Teacher Capacity Building Part 3: Filling the Gaps

(We recommend that you read Part 1 and Part 2, before continuing)

After standing back and looking at all the data points scattered along our journey map, revealing the ‘pains’ and ‘gains’ of teachers working in a camp or community center with displaced learners, opportunities for improvement started to emerge. In order to maximize the positive output of teachers in providing quality learning experiences for their students, we needed to identify ways to turn those ‘pains’ into ‘gains’ along each stage of the journey.

Starting at Stage 1, we found that even though organizations struggle with recruitment on a micro level, it appears to receive a good amount of the attention. In general, organizations seem confident that they have a working system in place to recruit, albeit not perfect.

Potential Improvement Opportunities for Recruitment:

  1. OUTSOURCE — With slight adjustments to programming and organizational structure, volunteer recruitment is something that can be completely or partially outsourced to others that have developed the processes and networks to deliver this service. Refugee Language Initiative and RefugeeEd are two UK registered organizations that act as headhunters for qualified language teachers and place them in organizations providing NFE to displaced newcomer communities.

As we moved through the journey, we started to see that once the teachers arrived, they were often left to figure out a lot for themselves and were not always properly prepared before they began. Most organizations have some form of pre-service information package that is sent out to their incoming teachers. This may include a teacher’s handbook, code of conduct, list of resources or MOOCs to help understand the context better. The content and quality of these pre-service packages vary widely from organization to organization. However, there typically isn’t any evaluation or check to see if the resources volunteers are sent had been read, fully understood, or had even helped them to prepare for their service.

Potential Improvement Opportunity Revealed for Pre-Service:

  1. CO-CREATE — NGOs can collaborate and share their pre-service packages with each other to ensure that all organizations are properly preparing teachers for working with children and vulnerable populations in accordance with child protection and mental health professional guidelines. This also can create a collective accountability and insurance that we, as a community, are properly preparing those that will be teaching in this context. There is no reason why each organization should have to do this alone. The Athens Coordination Group for Grassroot Organizations worked on this in June 2018 for a common Volunteer Code of Conduct policy to be used across all NGOs who participated in the effort. This approach can be done for all pre-service information shared with incoming teachers.
  2. SKYPE — As part of the pre-service for incoming teachers, have them arrange a Skype call with someone connected to the organization either currently in the field or recently returned. Being able to ask questions directly to someone that knows the reality on the ground can save a lot of time for an education coordinator. It is also a good way to confirm information was conveyed and understood.
  3. POP QUIZ — Give a friendly pop quiz on the material you sent to confirm that they’ve read and understood it. This is not only a good way to evaluate if your process of sending material ahead time is effective but it also gives you another opportunity to highlight important things and address any questions or concerns at the moment they arrived.
  4. TRAINING AT HOME — Look into pre-service training options like Crisis Classroom that focuses on the trauma-informed training to properly prepare volunteer teachers before arriving.
  5. ONLINE PLATFORM — This is a more suitable entry point for the TU2T collaboration platform which could be re-designed to engage the incoming teacher, the organization they will be working for and then support them both through facilitation and communities of practice during the rest of the journey. This was a major insight for us as an organization and will shape future iterations for our platform idea going forward!

Support for teachers in the field (‘in-service’ support) was another area where organizations struggle to get it right. The consensus was that the workflow is unpredictable and chaotic leaving the teachers with the expectation to be self-sufficient and not rely on direction or guidance from the education coordinator who wears many hats and is pulled in different directions hourly on any given day. This is also reflected in the job descriptions during the recruitment stage we are accustomed to seeing. However, this level of agility and autonomy required is a skill that can take a career in teaching to master. It’s unrealistic to expect volunteer teachers, even the most experienced, to have this level of autonomy from day one.

