Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Teachers in Crisis Contexts Working Group: Strengthening teacher professional development

9 August 2017

by Mary Mendenhall, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Practice at Teachers College, Columbia University

This post was originally published on the Promising Practices in Refugee Education website.

As we work to improve the overall quality and effectiveness of our humanitarian responses by improving coordination, reducing duplication, and trying to mitigate the competitive environment in which we work, the Teachers in Crisis Contexts (TiCC) Working Group provides a notable example within the field of Education in Emergencies.

Teachers taking part in the peer coach training in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya
The TiCC began over three years ago when a small group of individuals from different organizations came together to respond to the needs of refugees and other displaced persons teaching in crisis-affected contexts. This group was adamant about moving away from ineffective one-off teacher training workshops and to put in motion the development of a model and related materials to strengthen teacher professional development in crisis settings and other contexts of instability. This work was further buoyed by Mary Burns and James Lawrie’s work – Where It’s Needed Most: Quality Professional Development for All Teachers – which provided a clarion call for why teachers in crisis contexts need and deserve more support.

Within the first year, the TiCC developed a set of teacher competencies that prioritized teachers’ needs in these contexts. These included: teacher’s role and well-being; child protection, well-being and inclusion; curriculum and planning;  pedagogy; and subject knowledge. This inter-agency group then developed and launched the Training Pack for Primary School Teachers in Crisis Contexts and made it available as a free, open-source set of materials on the INEE website.

TiCC's training pack

The training pack and overarching teacher professional development model aims to provide more robust support to teachers working in crisis contexts by recognizing the expertise these teachers already bring through their lived experiences and knowing full well what challenges they face in their classrooms. The model also prioritizes the critical importance of teacher well-being on par with student well-being. When teachers are able to manage their stress and find the support they need, they will be better prepared to create a protective, safe, and constructive learning environment for their students.

Multi-agency Training of TiCC Trainers in the Middle East
The training approach also places particular emphasis on assessing the needs of the teachers well in advance of the training, investing time to contextualize the materials to teachers’ needs, and providing sufficient time for both modeling and practicing the participatory, interactive, and learner-centered pedagogical and classroom management techniques demonstrated in the training room.

The training pack consists of two sets of materials: the core modules consist of 60 hours of training to be offered over an extended period of time; and an Introductory Training Pack of 23 hours that can be used as a rapid training program, which should be followed by the core modules and/or additional layers of support in the form of coaching or mentoring. Numerous individuals and organizations have been adapting and using the training pack in different settings around the world.

TiCC's coaching pack

The TiCC is now poised to launch a complementary coaching pack (coming by end of 2017), through which peer teachers or other appropriate education leaders (e.g. head teachers, agency staff, etc.) can be trained to provide critical ongoing support to teachers as they experiment and apply what they learned during the training in their own classrooms. Having participated in a specialized training on active listening, constructive feedback, and goal setting (to name a few examples), peer coaches create supportive and collegial environments through Teacher Learning Circles and classroom visitations or observations. Teachers have an opportunity to share what is and is not working in their classrooms, seek advice and support from their colleagues, and set goals for continuing to try new strategies in their schools.

The TiCC is also working on a complementary and open-source monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework to help organizations assess the changes in the teachers they are supporting as they implement the training and coaching packs (both of which can be further adapted to the needs of the teachers and different contexts). TiCC members are also acutely aware that improving training, coaching, and M&E activities is not enough and that we must also advocate in collaboration with teachers for a policy environment that better responds to their needs in regard to recruitment, retention, compensation, certification and overall motivation for continuing to contribute to their communities in one of the hardest jobs in the world. As Ruth Naylor rightly points out in her recent blog post – Refugee Teachers – Don’t just Train, Retain – we need to create a better policy environment that recognizes teachers’ credentials (before and after displacement) and that training is not enough to fill the gaps in the teaching corps needed in many regions.

TiCC's membership

Teachers taking part in the Teacher in Crisis Contexts training in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya
The TiCC now boasts 21 members from different UN agencies, NGOs, and academic institutions. The group has organized themselves into four workstreams – training, coaching, M&E, and advocacy – to leverage the skills on the team and to collaborate on equally important areas of work for improving the support we collectively offer to teachers. The initial ad-hoc group of volunteers is now officially tethered to the INEE Standards and Practice Working Group. While the work being carried dovetails in many cases with members’ professional portfolios and interests, by and large the contributions of time remain voluntary and on top of their daily responsibilities. Amidst restrained resources, different members have been able to secure small pots of funding at key moments along the way as we developed different outputs (e.g. training pack, coaching pack).

So, why has this group proven to be so successful?

  • One, team members shared a common interest and mutual goal of improving support to teachers in crisis contexts, inspired by the very teachers with whom we work.
  • Two, team members were able to remove their agency hats and contribute to a larger, shared goal that would be best met through a collaborative effort.
  • Three, team members were willing to look within their own agencies for additional resources in the form of money, interns, and graduate students to help move the work forward.
  • Four, team members have upheld the same principles that we promote in the professional development model that we have designed together, an approach that fosters constructive communications, active participation, collegiality, concern for everyone’s well-being, and, of course, a little bit of fun along the way.

Inter-agency contextualisation and implementation workshop in Nairobi
As we continue to confront deeply entrenched challenges in the field of Education in Emergencies, only more inter-agency and collaborative efforts will be needed, including the very teachers we aim to support as well. As you can see from Mading Peter Angong’s blog, a teacher with whom I have had the pleasure and privilege of collaborating on a teacher professional development project in Kakuma refugee camp, teachers are keen to improve their practice and to collaborate with others in the process. As we strengthen our support to teachers working in crisis contexts, they will be even better positioned to join this collaborative effort to improve student learning, support psychosocial well-being for their students and themselves, and enhance the quality of life for those living amidst crisis and displacement.