Brain Date* on Learning Transfer: Using Mobile Technology to Enhance Learning Transfer


Guest Blogger Corinne Brion talks about our work with using mobile phones as a professional development tool to improve learning transfer.

The purpose of the WhatsApp group was to examine the extent to which mobile technology played a role in enhancing learning transfer for school leaders in Ghana and Burkina Faso. The WhatsApp platform was used as a Professional Leaning Community (PLC) for everyone who participated in the three-day leadership training, provided that they were present on the last day of the training and had a Smart phone with the WhatsApp application. Everyone received the same message at the same time and was able to respond. WhatsApp allows anyone with access to a Smart phone and Wi-Fi to send individual and group messages anywhere in the world. It also allows sending and receiving photos, videos, recordings, and Word documents. I sent text messages via group texting.WHATS APP

On the last day of the training, the participants confirmed their contact information, provided the phone number they used for WhatsApp and agreed to be part of the PLC. A total of 23 participants were invited to join the WhatsApp group. The local NGO staff member in charge of education, as well as the two Ghanaian facilitators who conducted the leadership training, and the site director were also invited to the group as silent observers. The role of the silent observers was defined and explained to them before the intervention started. Later, I was able to ask the silent observers to read my findings, serving as member checkers. As the moderator and administrator of the WhatsApp group, my role was to send the text messages twice a week, monitor the answers, provide some written or oral feedback and encouragement, and answer questions. I also ensured that the norms were respected and that the purpose of the PLC remained intact. Norms for the group were discussed prior of the start of the intervention. Norms included: (1) the group was created to enhance and promote leadership conversations only as to help enhance networking among participants; (2) the group should not be used for personal or other purposes; and (3) everyone was encouraged to participate in the discussions/reflections. I sent a first text message to the cohort inviting the participants to join the WhatsApp group five days after the end of the training. Text messages were sent to the proprietors and head teachers for nine weeks starting two weeks after the school leadership training. The two-week grace period allowed participants to return to their school sites, share with colleagues, and reflect on the knowledge they had gained during the training. The intervention lasted nine weeks because four leadership modules were covered during the leadership training and I wanted to ask 2 follow up questions per module. On the last week of the intervention (week 9), I sought to receive the participants’ perspectives on the use of WhatsApp as a follow up method.

On Mondays the participants received a yes/no question and an open-ended question followed on Fridays of the same week. Participants could answer one question and not the other if they wished. There was a total of seven yes/no questions and nine open ended questions. The questions were all related to the content of the four modules taught during the three-day leadership training. This format was chosen to: (1) understand what kind of question triggered more participation; and (2) provide the participant a structure in which they could expect a yes/no question on Monday that gave them time to reflect in order to answer the open-ended question on Friday or over the following days. I asked questions directly related to the content of the four modules. An example of a yes/no question would be “Do you think your school is more inviting now as a result of the Edify leadership training you attended in July? Please respond YES or NO. Open ended questions included questions such as “Have you made your school more inviting this week? If you made any changes add any photos and/or videos of what you have changed.

The study participants unanimously stated that the WhatsApp intervention was helpful to transfer new knowledge after the training for several reasons. They commented that it allowed them to learn from each other, and it reminded them of the training, its content, and the School Improvement Plans. The intervention also encouraged and motivated the participants to put into action what they had learned during the training. One participant stated: “We were expecting your messages, so we knew we did not have time to seat down and relax, your follow up helped us to remember what we had seen in the training.” Even those who did not know how to type stated that it was “brilliant and very helpful.” One school leader shared: “WhatsApp helped me because I could read and see what my colleagues were doing in their schools. I took some ideas and also got motivated by what some did.”

Network and Peer Learning

The use of WhatsApp allowed the workshop participants to share information and “encouraged those who were not responding to questions to sit up.” A woman leader added: “Comments from my colleagues always draw my attention back to what was learned at the workshop. The answers given were helpful and made us conscious of what others were doing. We got ideas and copied some ideas.” Most participants shared that they were happy to hear from colleagues after the training, keeping “the good atmosphere beyond the training.” Finally, one leader spoke of the fact that he learned vicariously and said “despite the fact that I never wrote anything on the platform I was reading all the messages and learned a lot from the others that way.”

