Power of deep listening in crafting propositions

Maman is a young English teacher in a small town in West Bengal. She teaches in the first English medium Madarasa in the country. She believes children is key to societal progress and teachers have a critical role in shaping them. Dynamic and committed, she believes that children are active participants in learning and as teacher she can transform lives of the children – helping them dream big and fulfill their aspirations.

Her students are first generation learners for whom English is a completely foreign language, compounded by their lack of proficiency in reading and writing even their own vernacular language. She feels the training she has access to does not fulfil her aspirations to fundamentally change the learning experience of her children. The trainings mostly focused on specific tasks of teachers rather than equipping teachers to meet the needs to diverse children, develop a value system to guide her in her classroom and interactions with children.

CETE TISS over the last 15 years has curated rigorous Teacher Professional Development programs for teachers like Maman, who are deeply motivated and need opportunities to learn and further their teaching practices. Delivered in online and blended formats, it provides access to high quality training for many teachers spread across rural and peri-urban areas in the country.

The Indian teacher professional development system is broken and in need of complete overhaul of teacher education, management and support. The pre-service training of teachers has issues like archaic curriculum and inadequate faculty. The in-service training is delivered by untrained professionals and is insufficient.

The mindset towards teachers compounds the problem. Teachers and teacher educators treated by the system as the lowest level of functionaries of a bureaucratic system. Teachers are disrespected and unempowered. This leads to cynicism and loss of motivation. This translates into frustration in classrooms leading to poor quality of learning.

CETE create lasting impact in India’s education sector by professional development of teachers of schools across the nation. Having created a rigorous and updated TPD program for teachers in government and affordable private schools, it needed to reach out and enroll more stakeholders to significantly scale its impact. CETE worked with us to develop a way forward that was scalable and sustainable.

CETE needs to work with multiple stakeholders to impact the ecosystem. Different stakeholders have their own perspectives that can differ from each other. While we followed a 360 degree stakeholder approach to discover a solution, it is listening to a small group of loyalist teachers (those who had extensively engaged with CETE) that provided the most relevant and powerful proposition for CETE. It is the story of the impact on the life and work of teachers that will ultimately enroll all other stakeholders to CETE’s vision.

We first developed a deep understanding of the ecosystem through desk research, in-depth conversations with CETE team members, external academicians, leaders of funding and civil society organisations, government functionaries and functional leaders of other universities. This provided us a macro understanding of the system, its actors and the trends in the sector. This provided a rich context with which to listen and understand deeply what the teachers shared in semi-structured in-depth conversations with us. These conversations begin with teachers sharing their life stories, deepest motivations, anxieties and what how they relate to and seek from teaching as a profession. We follow the lead of the teacher to understand what their challenges are and how CETE has/can support them. This helps us arrive at the best expression of CETE’s proposition that is rooted in the teacher’s aspirations and also defines what is special about CETE.

  • What is her deepest desires, motivations, anxieties, compromises from life and work?
  • What is her relationship with TPD – What does she know, think, feel, expect from TPD? What motivates her to engage with a TPD? What are her needs from TPD?
  • How do we meet her needs – What are the options available to her for TPD? How well do we meet her needs in a unique way? What makes our approach special?

We, thus, arrived at CETE’s proposition based on teacher’s inherent need to be a catalyst of change in their classrooms, schools and the overall system. CETE connected the teachers to other teachers across the national, enabling them to share and influence each other. It leveraged the power of not just CETE experts but also a large national community of teachers.

CETE now needs work with multiple stakeholders to deliver this proposition at scale. This guided the design principles of being collaborative and systemic in its approach and work assiduously with the government, other private teacher training institutions and large civil society organisations.

A key tenet of its design was to keep the teacher as their focus and build ownership for teachers’ own learning. It was thus important to deeply listen, engage and allow for teacher’s experiences to be fed into the design of programmes and content.

Keeping the teacher at the heart of its design would mean CETE needs to shift the existing narrative of teacher professional development that focuses on solely on student-learning outcome.  It needs to inform and establish frameworks on how addressing a teacher’s personhood- addressing her agency, status, self-concept- impact positively the performance and outcome of the teacher in her classroom. Enabling the shift would further establish CETE as the forerunner in Teacher Development in the country thus magnifying its scale and advocacy for the teachers.