The HertsCam Network is currently playing an enabling role in the ‘Teacher-Led Learning Circles for Formative Assessment’ project led by Educational International and funded by the Jacobs Foundation. At HertsCam, we are committed to ‘non-positional teacher leadership’ in which any teacher can be empowered and enabled to lead the development of practice in their schools.
At the planning stage, we wanted the outcome of the Learning Circles project to be the sharing of accounts of good practice in relation to formative assessment from all the participating countries – Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire , Ghana, Malaysia, South Korea, Switzerland and Uruguay. In order to achieve this, we wanted to empower the participating teachers and enable them to become agents of change. We wanted them to work with their colleagues to develop practice, tackle the obstacles and embed innovations in the routines of their schools. Then they would be able to tell stories about these promising practices, showing how they can work in different settings.
Empowerment through facilitation
Groups of teachers would be facilitated by experienced teachers in their own countries using the ‘teacher-led development work’ methodology. Facilitators are provided with a tool kit designed by HertsCam and inducted into the role by experienced facilitators from the HertsCam Network. These ‘Link Facilitators’ are teachers who have been successful facilitators of teacher leadership groups in the UK and who have also previously provided induction and support for facilitators in many other countries. This was most recently documented for example in a Russian language book ‘ Teacher Leadership in Kazakhstan’ (Qanay et al., 2003).
In my own blog, I have written about a pedagogy of empowerment which resonates with Paulo Freire’s ideas. The empowerment model rests on the concept of facilitation. This is a radical alternative to the more common forms of support for teachers and practice development. Policy statements and reports often include recommendations that teachers be offered training as if this is unproblematic. In HertsCam, teachers talk about their frustrations with programmes which are supposed to lead to professional development and learning but are in fact disempowering and not based on understanding the actual context of the schools concerned. As I have argued in a previous publication, ‘training’ is based on the assumption that there is a deficit in the teacher that can be fixed by trainers. It is assumed that the trainers have a higher level expertise and knowledge that they can somehow transmit to the teachers. The terms ‘professional development’ and ‘professional learning’ may seem more respectful than ‘training’, but the problem is that, although we might change the terminology from time to time, actual practice tends to be shaped by the same old values and beliefs. It amounts to teachers having stuff done to them. Of course, teachers will always need to extend their teaching repertoires, develop their pedagogical understanding and improve their classroom practice, but top-down approaches can be counter-productive.
The secret to authentic change is to mobilise teachers’ human agency; enable them to reconnect with their moral purpose as educators and provide the scaffolding for a process in which they create their own pathways forward. Facilitators do not instruct; they do not try to tell teachers what they should think or how they should teach; they do not give the teachers tasks which will make them feel belittled by their lack of knowledge. Facilitators do not undermine teachers’ confidence. On the contrary, facilitators provide safe spaces for teachers to engage in critical friendship and reflection so that they are able to clarify their own values and identify their personal priorities for change. In Learning Circles, Facilitators use tools in workshop activities which enable every teacher in the group to bring their identity and experience to the discussion. Through this sort of process, the teacher can frame their development goals and plan a process of change in which they work collaboratively with colleagues in their schools to review current practice and embed new practice in their classrooms.
A global conversation about pedagogy
Colleagues in the Learning Circles in Cote D’Ivoire have almost completed the process and we look forward to finding out about the innovations they have brought about. Colleagues in Switzerland and Brazil will complete in the next few weeks and others are still in the early stages. Early indications are that teachers are embracing this opportunity to be agents of change. They seem to relish the opportunity to support each other in reflecting on their own practice and circumstances in relation to their professional values. They have been able to identify their own priorities under the broad umbrella of formative assessment and have planned processes of development that match their particular contexts.
One of the teachers from Côte d'Ivoire contributed to the recent HertsCam Annual Conference by sending a short video of herself talking, in French, about her project along with a brief written vignette. I was glad that the other teachers at the conference – from different parts of the UK and from other countries including Egypt, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Northern Ireland, Moldova and Romania - were able to hear something about this achievement.
This is just the beginning of a global conversation brokered by Education International about formative assessment practice and non-positional teacher leadership. We hope that teachers all over the world will be able to learn about the practical steps they can take to develop formative assessment practice in their own schools. We also hope that they will be inspired by the achievements of the teachers who have participated in the Learning Circles and will want to become agents of change themselves.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.