            Reminder, Peer Pressure, Motivation and Encouragement

All leaders suggested that being active on the WhatsApp platform was motivating because of the peer pressure. When leaders saw pictures on the phone of what colleagues improved in their schools, they would be inclined to do the same and share their progress on the platform. A leader shared: “When I see other schools making so many changes, I must make some too! I liked what some of my colleagues did and I must now try to do the same at my school. If they can do it, why can’t I, I must at least try and show them.” Another participant stated, “I do not go to the others’ schools but I see pictures they send and it helps me to change too.” Two other persons commented: “Usually after training, people feel reluctant to use what was learned but this gave us pressure and motivation and it always reminded us to do what we set to do.” Participants also commented on the encouragement they would receive from other participants and from the group moderator when new learning was transferred: “We felt encouraged because you [the researcher] wrote to us and asked us more questions when you did not understand or wanted us to share more.”

            Norms and Structure

All participants appreciated that the rules were clear and given before the intervention started. One leader referred to the norms as: “nothing to waste.” According to him the norms promoted learning by staying on task. Two leaders stated that people who did not respect the rules were “detractors” and they appreciated when I intervened and restated the rules immediately. He stated it in this way “Let us stick to the reason for what the group was created. Not everyone is a fan on what others are posting.”

All participants shared that they enjoyed the structure of the questioning and the quality of the questions. They enjoyed receiving a yes/no question on Mondays when it was busy and the open-ended questions on Fridays when they had the weekend to read, think and respond. “I was always eager to see what message you [the researcher] sent even if I could not look at work. I would go home and look at what you sent because I knew to expect a message on certain days and I knew I had time to think about the question before responding.”

            WhatsApp Beyond the Training

After this intervention, all participants stated that WhatsApp should be used for all trainings. Two participants indicated that they would like to use WhatsApp in their own work and with their teachers, using the application to ask the teachers a few questions prior to their weekly teachers’ meeting. “I thank you because now I will use this with my teachers and this will force them to prepare effectively before a meeting.”

Participants also shared that since the training content was helpful and relevant to their context, they were willing to engage in the WhatsApp. One school leader claimed: “You see often times you go to training, but the materials is not appropriate for us and we do not learn anything. Here we learned because of new research you presented but also because you made is relevant to our needs and schools. That is why we wanted to continue the learning and sharing on WhatsApp.”

The data indicated that participants perceived WhatsApp as being a useful tool to enhance the transfer of learning because it enabled them to learn from each other, reminded them of the workshop and of their school improvement plans and encouraged them in general. They shared that the pictures other leaders posted on the platform encouraged them to transfer learning to their schools, referring to it as peer pressure. According to the participants, WhatsApp appeared to be an efficient way to follow up with workshop participants post training. It helped participants remember the goals they had set for themselves and reminded them of the content of the training. WhatsApp was also appreciated because it is a platform the participants knew how to use, and it is readily accessible and available. One head teacher exclaimed “WhatsApp was a great idea to follow up with us because we use it already, we just never thought of using it among us educators and after a training”.

“WhatsApp was brilliant, you should use it after each training and in fact I am now planning to use it with my teachers.”

These two pictures were posted on the WhatsApp platform after the training. Brion Blog no. 2They exemplify how school leaders took the content of the training module on nutrition, made a poster of the food pyramid and invited parents to a PTA meeting on nutrition. A video of the meeting was also posted on the platform for everyone to see.


*The term brain date is used as a way to foster conversations and reflections among like-minded educators and educational leaders.

Meet Dr. Brion

A Model for Leadership Training in Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs) in Sub-Saharan Nations

Over the last five or so years a team comprised of faculty, graduate students and practitioners from the University of San Diego has been conducting trainings and research as well as coaching school leaders in six sub-Saharan nations and three countries in Central/South America. Our work has been predominantly with two international NGOs that provide capital to local micro-finance institutions for loans to schools. These schools are referred to as Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs)[1] and most are small family-run businesses. It’s estimated that there are over 1 million LFPSs in emerging nations (Economist, Kwan).

