Rebooting models for Teacher professional development

by on August 19, 2016

For the 8.3 million teachers in Indian education system, we do not only need to ensure that they have access to life-long learning but also that they have access to flexible, relevant and competency-linked professional development.

In one of our previous blogs, we highlighted our analysis of the current challenges. Keeping those in mind, we at Central Square Foundation are testing out newer innovative models for making professional development more effective, and at scale.

There are four key ideas that we are currently working with:

1. Blended professional development: Most of the teacher training is top-down which is often delivered through a cascade model. This results in loss of knowledge, as fewer master teachers are available.

Interactive digital modules created out of training resources can make standardised, high quality instruction from expert trainers available to all teachers. Local facilitators can blend these resources to create blended professional development programs. A blended professional development program combines self-guided learning along with facilitators who can guide teachers in a workshop mode. If facilitators are not available locally, such workshops can also be created virtually. The self-guided component ensures that teachers learn content and practice skills at their own pace. The blended methodology can also include components of peer learning facilitated by a trainer or self-guided by a group of teachers as well as individualised coaching provided virtually or in-person.

In Language and Learning Foundation‘s course on early literacy, facilitators conduct contact sessions for every module over an audio-call and give individual feedback to teachers on their assignment submissions. Facilitation in Quest‘s course on the pedagogy of mathematics takes place in-person for each module. In the two cases, the organisations hire and train their own facilitators. In the case of Teach for India Firki program, participating networks such as school or government appoints coaches from within their system. These coaches are trained to facilitate the sessions and provide individualised feedback to teachers on their classroom practices.

2. Curriculum-aligned lesson planning resources: Most teachers in India do not plan for their lessons due to reasons including lack of expectations from them or time. Combined with a lack of deep content knowledge, a lot of teaching becomes textbook-oriented and rote-based.

Curriculum-linked resources ranging from byte-size lesson ideas in a multimedia format to a scripted lesson plan can help teachers improve both their content knowledge and delivery. In addition, with formative assessment content available to teachers, they can test student knowledge more frequently and collect data to reinforce their teaching. In places where this material is available, teachers resist using them when the material is not contextual or requires teachers to do a lot of additional work. Providing these resources to teachers on portable devices such as their own mobile phones can create flexibility. In addition, it can improve communication and resource sharing among them.

Millionsparks Foundation is testing their ChalkLit app, which pushes the concept, teaching methods and activities, and assignment resources to teachers based on their annual planner. Guru-G works with local partners to create curriculum-aligned, contextual resources and provide them on their android platform.

3. Observation and coaching: Teachers need continuous coaching to improve their practice as they master the knowledge and skills required to be effective. Coaching is especially personal and needs to focus on individual strengths and weaknesses.

Academic support personnel whether school principal, cluster resource coordinators or peers create avenues for individualised coaching for teachers. Coaching needs to root in teaching practice and outcomes, and requires collecting classroom observation data, teacher artifacts such as lesson plans, and student work. This allows a coach to provide teachers with individualised feedback and action steps for improvement. Coaches need to be trained in collecting and analysing this data. Mobile or web applications can help with collection and analysis, as well as creating seamless communication channels between the coach and the teacher.

India School Leadership Institute, as part of their school leader development program, trains school leaders in teacher observation and coaching. The 3.2.1 Education Foundation‘s training program includes trainers observing teachers in their classrooms and providing 1:1 coaching following the workshop.

4. Communities of learning: Teachers are bound by the physical space of a classroom or school. They often do not talk to each other about their classrooms, their successes and struggles. At the same time, teachers often find learning from each other practices most relevant and contextual.

Learning communities can create opportunities not only interaction and learning with each other but also peer recognition and increase motivation. When these communities extend the boundary of a school, we can get multiplier effects. Technology can be leveraged to build teacher networks effectively. A facilitator or a member teacher can seed and moderate discussions in these communities. They can also create and monitor incentives for teachers to actively participate in these communities.

STIR has built networks across the country for teachers to share their innovative practices with each other. IT for Change in collaboration with Government of Karnataka has created subject teacher forums where teachers exchange ideas and knowledge, as well as come together to develop teaching resources. There are several Whatsapp group of teachers across the country.

These different models of teacher professional development shared above overlap significantly. The common theme that runs through them is making the programs teacher-centric, classroom-practice oriented and as much as possible individualised. At Central Square Foundation, we hope to build, test-out and refine our hypotheses in order to develop teacher development programs, which are really effective.