What needs to change about the way we approach in-service teacher training in India?
Along with the phrase 'inspire hope,' 'cause impact' is another phrase that we frequently think and talk about at Innerkern. Since much of our work revolves around training teachers, embedding pedagogic leadership in schools, and supporting parents, we carefully consider how our interventions can cause maximum impact while initiating, accelerating, scaling, and sustaining positive and visible change. For example, you will find our team members thinking and talking about 'causing impact' whenever the actions we need to initiate in connection with Classroom Shapeshift in schools are on the discussion table.
If you are visiting our website for the first time and have not heard about Classroom Shapeshift, it is Innerkern's flagship in-service teacher training and school improvement intervention. We designed Classroom Shapeshift based on the insights that surfaced as we tried to answer one straightforward question: why is teacher training in India not as impactful as we would like it to be? In other words, what is going wrong with teacher training and as a result school improvement in India?
As we post this blog, in-service teacher training in India is at its tipping point. None of us entertain any disagreement about the fact that teacher quality directly affects student achievement. However, to leverage the undeniable connection between teacher quality and student achievement, we must focus on redefining in-service teacher training rather than improving its current design.
Why do we feel that in-service teacher training in India is at its tipping point?
Thirty years ago, it was hard to convince school leaders or teacher unions in India that in-service teacher training is the key to improving student achievement. Once a teacher joined a school after a painfully inadequate B. Ed. or M. Ed., they were on their own. They had to plan their lessons on their own, design the assessment strategies on their own, and teach 30 to 100 students in 40 minutes alone. Besides these, they also had the underdefined responsibility of improving their professional craft with absolutely negligible support from the school to fall back on. A few lucky teachers would get to attend a random conference or seminar on schooling once in a rare while. Some of them would occasionally find the informal support of a kind mentor in a senior teacher. Apart from that, schools in India mostly ignored teacher professional development and in-service teacher training. Privately owned and managed schools would rather spend their money on building better classrooms or buying the latest technology than on training teachers who might move to a new school in a year or two. Government schools would use teachers to collect census data or do surveys when they were not teaching. In-service teacher training and continuing teacher professional development was the last and the least priority on the to-do list of most Indian school leaders.
Then in 1992, India revisited its National Policy on Education of 1986. After the review, the central government decided that they could continue using the same education policy with some minor changes. Instead of creating a new education policy, the government then designed a Programme of Action. The chapter in the Programme of Action 1992 that details the then central government's strategies for 'Teachers and their training' states, "Teacher performance is the most crucial input in the field of education. Whatever policies may be laid down, in the ultimate analysis, these have to be interpreted and implemented by teachers, as much through their personal example as through teaching-learning process. Teacher selection and training, competence, motivation, and the conditions of work impinge directly on teacher's performance."
Indian Government’s Programme of Action 1992 led to a series of changes in how we approached schooling over the years. An unprecedented focus on in-service teacher training ran parallel to those changes. In 1985, when the Chattopadhyay Commission on Teachers recommended three weeks of in-service teacher training once in five years in India, our teacher unions revolted. The States that implemented the recommendation had to withdraw it. However, following up the Programme of Action 1992, the policymakers interspersed incremental changes to how India approached in-service teacher training. Today, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan requires teachers to attend more than ten days of capacity building in a year. Every year, the Central Board of Secondary Education asks affiliated private schools to submit evidence for 50 hours or more of in-service teacher training.
Did you notice that, so far, the Government and the School Boards were pushing schools to prioritize in-service teacher training in India? The carrot-and-stick motivation strategies to improve teacher quality forced Indian school leaders to view in-service teacher training as another item on their compliance checklist. Given a choice, our school leaders would still spend the money on school buildings and gadgets.
And then, in 2020, the pandemic hit India! Schools learned they cannot teach our children like they used to anymore.
The pandemic forced private schools across the country to teach online, opening classroom interactions up to public scrutiny. Parents began noticing that schools are not doing well in classrooms, and they are paying for the quality of infrastructure and not the quality of teaching. Many had outrightly refused to pay school fees, even partially. They would rather pay ed-tech startups to teach their kids than schools. It is now clear to many school leaders across India that schooling is not a game of better buildings and flashy branding anymore. Talk to any school leader in India, and we will find that they are focusing all their time, resources, and energy these days on upping the game inside the classroom rather than outside of it. In other words, in-service teacher training is about to tip in India and take a shape of its own without external motivation. What we pay attention to now as we work on it will decide the shape it takes and the impact it makes in the future.
Why did we feel that we must redesign in-service teacher training from the ground up rather than improve its current design?
To put this question in context, we must tell you why Innerkern discarded the traditional Indian notions about in-service teacher training and redesigned the Classroom Shapeshift interventions from the ground up. When our team sat down to think through how we could design Classroom Shapeshift for maximum impact, we had already noticed two facts about in-service teacher training in India.
First, as we mentioned earlier, we knew in-service teacher training in India is ready to tip. By now, most teachers in India must have attended countless on-site in-service teacher training sessions on, what school consultants and workshop facilitators fondly call, 'contemporary teaching.' While considering the 'free-webinar-for-teachers-and-school-leaders' trend online during the pandemic, we felt teachers and school leaders may have lost count of the hours they might have set apart for in-service professional development. Yet, according to the National Achievement Survey 2021, there is a progressive decline in student achievement at the national level, from Grade 3 to Grade 10. At Innerkern, we asked each other: if teacher quality is directly responsible for student achievement and if in-service teacher training improves teacher quality, why is it not showing after years of online and on-site in-service teacher training that focused on the so-called ‘contemporary teaching?’