This will be my first blog about our work and it may be of interest if you are working in the same countries and/or for those of you who are part of the conversation (debate!) about the role of private schooling in low and middle-income nations. It’s a contentious topic and we’ll explore it in a future blog.

But first, I’ll begin with the genesis of our projects and what we have done in Ghana where the work began. It started with a donor who supported two NGOs (Opportunity International and Edify) who asked us to explore whether or not receiving school loans impact student learning. For financial and research-related reasons (e.g., insufficient funding to conduct a Randomized Control Trial) we haven’t quite answered this particular question; however, we have explored whether the training that accompanies a school loan is correlated with school improvement (Brion & Cordeiro, 2017). In this blog, I describe our work with one of the NGOs.

Morning Assembly at a low-cost private school

In 2012, while I was still dean at the University of San Diego, Chris Crane, the founder of Edify, a faith-based NGO, visited my office and asked if I would send a team to Ghana and the Dominican Republic to explore a possible partnership between Edify and the University. He wanted to know what trainings Edify might offer their education clients.   The research on micro-lending discusses the importance of offering lending clients training as well as capital (Lyby 2006). Edify provides capital to local micro-lenders who in turn provide small loans to the LFPSs. Usually the trainings that accompany a loan are about fiscal sustainability; however, Chris beleived that the trainings offered should go beyond budgeting and include education-related topics.

During the initial visits to Ghana, we interviewed numerous school leaders, teachers and parents. Edify told us they assumed we would recommend teacher training; however, it became clear after the interviews that the focus should be on school proprietors and their leadership teams. We discovered that teacher turnover was particularly high (40-50%) and yet many school leaders didn’t realize the extent of the problem nor had given much thought as to how to lessen teacher turnover. Ghana has a nationwide shortage of qualified teachers. Although the school proprietors requested teacher trainings, they also told us they themselves needed to learn more about operating an educational organization since no or few trainings of any kind were offered locally. Thus, we recommended that building the capacity of the school leadership team should be the priority for any trainings, since leadership is key to improving student learning (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004).

We then considered the issue of what the training should be comprised of, especially since after conducting a thorough literature review, we found little literature about private schooling in these countries and most local universities offered no specialized training or professional development appropriate for a private school context. As Barnett discussed in his April 11, 2018 blog on this website, there are three types of national educational systems and Ghana’s falls into the loosely regulated system category because preparation programs and professional learning experiences for school leaders are sparse or non-existent.

After numerous conversations with officials at the Ghanaian Education Service, school leaders, university faculty and Edify staff, we developed the following model:

Our Model for Building the Capacity of School Leaders

Theory of Action: Strengthen the Capacity of the School Leadership Team in order to Improve Student Learning Outcomes

Based on the data collected while in country, a review of the literature and topics requested by school leaders, three school leadership, evidence-based modules were created: Improving the Conditions for Learning (3 days); Leading for Learning (2 days); and Creating and Developing Early Childhood Programs (2 days). Topics include nutrition, ensuring a safe and adequate school facility, creating an inviting school culture, what it means to be an instructional leader and the key role that early learning plays, among many more.

A train-the-trainer (TOT) model is used and each country has a minimum of 3-5 trainers with numerous additional ones in the pipeline. Since training is only as good as the trainers, we’ve found the TOT approach to be a key part of our strategy.

Another essential ingredient is the pedagogy used in all parts of the model.  The training curriculum uses active learning strategies such as role playing, case studies, and problem-based projects, to name but a few.  The trainers themselves must be comfortable using these teaching strategies and this has been challenging for many trainers since in their own education they were typically not exposed to active pedagogies.

School Leaders participating in the training modules, “Leading for Learning” prioritizing what they believe are important dispositions for teachers.

