October 2016

Teachers are the heart and soul of high-quality school systems across the world. We are happy to share our first issue of the EdKnowledge Series on Teachers, a quarterly newsletter focused on various topics in the education system. In this issue, we explore what it takes to create great teachers, what effective professional development of teachers could look like and showcase two examples of ideas being translated into practice in India.

What does it take to create a great teacher?

The Economist, in an insightful cover story, contends that despite popular belief, great teaching is not an innate skill, but can be learnt by anyone who puts in enough effort. A recent World Bank study aptly titled ‘Not So Elementary’ finds that primary school teachers in high-performing school systems have deep content knowledge and understanding of how students learn that content. These systems do four things right – selection of high-quality teachers, ensuring they specialise in a content area, building strong initial teacher education and continuous professional learning systems which equip and reinforce teachers with these skills.

What is effective professional development of teachers?

A lot of work is being done globally to improve teacher effectiveness through training. But, does it really work? The New Teacher Project (TNTP), in its publication The Mirage, says that we don’t know enough about what kind or amount of professional development consistently helps teachers improve. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution leans heavily on published research to agree in this blog post, saying that ‘we know that teachers matter and that some teachers are better than others, but we don’t know the specific attributes that make some teachers effective and others ineffective’.

This research reinforces our belief that there is a large scope for testing innovative and experimental models in teacher professional development. Namita Dalmia, Associate Director, Central Square Foundation reflects on the challenges facing teacher development in India and some potential solutions for creating effective professional development programs.

As penetration of internet-enabled devices has increased, some organisations are leaning on technology to provide relevant, rigorous and demand-driven professional development to teachers at scale. British Council’s research in this area provides a snapshot of English teachers’ access to, interest in and opportunity for technology-based professional development across South Asia. EdSurge has created a framework for teacher professional development which has four stages – engage, learn, support, measure – and evaluated 28 products available in the US using this framework.

How are ideas being translated into practice in India?

Several organisations have been working relentlessly to improve teaching in Indian schools by reimagining how teacher professional development occurs. There are some innovative solutions focusing on improving the supply side first, some focusing on improving the demand side first and some focusing on both simultaneously.

Pune Municipal Corporation, working closely with Pune City Connect (PCC), has created a cadre of 52 coaches – called Shikshak Sahyogis – to train, observe and coach teachers. As the name suggests, a strong relationship between teacher and coach is emphasised, which enable the Sahyogis to support teachers on academic issues and improve classroom practices. Each Sahyogi works full-time with a group of ~35 teachers in two ways: individual classroom observations followed by debriefs twice a month and a monthly in-person workshop for each cluster. This process is facilitated by a classroom observation tool, teacher development rubric and Sahyogi development rubric. PCC is now converting their paper-based observation framework into a mobile application to effectively capture data, map teacher progress and report it to relevant stakeholders.

Centre for Teacher Accreditation (CENTA) aims to empower teachers and catalyse their development through certification. CENTA is hosting the second annual Teacher Professional Olympiad in December 2016, which will provide certification based on the assessment. These certificates will be indicators of quality and will be based on the CENTA Standards, a competency framework which aims to capture the set of skills every good teacher must have at different stages in his/her career. CENTA is currently mapping the offerings of teacher training organisations so that teachers can access training which is relevant to their needs.

There is no silver bullet to improving teacher quality in India, and it will require the collective effort of many individuals, organisations and systems to place high-quality teachers in every classroom in India. We believe there is great value in an honest exchange of ideas and best practices which will help all of us contribute more effectively toward this goal. We will continue to share more information, resources and perspectives on teachers in upcoming issues of EdKnowledge. Stay tuned!

At CSF, we are always looking to learn more. Please write to nishit@centralsquarefoundation.org to share your thoughts on this issue of EdKnowledge, provide us more reading material and food for thought, or just to say hi!