation from which I base my instruction is shaky ground.

It has been a rough 6 months from having many lightbulb moments to feeling like I was engulfed in darkness. To not writing at all and questioning whether I was in the right profession. From giving students choice workshops every Friday to trying to prove to parents that we have covered the different benchmarks and their child will be ready for middle school. From hoping to teach children to set and plan their homework to filling up their time with math problems so that I can prove that they have retained the knowledge dispensed to them. My journey had been a wrecking ball swinging from one extreme to another with the hope that I aim for something specific and feel successful at one.

This week started off a little shaky. Little did I know that this would help me unpack what agency truly is for me. One of my students was found using technology inappropriately which could have potentially escalated into cyber bullying. I decided to use this as a teaching point. We unpacked PYP concepts using this incident, I shared my twitter account and we talked about who we want to be on social media and how we choose who we want to be. My favourite part? Watching TikTok videos to get inspiration for PYPx. What was different about this week is that it allowed me to be human. I allowed myself to feel.I journaled.  I allowed my personal life into my work life.I’ve been vulnerable with them and tried to understand their struggles, and how I might be part of their problem. I’ve allowed myself to fail. I’ve made decisions without seeking approval. I’ve existed. From letting go and allowing myself to be, I’ve found who I was. I’ve made friends with my curriculum. I’ve read it over and over. I am making friends with benchmarks and my curriculum. I am letting my true self into my teaching because only then, can we truly be free…


Dismantling Benchmarks

My inspiration this week came from Bob Marley’s, “Could you be loved” unusual right?

Don’t let them fool ya

Or even try to school ya

Oh, no

We’ve got a mind of our own…

These words of wisdom led me back to student agency and honouring the learners. Here’s how;

Step 1: Think of your pre-assessment as an inviting and thought-provoking experience rather than a test.

Step 2: Their perspective of themselves matters. We set up different stations where students went and took part in the set activity and using the “Solo Taxonomy from a Student’s Perspective “, reflected on what they had done and where they want to go next.


Step 3: Listen to them. Find out what they need. We later used that perception of themselves to start a conversation on what they would like to work on for the rest of the week. They talked about why they chose that benchmark, and most importantly what they wanted to use that knowledge for.

Step 4: Be an ally. I found as many resources as I could about shapes. Some spent the whole lesson recreating buildings using shapes, some created patterns and inquired into tessellations and another spent their lesson in the maker space using his knowledge of shapes to create a house

Step 5: Cheer them on. Rather than instructing and talking at them, I spent the lesson researching and documenting, sharing ideas and reminding them of the goal they want to achieve.

Step 6: Celebrate. You beat the system. I saw different personalities shine through, engaged and meaningful conversations happening and most importantly, transcending a restrictive and prescriptive benchmark, breaking the barriers, finding meaning beyond our four walls…


Is Your Classroom a Protectorate?

It finally dawned on me that as a teacher, if  I have an incessant need to control and have complete and outmost authority in the classroom, then guess what?  That. Makes. Me. A. Coloniser. I said it. It isn’t entirely our fault because sometimes we do teach as we were taught and we inherited a curriculum. It is a systemic issue.

It has been a few months experimenting with student agency a couple of fails and  I have come to a realisation that  student agency isn’t a fad that is here for the trend and just the hype of it. It is human. At the core of humanity and our existence.

We are agentic beings which means denying my learners an opportunity to inquire and dictate what they choose to do is violence.  It goes against human nature. Which is why  they are bored lifeless when I keep shoving  rubrics in their faces because as humans, their learning cannot be compartmentalised. It cannot be pigeonholed.

My role as a teacher wasn’t meant to be restricted to being a source of information. I am meant to listen, offer advice, understand, empower as they travel this tumultuous journey of inquiry and self discovery. My role isn’t to create benchmarks which let us be honest, are usually meant to rank children and compare them against each other or narrow what our expectations of them are. But working together as allies to beat the system, we rewrite benchmarks to make sense to each individual, we navigate them our own way, we are outlandish in how we express ourselves and we are occupying our space and doing it loudly, annihilating the tick-boxes just so we can be us.