Once the modules are delivered, a trained Education Specialist visits the school and coaches the leadership team in carrying out the School Development Plan that was created during the trainings.   We’ve also developed an instrument referred to as the School Self-Assessment Instrument (SSAI); there are three different versions depending on the school level. It’s used by the leadership team and explores various aspects of the school, including personnel, facilities and the curriculum. We beta-tested the SSAI in numerous schools over a two-year period and it’s now used by any school wishing to engage in deep reflection about their school’s growth. Another component of the model is using mobile technology (we use the WhatsApp platform) to share questions and post photos that are tied to the content of the modules.

Additionally, we have an annual leadership conference. The local team, with assistance from a Planning Committee comprised of school leaders, designs and delivers a one-day conference for all leaders who have participated in the trainings.

The final key aspect of the model is the incubation of networks in order to create Communities of Practice. These networks are for school leaders as well as teachers. Local staff have created numerous special interest groups (e.g., early Childhood educators; IT teachers, leaders interested in construction and facilities, etc.). Sometimes they meet electronically and other times in person. They might decide to visit schools with certain programs or simply create a study group. Edify staff assist school leaders by connecting them with schools that have strong programs in areas that the proprietors and Head Teachers are interested. Some of these professional learning networks are ongoing, while others cease when they have accomplished their goals.

IMG_4056 (1)
Dr. Mike Amakyi, a trainer and Professor from the University of Cape Coast, awards a certificate to a school principal.

One network that we hadn’t planned was the request by the school leaders that we make available the option of taking the trainings for Continuing Education Credit. Since the vast majority of these school leaders have never participated in any formal school leader preparation or professional learning activity, they were eager to earn a certificate. We now have a cadre receiving a USD certificate in “Independent School Leadership.”

Rosemary Ohene-Bredu, proprietor of Ahenemba International School

We have contextualized the training modules for Ghana and we are launching an implementation in all eleven countries Edify works in.  The contextualization includes using local knowledge, organizations, policies and language. The trainings and modules are in a variety of languages including English, French, Spanish, Amharic (for Ethiopia) and Kinyarwanda (for Rwanda).

One could argue that this is a boutique program and that policy levers are far more important, and I would agree. Policy is key! However, I also believe much can be learned from NGOs working deeply and thoughtfully in this space. Edify is one of those NGOs. If you would like access to the modules or the SSAI, just shoot me an email.

[1] The literature uses several terms interchangeably—Affordable Private Schools (APSs), Budget Private Schools (BPS), Low-Cost Private Schools (LCPSs) and Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs). The latter term is used here since it is frequently cited in the literature.

Student Exhibitions as a Lever to Support School Change

Heather Lattimer provides insights for school leaders about improving school-wide changes around instruction and assessment. Dr. Lattimer offers examples from schools in the US and Kenya.

“I just don’t know how to get more buy-in,” a school principal who was trying to move her school to adopt a Deeper Learning approach told me recently. “I’ve taken teachers to conferences, had workshops here on campus, formed books clubs, and done demonstration lessons in classrooms myself, but most teachers seem to be only half-hearted in their efforts to use approaches that support Deeper Learning. They make an effort when they know that I’m going to visit but they revert right back to the traditional norm after I leave. I know that they want to be successful but they’ve been so ingrained with instructional practices geared toward standardized test preparation that it is very difficult to encourage a different approach, even if they know that it is what their kids need for long term success.”

Daraja Academy Nanyuki Kenya

This lament is all-too-common. Changing school culture around instructional practice and norms is challenging. This is especially true when the teaching and learning environment have been dominated by high-stakes tests that determine the futures of both our students and our educators. Whether we like it or not, the elements that are assessed are the elements that get prioritized. If national standardized end-of-year or end-of-school tests are the norm – particularly if the results of those tests are public, then the instruction will necessarily focus on preparing students for those tests.

If assessments are designed well and if they reflect the learning outcomes that we want for our students, then “teaching to the test” can be a real positive. The challenge is that most standardized tests are only able to assess a relatively narrow slice of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that our students need to be successful in the 21st century. Standardized tests can do a great job of assessing factual recall in particular subject areas but are not great instruments for assessing students’ abilities to grapple with real world challenges, synthesize information and ideas across disciplines, and present and defend their ideas to authentic audiences. To teach and assess students’ abilities to engage in this type of problem solving and critical thinking – skills which surveys of employers repeatedly indicate are critically important for career success – we must move beyond standardized tests and explore new ways to teach and demonstrate students’ learning.