When policymakers, school consultants, and teacher educators joined hands to make in-service teacher training a priority in Indian schools, they might have been overwhelmed by the number of teachers in all the Indian schools put together. That is perhaps the reason their attention was on the possible scale of training rather than on its potential impact, as they were considering how to go about making in-service teacher training in India accessible across the board. If we wanted to scale in-service teacher training in India, we only had one option - module-based training.
The smarter ones among the school consultants sandwiched these module-based training sessions with a few classroom observation and feedback sessions. Yet, right from day one, India knew module-based training sessions were not as impactful as we wanted them to be. Classroom observation and feedback sessions ended up confusing teachers than helping them as these focused on what went wrong during a lesson. Not many teachers can agree that anything goes wrong as they teach.
For example, if thirty teachers attended a module-based training session from a school, three or four of them went back to try the contemporary teaching they had learned. Many would fail when they tried something for the first time and give up. Since the personal and professional biases of those who facilitated classroom observation and feedback sessions ensured that inputs on teaching quality were subjective rather than evidence-based or research-informed, the remaining brave ones who did not yet give up would finally throw their helpless hands up in the air in frustration and fold. At Innerkern, we asked each other: what would an in-service teacher training intervention, which is easily scalable and highly impactful, look like?
When every attempt to improve the impact of module-based teacher training failed, India eventually had to find a reason to explain the phenomenon. Ask any school improvement consultant or workshop facilitator, and they will tell us that module-based teacher training fails to deliver because of 'teacher resistance.'
Why do we feel that teacher resistance is not the reason why module-based in-service teacher training failed in India?
Why is your in-service teacher training intervention not showing a visible and long-lasting impact and contributing to improving teacher quality in our country? ‘Teachers resist change!,’ is the standard answer to this question.
At Innerkern, we know that it is not true. The change we are looking for in classroom practice does not seem to happen after module-based teacher training, not because teachers resist change. When teachers attend a module-based in-service teacher training session, they earnestly look for what they can take back and implement in their classrooms. They will certainly go back and implement what we recommend if it appeals to their individual Personal Teaching Legacy. The three or four teachers we see going back to their classrooms and trying a strategy or an approach after a module-based teacher training session are doing so because what we recommended appealed to their Personal Teaching Legacy. However, module-based teacher training does not always appeal at the same level to the individual Personal Teaching Legacies of all teacher participants as it follows a one-size-fits-all approach.
At Innerkern, we did a meta-analysis of over 360 research papers and books on in-service teacher training, school improvement, and continuing teacher professional development. We found that all the successful in-service teacher training and school improvement interventions we studied had one thing in common: all of them appealed to the Personal Teaching Legacy of individual teachers. Teachers resist change only when the change we recommend cannot be assimilated into their individual Personal Teaching Legacies.
What do we mean by Personal Teaching Legacy and how do we appeal to it during in-service teacher training and school improvement?
"I have always done it this way, and so far, it has worked for me. If I do it your way, there is this Challenge One, this Challenge Two, and then this Challenge Three." Have you heard teachers say this? Personal Teaching Legacy makes a teacher object when we recommend our so-called better and contemporary ways of teaching or assessing students. What do we mean by Personal Teaching Legacy?
Personal Teaching Legacy is the sum of a teacher's current teaching philosophy and teaching practice, and the past and present personal beliefs that inform both. It has three angles. (Angle 1) It usually originates from their experiences as a learner, (Angle 2) is shaped by the culture of learning promoted in the schools they work in, and (Angle 3) is confirmed by what works for them within their existing pedagogic schema. For the impact of in-service teacher training to show and last longer, our recommendation for change must appeal to all the three angles of someone’s Personal Teaching Legacy. How do we appeal to a teacher’s Personal Teaching Legacy during Classroom Shapeshift?
As we looked through the available literature on in-service teacher training and school improvement at Innerkern, we realized that hooking into an individual teacher's Professional Change Legacy is the antidote to teacher resistance as it helps us figure out ways to appeal to their Personal Teaching Legacy. We already knew module-based teacher training processes are not structurally capable of allowing us to tap into an individual teacher’s Professional Change Legacy. Therefore, we decided that, during Classroom Shapeshift, we will not ask teachers to sit through module-based teacher training sessions. Instead, we designed unique learning opportunities to allow participating teachers and our classroom consultants to join hands to hook into their personal history of professional change or Professional Change Legacy.
As we post this blog, Innerkern is implementing the processes to access the Professional Change Legacy of individual teachers in schools that signed up for Classroom Shapeshift. Once these processes are in place and we can tap into the Professional Change Legacy of each participating teacher, we will begin the interventions that appeal to their Personal Teaching Legacy. As we progress, we will share the insights that surface for us during this journey of change with you. Meanwhile, please feel free to get in touch with our Programme Team if you would like to collaborate with us and implement Classroom Shapeshift in your school.
About the Lead Researchers
Rosama Francis started her career as a teacher and soon found herself motivated to help students find their potential. She went on to head schools soon after and found all her work centered around finding people's strengths. It was an intuitive understanding that everyone has their unique potential and only by focusing on that, will that individual find success. She soon gravitated towards her career as a coach and still wake up to a life that she loves. Rosama Francis is the co-founder of Innerkern and you can read more about her work here.
Sojo Varughese is an educator with more than a decade and a half of rich and varied on-field experience behind him in Teacher Training, Instructional Coaching, Academic Audit, Education Technology Integration, and School Improvement. Over these years, working with international, national & state board schools (government and private), he would have by now trained and coached 46000+ school leaders and teachers across India and the Middle East in contemporary classroom teaching, student assessment, and school management practices. Sojo Varughese is the co-founder of Innerkern and you can read more about his work here.