If my learners left my class unaware that  it is okay to be on a self discovery journey where you feel supported and heard then I would have failed as a teacher.

I have to make a conscious decision every day to check myself, that I do not come up with the bar for what is considered the norm, that because as human beings we are always changing and evolving and that it is okay, that is what matters. That we work together to create structures that help us learn, that I do not have all the information and that is fine, that I m constantly learning from them. Their opinion is as good as mine, I am one of them. That report cards aren’t something that I sit down and conjure up. We do this together. We do make decisions together, we vote and decide, even when it goes against what I think. That they are here now, they are human and they count, they matter. That I will empower them with tools against an oppressive society that feeds off their complacency and twists them into conforming beings.

As a Ugandan on a journey of decolonisation, I understand what it means not to meet the standards and be expected to conform. I get it when you do not fit a box and have to bend yourself so that you fit someone-else’s expectations.


We are Creative

Our unit has been about Beliefs and Values. This is my first year teaching so I guess naturally, it is easier when you take a template the previous teachers used and work around their Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry. From our planning, I didn’t really feel like I had taken a risk or pushed the boundaries…IMG_1079.JPG

A confession before we proceed, I hate worksheets so I usually spend my evenings scouring the internet for alternatives. Sometimes I do find inspiration sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I have a lightbulb moment when stuck in  Kampala’s dreadful traffic and its sweltering heat. Sometimes the best ones come when I jump from bed with nightmares of me running late to work.

From learning coordinates using chalk and our classroom mat to spray painting our beliefs and values on the walls, oil pastels have become our best friends. And by the end of the unit, I realised we had spent more time expressing ourselves and imprinting  our personalities on the classroom walls and floors and less in our books.

Recently, my class did a survey on what they thought learning was . Needless to say I was beside myself with joy when 80% said they thought it was creative and challenging. This wasn’t a goal I had set going into the unit but rather an expression born out of my frustration with worksheets. I felt like we had achieved a lot from this unit. Our personalities came through, we challenged traditional learning and we evolved. I guess my take away from this is, learning should be enjoyable and fun. If as learners we don’t feel challenged and engrossed then something ought to change.




When I ditched my lesson plan

Today I ditched my lesson plan, crazy ain’t it?

When I say it was a good day, I mean it! My coffee mug was filled to the brim and nothing could go wrong.

I had studied my lesson plan the day before and my students and I were going to inquire into number properties and how we could use them to create continuous patterns. Armed with all the thought provoking ideas from the student Agency training with Taryn, I realised and decided I would not be the “fountain of knowledge”

Because I have decided to take baby steps, I thought being transparent and sharing the plans and benchmarks would make me less of a benevolent dictator. The first thing we did was brainstorm what a benchmark was and what it meant. We concluded that it was a standard against which we would be measured.
They were tasked to find what the Pascal and Chinese triangle was, and find as much as they could. Pascal’s had a lot of information and details which was quite easy for them to find.

When it got to the Chinese triangle, there wasn’t that much to find. They came back puzzled saying, “It is the same” “They aren’t that different” . So we decided to look at what made them similar. IMG_0821 2.JPG

IMG_0822 2.JPG

After all that inquiry, we decided to watch a TED talk about this triangle.

What we found changed our lesson, we discovered this triangle was first  used in the Indus valley and Mesopotamia. Puzzled, one student,  with fresh insights from the ancient civilisations unit asserted,

“Mesopotamia was one of the earliest if not the first civilisation. Why are we calling it Pascal who is French?”

Another jumped in arguing that the Indus Valley was the most advanced in maths and the French had not existed then.

So I whipped out some post it notes and asked them to write down why we should not call it Pascal’s triangle.


Since we are now experts at finding facts and evidence to persuade others, finding facts to support the argument wasn’t a hard one.

Their reasons were not only thought provoking and reflective but they had me question my structure of teaching. What if I had stuck to the plan and taught them what I wanted them to learn so that I can tick off a box at the end of the unit? What if I had been the sole source of what they were learning?

Today we forgot about benchmarks, and had an unbridled inquiry.

Today was a good day…

Winnie is a lifelong learner who teaches grade 4 at the International School of Uganda.

Twitter handle: @kahubire