Daraja Academy exhibition

One approach that has worked successfully to support school-wide changes in practice around instruction and assessment involves student exhibitions. Exhibitions make students’ learning visible by showcasing their work through public displays of student writing, projects, performances, presentations, or other artifacts. Unlike the typical awards or presentations that involve only the “best” students, exhibitions involve all students across a class, grade level, or throughout the school. They engage the larger community by inviting other students, parents, educators, and community stakeholders to come view the work and provide feedback. This public, transparent, and inclusive approach can help to strengthen student achievement, build a strong sense of school community and pride, and encourage equitable teaching practices and learning outcomes.

Meet Dr. Lattimer

Educate Girls Globally Recruiting Partners for Breakthrough   Empowerment of Girls in Government Schools

Guest bloggers A. Lawrence Chickering and Anjula Tyagi share the story of Educate Girls Globally (EGG) a non-profit that assists government ministries of education to reform schools by empowering girls to learn and to lead. 

From the beginning of our first operations in India nearly twenty years ago, we knew we were going for it all. ‘Going for it all’ meant two things. First, for scale, it Photo for blog Lawry & Anjulameant working in government schools, which most NGOs avoid. Second, to weaken the influence of traditional culture and help girls, it meant empowering communities (including girls) to advance beyond traditional, passive roles and to become active, entrepreneurial changemakers.  Our aim was to develop for ministries of education a model and ‘tool kit’ for reforming government schools.

We developed our reform model from a number of sources: from the researches of the Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostom and Robert Hawkins, from a study we did for the InterAmerican Development Bank on four Latin American countries, and from the experiences of NGOs in Upper Egypt, the Indian State of Karnataka, and other countries.  We began operations in northern India, state of Uttarakhand, in 2002.

Across the world education reform generates opposition and conflict, paralyzing reform and producing no action. Our model was (is) very simple, working from the grass roots up and solving the political challenges, generating no opposition. Departments of Education accepted the program, which ‘mobilizes community support for schools’.

Governments loved the program from the beginning. Our purpose was to transfer the model to governments and other entitles that would help us scale, and we knew we would start on the path to full transfer when a government requested us to expand to all schools in a jurisdiction. That moment arrived recently when a district government in Uttarakhand (Udhamsinghnagar) requested us to expand from 50 secondary schools (25,000 kids, two-thirds girls) to all 1,116 schools in the district, serving about 330,000 children.

The government made clear its intention to expand the model throughout the state and to other states by providing for EGG training of government officials in other places. They and we wanted the agreement and project to be a model for all of India.  Our hope was that the federal Ministry of Education in New Delhi would endorse the model for every school in the country.

The challenge of culture and demand-side reform

Most education reform focuses on the supply side of schools—teacher training, curricula, infrastructure—and ignores the demand side, which is primarily about students’ motivation. Many parents believe that motivation is the most important factor in learning. They know that a motivated child will learn anywhere, while an unmotivated child will not learn anywhere.

Motivation is influenced by family and community support for education.Traditional societies in fact tend to demotivate everyone, but especially girls, whom tradition assigns to low-status, passive roles that limit individual aspiration, which is essential for learning. Thus, empowering people to advance beyond traditional to self-determined selves is a primal EGG objective.

We were determined from the beginning to show that traditional people, especially girls, are not ‘victims’ who need to be rescued from ‘oppressors’ (either powerful groups or culture) but can be empowered to play active roles in promoting change.

IMG_5762EGG addresses this issue head-on especially in relation to girls by empowering them to become leaders, learners, and role models. The program weakens the influence of traditional culture by empowering  traditional communities and girls to advance from passive, tradition-directed selves to active, self-directed selves.  People living by traditional roles are passive objects.  As objects, they can play no role in promoting change. When self-directed, they become active subjects and powerful changemakers. 

