On Thursday, March 10, 2016, AVSI organized a panel discussion entitled “Teacher Motivation and the Impact on Learning: Getting to the Heart of the Matter,” within the Comparative and International Education Society Conference (CIES2016) held in Vancouver, Canada.The panel featured presentations of three papers, each offering a different case study related to the topic.
Jackie Aldrette, Managing Director of AVSI-USA, moderated the session and set the stage by framing the question. “The vision we have is clear and shared: we want motivated, passionate and engaging teachers who have the commitment to deal with constraints and to reach all children and help them to learn and grow at their potential. How we go about achieving that is not so clear or straightforward,” posited Aldrette.
The issue of teacher motivation was front and center for this panel because the fundamental role of teachers in delivering quality education is indisputable, and teachers are needed for any changes to teaching practice that researchers and policy makers aim to implement.
Yet still, many communities and education systems struggle with issues of absenteeism, lack of innovation, burnout, turnover, and corporal punishment.
Recognizing that education is a complex endeavor and that teachers are shaped by a whole range of factors such as personal and academic background, salary and benefits, social norms, school conditions and resources, systemic factors, the discussion honed in on a narrow yet essential pivot: factors of intrinsic motivation of teachers to change and perform at potential.
Teacher as Educator: Case of Mexico
Rossana Stanchi, AVSI’s Country Representative in Mexico, described the two relatively young projects which AVSI Mexico is implementing with and for teachers in Mexico (2013-2017). Rossana described how the difficult educational environment in Mexico, and especially in states such as Oaxaca, has effectively paralyzed teachers. As a result, teachers have few options for meaningful professional development and little room for creativity and change. Through meetings with professors from the teacher colleges and teachers themselves, AVSI understood the need for a fresh approach to education. AVSI Mexico proposed a “new pedagogy” drawing on the principles of the Italian educator, Luigi Giussani. Together with the professors and teachers, AVSI Mexico designed a number of training courses, complete with practical exercises and tutors, that were accessible and relevant. What was new about these courses was the starting point: teachers were looked at holistically, as persons, and were invited to begin a process of self-reflection, while working together with others to probe fundamental questions around the meaning of education. Education was presented not only as a technical discipline with a curriculum and set of techniques that must be mastered, but as a dialogue and a journey which involves the teacher as a whole person. About 300 teachers have been trained to date through the two projects.
The projects have been evaluated using self-assessments done by the participants, as well as a review carried out by the donor consisting of consultations with stakeholders and participants. Results have shown a high level of enthusiasm, commitment and completion rates from participating teachers. The majority of teachers stated that their way of relating with students has changed. Other teachers reported a new found confidence and sense of freedom to be oneself and creative at school. Stakeholders from the teachers’ college gave the feedback that even in a short time, the teachers who had completed the courses were already having a positive impact on the school environment. Overall, Rossana concluded that the process—careful listening, sharing of experiences and building something together—was essential to the early success of the project. Rossana ended by summarizing, “In all the cases we have seen that it is essential to recuperate the value of the person in the spaces in which the work of education is carried out, where parents and teachers can grow within a sincere and profound dialogue, where they are helped to discover the human aspects of teaching and to appreciate the importance of relationships. This is the possibility that the joy of teaching and the joy of collaboration can emerge, making a common work possible.”
Teacher as Continual Learner: Case of Uganda
Mauro Giacomazzi, Executive Director of the Luigi Giussani Institute for Higher Education (LGIHE) in Kampala, Uganda, explained the approach to teacher professional development that LGIHE delivers in Uganda and elsewhere, as well as results from a recent impact study carried out with Notre Dame University. LGIHE began informally training teachers and social workers through its relationship with AVSI in 2003. Today, LGIHE is an institute for higher education recognized by the Ministry of Education and Sport and authorized in Uganda to deliver Certificates and Master’s degrees in addition to the core service which is a school-based teacher professional development course with two parts, Risk of Education and Educate while Teaching. Similar to the approach used by AVSI Mexico, Mauro described the importance of the first phase of the training as an opportunity to awaken the heart of the teacher to see and feel more clearly what they want to gain from their teaching career and from their life. The training touches upon the issue of how students learn, the role of affection in the learning process, and the importance of the teacher-student relationship. Only in the second phase of the course are techniques introduced and worked on in practical exercises.
Mauro shared the quasi-experimental evaluation approach which assessed the impact of the training on teachers’ attitudes and behaviors in 36 schools, divided between rural and urban schools and including a control group of schools which did not receive the training. Treatment schools received either a full package (two modules, teacher observation and coaching support) or a light package (one module). The data collection instruments used were teacher surveys, student surveys, observation reports, and qualitative tools including interviews and focus group discussions. Despite a short intervention period of only one year, statistically significant changes were detected on areas such as trust between student and teacher, teacher understanding of child development topics, and freedom of students to ask questions in class. The evaluation did not measure student learning outcomes, although Mauro explained that the second phase of the project which is on-going presently will tackle that question.
Teacher as Part of Learning Community, the Role of the Headmaster: USA Case
Jose Medina was Principal of Cristo Rey High School in Boston from 2006-2013, a school which serves exclusively low-income students who are not on track for college readiness. During his tenure at Cristo Rey, Jose set in motion a transformation of the school, engaging teachers in a deep reflective and collaborative process that considered all aspects of school life. At the end of those seven years, 100% of Cristo Rey graduates were consistently accepted to college. Jose spoke about a few disconnects which he saw clearly when he stepped up to the helm of the high school. First, teachers generally have a perception of their ability to positively influence their students’ learning (around 85% of the time) while at the same time having the perception that a relatively small group of students can actually learn according to the standards (35% of students). A second issue was that teachers, like people in all walks of life, demonstrate a “status quo bias” which is an emotional response to change which is often disconnected with the rational response. So, even when teachers agree on a change or new policy, this rational response does not very often translate into change of behavior in the classroom.
Jose briefly described a few aspects of the change process he guided at Cristo Rey which focused on the collection and use of relevant data concerning students’ perceptions of teachers and learning outcomes. It was necessary to introduce the data collection tools and analysis carefully so as not to create a backlash and negative reaction among teachers. Data was analyzed together, shared openly, and collected regularly. Jose shared how teachers slowly got behind the idea and began to grow, personally and professionally, using this new way of looking at reality and facing it together as a group. Jose concluded that inspiring greater motivation in teachers might not be a matter of new training methods, per se, but about creating a community of educators who have a common vision and shared dedication to personal and professional growth. For this, leadership of the principal is essential.
In conclusion, the audience agreed that the panelists had hit on an essential element within the panorama of quality education and the ambitious “learning for all” agenda: engaging teachers in a holistic way and not avoiding the profound questions of meaning and purpose is necessary to motivate teachers to work towards common goals and reach their potential. Three modalities of addressing the issue were presented, and both advances and continued gaps in evidence were discussed. While no magic bullet solution emerged, there was a sense of hopefulness that from the seeds being planted in each of the three cases, something beautiful can grow that can influence beyond the garden walls.
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