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The good and the bad…

a reflection on TPD in India.

Hello and welcome to the 69th edition of our fortnightly newsletter, Things in Education.


A cricketer at the end of a gruelling summer of non-stop cricket games knows that there are going to be some cricket games that they will have to play in the rest of the year. But there will be time for tuning their bodies, for physical and mental conditioning, and also for reflection. As the curtain rises on the new academic year in schools across India, we feel that it is the end of a long season for us at Things Education as well. We will work on our physical and mental conditioning in the months to come, mostly privately, but we thought we should share our reflections on teacher professional development (TPD) in India with you. 


More and more schools are opting for in-service TPD

Over the last few years, we have seen a marked increase in the number of schools opting for TPD for their teachers. These are not just high-end private schools but also affordable private schools. In-service teacher training from government boards has also become more frequent and tech-savvy. 


Lesson plans are not popular

Teachers almost exclusively use textbooks as their primary resource. This is not news in the Indian context. We all know that the assumption has always been that the syllabus is equal to the recommended textbook. And if textbooks are the primary resource, then we need to have contextual books that are culturally relevant to different areas of the country. This is difficult to do, and this is where lesson plans help. Lesson plans give teachers the avenue to contextualise the syllabus to the geographic location and demography of students. But not a lot of teachers have specific lesson plans made for their classes. When teachers teach in schools that are getting textbooks and lesson plans from publishers, they have access to lesson plans, and in such cases, there could be two scenarios. On one hand, teachers follow the lesson plans assiduously – almost like it was a textbook. On the other hand, teachers ignore the lesson plans, as they have textbooks. Even in the first case, teachers following publishers’ lesson plans are not really alleviating the problem that textbooks have. Standardised lesson plans for the whole country are no worse than textbooks, keeping in mind the importance of contextualising or personalising learning and teaching.


Learning outcomes the bedrock of any TPD session

There is always a debate, discussion or sometimes even a heated argument about what a learning outcome is. We have written, spoken at length and briefly about this. We have a pretty narrow definition of what learning outcomes are, and we think that this definition helps in creating good learning outcomes. But the debate and discussions around what a learning outcome is and how it is different from an objective need to stop. These are two very different things – learning outcomes are very specific. 


However, as we have seen all through the last year, learning outcomes are the first roadblock that we have faced over and over again while doing any type of teacher professional development (TPD) sessions. Whether the school wants teachers to know how to conduct project-based learning classes or they want to brush up on formative assessment techniques, the place that we like to start from is learning outcomes. What project to get the students to do or what questions to ask in the formative assessments depends on what the learning outcomes are. And as a general pattern, we see that learning outcomes are just not clear, to even the experienced educators. 


If there was a session on formative assessment, and the facilitator starts with short discussion on learning outcomes. If the facilitator realises that the group is not clear with what learning outcomes are, there are two possible courses of action: one, ignore it and move to the next part so that the agenda for that session – formative assessment – is met. Or two, pause the agenda, and dive deep into the learning outcome discussion till some clarity is achieved. Because we see learning outcomes as the bedrock of everything in the lesson, we think the latter approach is better.


Motivations for TPD are quite varied

On one hand, there are schools that view teachers as an appreciating asset. The more they grow, the more value they bring to the school. These schools understand the importance and value of TPD for their teachers. In these schools, the top management is involved in decision making about the content of TPD sessions or who the facilitators need to be, etc. These plans are made early on, and these plans are made for a medium or long term – at least a year, if not more. These schools have an earmarked budget for these sessions.


On the other hand, there are schools which want to do TPD sessions to check a box or for compliance with the education board. These schools will call us up and say, “Can we do a PD session this Friday?” The sessions are episodic, sporadic, poorly planned and hastily put together. It is almost always that it is left to us to decide what the session should be. Of course, schools that want to plan their sessions in advance also consult with us on the specifics of what the sessions should be about. But they have a general idea of what they are looking for. However, with the second group of schools, it is almost completely up to us. And of course, given that these sessions are planned ad hoc, the schools have not budgeted for the session. We have had several instances where schools ask us to reduce the session to three hours instead of six for no other reason except for costs.


As we wrote in the beginning of this section, we know that these are the two extremes of the continuum on which schools lie. Where does your school lie – closer to which end?


All TPD programmes are top-down mandates

TPD being top-down is understandable right now. The Indian school ecosystem is just waking up to the importance of in-person continuous teacher professional development. Earlier, any in-service teacher training would involve teachers going to the district headquarters for a day-long top-up session. So teachers are not used to thinking about what they need for their professional development. It has always been told to them. As we move toward more frequent and regular in-service continuous TPD sessions, we have to get teachers involved in the decision making process. It is useful for the school management or education board to observe and recommend certain training programmes. At the same time, it is equally important that teachers start thinking about their own training and professional development.


What would you like for your training session?

  • Classroom demonstration of how to teach a specific topic

  • How to conduct a project-based learning classroom

  • How to get more from your assessments

  • How to help slow learners


We will let you know the results of this poll in one of the next editions when we go into more detail of why and how teachers take charge of their own professional development.


This has been a reflective and more opinion-based edition. However, we would like to point out that all our reflections are based on empirical evidence. Let us know if you have faced similar situations or if you have had different experiences over the last few years.

 

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Edition: 3.17

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