Although this truth is the key to development in all forms, most development ventures ignore it.  Understanding that development depends on the crucial resource of people as subjects—and seeing it operationally—is evident to anyone who sees EGG’s program first-hand.  

OWNERSHIP is a core concept that promotes empowerment and runs through all aspects of the program. The first community meeting addresses it with this initial question: Who owns the school? It is only when people understand that the school can never be any better than they themselves make it that they understand that they are the real owners, not the government.

The Girls’ Parliaments play a crucial role in girls’ empowerment, promoting them as leaders and role models in co-educational schools—separate from boys. They play an important role in empowering girls to advance from objects to subjects. Two empowerment moments are especially important:

Girls’ Parliament
  • When dropout girls stand in early public meetings and ask to return to school for ‘a chance in life’; and
  • When Girls Parliaments say they want to admit boys.  How many?  Their answer is 50-50—no advantage in numbers.  Even traditional girls become ready to go toe-to-toe with boys.  This is the moment when girls become genuinely equal to boys.

Neuroscience explains why the men respond empathically and embrace the girls. They move from indifference to educating girls one minute to active support for it the next minute.

Action Projects also reflect and stimulate empowerment. Led by the SchoolManagement Committees, communities establish priorities for improving schools—PLLA1332primarily building or repairing infrastructure (clean water, toilets, and maintenance). Ownership and self-governance mean the communities decide about what the schools most need, and they act on them. They do it without any subsidy from EGG. Empowering people to help themselves (deciding what they want to do and doing it) is very different from the common practice of experts telling people ‘what they need’.

The action projects recall a famous statement from T.E. Lawrence, writing in 1917 about the Arabs: ‘Do not try to do too much with your own hands,’ Lawrence wrote. ‘Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. . . [T]he work . . . may take them longer and it may not be as good as you think, but if it is theirs, it will be better.’

This insight first suggests the importance of ownership, which is reflected both from what people do and from deciding what to do. Focusing on ownership rather than the form of help (a well) focuses on the psychology of people helped rather than on theIMG_8278 substance of the help. The help (a well) is about the present; the psychology of the recipient is about the future. Empowerment through ownership is crucial for sustainability. Unfortunately, it often conflicts with a primal mantra of philanthropy, which is results. Despite nearly-universal agreement about ownership, people tend quickly to forget it when making and implementing plans, which are about tangible objectives and measurable results.

Ownership is about sustainability and the future. The idea is that how something is done is more important than what is done—process over substance. This captures the essence of empowerment, which occurs when people do things for themselves—when they own what they do. This requires accepting an imperfect present for a powerfully sustaining future.

Our breakthrough moment   

We chose to work in government schools to reach the poorest kids and to achieve the scale and sustainability that only governments control. Our breakthrough moment IMG_1349occurred when a district in Uttarakhand (‘District One’) requested us to expand to all 1,116 schools in the district—primary, middle, and secondary. The government offered to share the cost.

Showing potential government demand for the model, the district next door (District Two), mostly Muslim and of a similar size, soon informed us that they wanted a similar agreement to expand to every school in that district as well. Without any effort to market the model to them, their interest was generated entirely word-of-mouth.

We believe our model will scale most quickly by recruiting partners who want to try it. We have thus made a decision to transfer the model to any potential partner (NGO or government) willing to implement it as we designed it. We will provide training, monitoring, and evaluation. Organizations interested in joining EGG’s network of partners are encouraged to write to us at, attention: Lawrence Chickering.

This project has the potential to change the face of India—and indeed of the developing world. We hope we will hear from you soon. You can read more about us on our website (

Meet the Authors

Strategic Directions for the Field of School Leadership – Lessons from the Ground

Guest bloggers Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen, co-founders of Global School Leaders, discuss four key issues about school leaders that we all need to consider as we look at the education leadership ecosystem.

Over the past couple of years, we have been developing school leadership programs across the Global South. Our work on this issue

Sameer Sampat

began in India, where we led the creation of the India School Leadership Institute, which is now running continuous professional development programs for around 400 school leaders every year. Today, our organization, Global School Leaders, is working in Malaysia and in the process of starting up programs in Indonesia and Kenya.

