Empowering teachers

Published June 18, 2022
The writer is senior manager, professional development, at Oxford University Press Pakistan, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
The writer is senior manager, professional development, at Oxford University Press Pakistan, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

THE idea of learning is as old as time itself, yet we struggle each day to empower teachers to develop the competencies and skills required to transform teaching and learning. Many teachers lament lack of opportunities for continuous growth, lack of empowerment, reward and recognition. While their demands would be rational in an ideal world, they are not necessarily legitimate when there is a huge gap between the demonstration of skills and the call for empowerment, which involves decision-making, commitment to strategic aims and a vision.

How can empowerment occur in a vacuum where the competencies don’t match up to the demands of the educational institution? The answer may lie in addressing the huge gap between skills training and curriculum demands.

The story of empowerment is multilayered — there can be no cake without the ingredients. We cannot see growth and progress in an environment wrought with deficiencies or functioning on the wrong ingredients. Once potential is unlocked and the necessary competencies are addressed, empowerment is the result. The story starts with enablement through building and optimising capabilities, setting up mechanisms for ongoing improvement and tracking measurable indicators to monitor impact. Ad hoc policies and bursts of intermittent effort to train teachers through INSET (in-service training) days cannot fulfil the requirements.

Unfortunately, delivering content without a vision or strategy, especially with funding limitations and a web of restrictions on teachers, cannot carry hope of empowerment which, in turn, limits the teachers’ ability to enable students — the ultimate stakeholders. A structured strategy is not just necessary but crucial to students’ future. However, the journey may be a difficult one as we can’t really build a tower without laying the foundations. In our schooling system, that implies recognising those with competence and key talent, and customising teacher training modules to offer piecemeal services to teachers according to their needs.

How motivated are teachers to take charge?

There are mainly three quick and effective ways of empowering the faculty — looking closely at their commitment through the metrics of ‘institution-building’ measures. What impact do they have on teaching and learning, on the reputation of the institute and how well do they address students’ needs above and beyond their job description? While reward and recognition is a significant driver of motivation, there can be little commitment without empowerment.

It is tricky to measure the impact of empowering teachers as it has many facets. The most obvious one is setting targets with short- and medium-term goals and monitor how teachers accomplish them. How well do they engage in setting the goals for themselves? How motivated are they to take responsibility for their students’ learning? Another significant factor is their willingness and ability to upgrade their skills. Can they track their own learning and report the progress they have made in their performance?

Another measure of empowerment is to look closely at the vertical growth within an institution and the percentage of teachers able to move into leadership roles over a five-year period. If opportunities are created with clear expectations, teachers will be able to step into more demanding roles seamlessly. For example, a primary school math teacher felt the need to engage more deeply in exchanging ideas through collaboration and, with the school management’s approval, set up a professional learning community involving primary teachers from multiple branches of the chain school. Initially, it functioned as an internal support group, and later, became massive in its scope, with teachers from other schools wishing to join and learn. Their digital outreach eventually enabled thousands of teachers to join the thriving learning community.

This is an example of how teachers can be leaders without being in a designated leadership role. With her vision, that teacher may have been singularly responsible for a culture of innovation that helped the growth and reputation of her school. School websites are usually wrought with the history, reputation and achievement of the students and testimonials by parents, but they rarely celebrate the successes of individual teachers. Acknowledging teachers’ efforts publicly is essential to increasing motivation and commitment.

Teachers cannot always be great at every aspect of their work life. Some are great at motivating students, others are curriculum drivers while many may not be great teachers in the classroom but can provide fantastic pastoral care. Identifying individual strengths and leveraging them by distributing key responsibilities throughout the wider institution can build a strong teaching and learning environment.

The writer is senior manager, professional development, at Oxford University Press Pakistan, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Twitter:@nedamulji

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2022

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