Potential Improvement Opportunity Revealed for In-Service Stage:

  1. COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE — Strongly encourage your teachers to join a local learning community of teachers (we refer to this as a Community of Practice) where teachers from NGOs working in the same context meet regularly, discuss their challenges, exchange ideas and resources, arrange for workshops and training, and co-develop curricula together. If there isn’t an effective learning circle to join, then create one (TU2T can help with this!). A structured community with clearly defined norms, goals and procedures is the most effective and efficient way to collaborate. The Educator’s Cafe in Northern Greece is a great example of how to run an effective learning community in this context. We are in the process of setting one up in Athens for math and science teachers and one virtually for facilitators of drama and theater. We see the creation of effective and efficient learning communities as one area where we can collectively address this issue and take the burden off the individual NGOs and their education coordinators.

One quote we heard from an overworked education coordinator:

“Keep sending your emails about opportunities for training and workshops because it helps. I don’t have time to do it and I know our staff needs it!”
  1. TEACHER MEETINGS — Host weekly face to face teacher meetings focused on learning and students’ needs. Often times, due to the nature of the work, teacher meetings become organizational staff meetings and the focus on student learning is lost.
  2. WHATSAPP COMMUNICATION — Create a small WhatsApp group for your teachers which is designed to share insights, learnings, and student work from the classroom (lots of photos of student work!), focused on communication between teachers to improve their practice. This WhatsApp group should be separate from the larger groups which are designed to address the daily operational challenges that arise. The reason for this is that when you are ready to take the rich discussion about learning from the classroom documented in the WhatsApp chat (this can be downloaded and reviewed) and use that to improve your program, curriculum, procedures, etc, you do not have to sift through hundreds of other messages unrelated to learning.
  3. MENTORS - Tap into your volunteer alumni network and see if they would be willing to act as mentors to volunteers currently serving. Having someone to talk to about what is going on in the field is invaluable.

The last two stages, handover and post-service engagement, were much weaker compared to the first two stages. Since the average volunteering time is 1 month, by the time one volunteer is leaving, the next one is being recruited which requires energy and effort from the education coordinator. Therefore, we see lots of improvement opportunities to outsource and adjust these processes to make it work better for the organization.

Potential Improvement Opportunity Revealed for Handover and Post-Service Stages:

  1. CHECKOUT LIST — Have a checkout list of all the things the teacher needs to handover before leaving and give this list at least 2 weeks before they leave. Include on this list a task that asks them to hand over their ‘reflections’ as well as any valuable content they may have created. You can ask them what were their top 5 activities they did with their students and why? A template that prompts them to explain WHY they found this particular lesson or activity special. This can be used for future training, discussion prompts for teacher meetings or for pre-service materials. The insights and experiences of your volunteers are extremely valuable for improving your program. Design a system where you are gathering that and using it for stages 1, 2, and 3.
  2. REFLECTION SURVEY — It’s more likely that your volunteer will have very little time for proper reflection on their experience before leaving. Therefore, send a survey to them once they have returned home, asking deeper reflective questions on their teaching experiences and student learning. This can help give closure and keep them engaged during the post-service period. This can be designed and facilitated through a team of pro-bono teaching coaches for example.
  3. REMOTE VOLUNTEERING — When recruiting for one month of in-field teaching, consider extending that volunteer commitment to a few hours a week remotely during post-service. Through all our interviews, almost all volunteer teachers want to continue to help. Therefore, they can help with fundraising, recruitment, mentoring teachers currently in the field, and developing curriculum ideas. If these remote volunteering opportunities are presented during recruitment, their engagement during post-service could be more easily facilitated.

For TU2T, this exercise was invaluable. It allowed us to look at the entire journey of the teacher to understand where the NGO can build its capacity to better support their teachers and have a higher chance of achieving its mission and vision with the resources they have. We can now better design our platform to meet those pains along the journey of the teacher and the NGO and help with an overall capacity building plan as it was revealed. However, the value of journey mapping is in the participation. We strongly encourage organizations to fill a room with diverse perspectives from different stakeholders experiencing the same journey and see what it reveals.