But what happens after we’re gone?
At Pencils of Promise (PoP), we share stories about the Teacher Support and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs that are currently taking place in schools. In these stories, we might explain that as you’re reading this, students are filling up their cups with clean water and running back to class. We may refer to the teacher that just this morning used a grammar activity to engage their 3rd grade students.
What we often don’t share is that, in addition to thinking about who is benefitting from these programs, we are constantly planning for the impact these programs will have years from now. In three years from today – will new students at that same school still be filling up their cups with clean water? Will that same teacher continue to use a grammar activity to engage students?
These are a few of the many questions we consider when deciding the details of our Teacher Support and WASH programs. Details that are essential to sustaining quality education. We see that working with teachers and communities is improving education for students now, but it’s the sustainability details that will allow students three years from now to benefit from that same support. A student that’s in school now might have a younger sibling, and in a few years that sibling will be in kindergarten. They should have the opportunity to receive a quality education as well.
So, what are the details we think about to support that opportunity?
How many years should we support a teacher in learning that grammar activity?
When we were deciding how long a Teacher Support or WASH program should be, we considered the progression of how long it takes a teacher to go from seeing a coach demonstrating a strategy to performing that strategy in their own classroom, in their own unique way that best fits their skillset and their students. Using the method, our teams have found that schools need to be in a program for at least three years before they graduate. That is approximately the amount of time it takes a teacher to get from Year 1, where they are being coached for the first time by PoP, to the end of Year 3, when they are skillfully and effortlessly using strategies in their own classroom. With that knowledge, both Teacher Support and WASH programs in each country are at least three years in length.
Replacement of materials
If a school has graduated from a program, are schools set up to replace a water filter when it breaks?
While we provide materials like water filters, books, e-readers and hand washing stations to schools at the onset of a program, after graduation those materials need to be replaced by the schools themselves. We work with schools to ensure they have plans in place to collect funding from their communities for the replacement of materials.
One way we support this process is to initially provide local materials, when possible, that are found near the communities we support. Materials like Terra water filters in Laos or hand washing stations in Ghana are both examples of materials that can be sourced in areas surrounding the communities. By providing materials that can be found locally and supporting schools in developing a plan for collecting funds, our hope is that communities are set up to continue replacing materials long after we’re gone.
E-readers are the main exception to sourcing local materials. Because using e-readers typically requires regular tech support and communities wouldn’t easily be able to replace them, we replace those tablets with physical books when a school graduates. Therefore, students continue to have access to reading materials and schools are able to replace books locally.
After a school graduates from a program, are there opportunities for teachers to learn even more?
Continued learning is the biggest piece of our work that helps ensure sustainability. The bulk of learning happens while programs are in place, with multiple workshops each year and coaches observing teachers between those workshops. However, there should be opportunities for teachers to continue learning after schools graduate from the program.
Knowing this, we’ve worked to support government in-service training, where a principal meets with teachers to discuss and find solutions to challenges they’re facing. These trainings are supposed to be happening at the school already, but with schools having so many responsibilities, they often fall by the wayside. We will be creating guides and working with schools to host these regularly, so that by the time a school graduates from the program, the principal is organizing these trainings for their teachers independently.
Continued learning also comes in the form of reflection, a skill that is promoted throughout the Teacher Support program. After a coach observes a teacher, the coach first asks the teacher to reflect on their lesson and explain what they think went well and what needs improvement. This process gets teachers into the habit of reflecting on their own practice without the input of a coach. After the school graduates, teachers will have the skills needed to reflect on their own lessons and choose areas they should improve upon without the support of a coach. Thus, the improvement cycle continues.
But reflection doesn’t only happen for the teachers. Our staff will be visiting schools once a year for two years after graduation to see how teachers are growing and improving without presence of the program. We’ll use this information to change how we conduct programs in schools and learn how we can better support teachers after graduation. We may see that water filters are not being cleaned regularly after graduation or that books are being stored in a lockbox instead of being used. We’ll then know that there is more we should be doing while the program is in place to support best practices continuing after we leave. While teachers will continue to reflect on their own learning, we will also be constantly thinking about how we can improve our support.
We work with heads of schools and district supervisors, who are government appointed members responsible for managing and visiting multiple schools. Knowing these members will be visiting schools after we leave, we work with them on both content and coaching best practices. They attend our teacher workshops and, in some countries, are also given their own specific training to develop their coaching and school management skills.
Finally, manuals will be given to teachers for each program. When new teachers arrive or old teachers want to refer back to a TS or WASH activity, they will have a manual with all workshop and engagement strategies they were taught during the programs. If a new teacher wants to learn more about open defecation or the five steps to correctly washing their hands, they’ll be able to.
We care deeply about what happens after a school graduates from our programs. Before a school graduates, teachers will ideally feel confident in the strategies we’ve supported them with, but teachers should also have the resources to continue learning when PoP programs move on to serve other schools. Whether it’s through inservice training, a district supervisor visit, or just simply looking back at a manual to remember how to clean a water filter, our goal is that structures are in place for learning to continue. We want students to benefit from an engaging grammar activity tomorrow, next year and years down the road. At PoP, we are implementing an exit strategy that is designed to produce the most sustainable form of support and generate systemic change.