As we have explored the spaces of school leadership, we find that there are a number of issues to be addressed to create a vibrant ecosystem.

Azad Oommen

This blog offers suggestions for measures on the issue of school leadership that would help advance this key lever of education.


Create integrated approaches to school leadership – Too often, countries are looking at school leadership merely from the standpoint of training school leaders. Of course, training is critical because being a school leader is a vastly different job than being a teacher, and too many existing leaders have not been trained for their position. However, introducing training without simultaneously addressing selection and accountability is not sufficient for a comprehensive investment in school leadership.

We believe that in order to improve leadership, school systems must simultaneously develop capacity in three areas:

  1. Pipeline: Develop systems to attract, identify, and select leaders.
  2. Support: Support leaders through pre-service and continuous professional development programs.
  3. Accountability: Define the leader’s role and have a system of results-based recognition, accountability, and career progression. 
School Leadership Training

Implement standards for school leaders competencies – We find wide variances in education system structures and the autonomy given to school leaders across countries. These range from the control teachers have to deliver curriculum in the classroom to school leaders’ ability to influence change in their schools. However, school leaders often do not have a clear sense of their role in the process and the competencies they must demonstrate to deliver against these expectations.

Many countries have been through extensive processes to create national qualification frameworks for school leaders, such as the United States, the UK, South Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia (see Bruce Barnett’s blog April 11, 2018 Principal Preparation and Development: Highly Regulated or Loosely Structured?). We believe that these competency frameworks are the starting point for improving school leadership, because they give concrete expression to a system’s ideals of the role of a school leader. From these frameworks, we can design recruitment pipelines, training methodologies and accountability measures for school leaders. However, many countries do not have such standards and this causes training to be delivered without the school leaders understanding what is expected of them.

One idea we have is to build on the commonalities in existing country frameworks to create an agreed upon international basic standard for school leaders that can then be adapted by individual countries for their specific needs. For instance, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is currently working on ISO/PC 288, which will create standards for the field of educational organizations management systems.

Use technology effectively to address shortages of high quality trainers – A key challenge to implementing scalable training programs for school leaders is the limited availability of high quality trainers and the high cost of in-person trainings. Online programs hold the promise of overcoming these limitations and creating learning opportunities that can deliver self-paced, continuous professional development programs. While there has been a lot of focus on online learning for teachers, there are few programs designed for school leaders.

The Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education are piloting a school leadership course. In addition, the National Centre for School Leadership, an Indian government institution, is launching on online school leadership training program. There are also less-structured professional learning opportunities such as the Global Schools Forum’s webinar series that has highlighted examples of school leader training programs in Uganda, India and Kenya.

Online learning encompasses a wide range of courses – from video-taped lectures to presentations to more interactive methods. For the developing world, we believe that as data access becomes more prevalent, we need to create mobile-centric learning systems that addresses school leader competencies. Based on our experience training school leaders in India and Malaysia, we believe that what would work best are short video-based courses, coupled with online coaching and virtual peer networks to support learning.

Use of data to improve support for school leaders – One surprising factor for us as we look at school leaders across countries is how little information is easily accessible about them. We know very little about average tenure, career progression, and even basic demographics to ensure adequate representation of various groups in the leadership ranks in schools.

For instance, we know that in many countries, women form a large proportion of primary school teachers, but a much lower proportion become school leaders. There is very little research on the systemic impact of female school leaders on schools and learning, but if we draw on widely accepted views from other industries, diversity in leadership ranks should lead to better schools.

With little research about demographics and career management, it is very difficult to understand systemic interventions that could improve school leadership.

Despite these large opportunities still to be addressed in school leadership, we are encouraged by initiatives around the world. The World Bank’s World Development Report 2018 highlighted the need for increased investment in leadership and management within school systems. At the WISE conference in Qatar in 2017, the Qatar Foundation announced the launch of ALL-IN, a global school leadership development network.   All of these initiatives point toward a growing global interest in school leadership. We must capitalize on this momentum to drive toward ecosystem-wide initiatives on this issue so that we can avoid fragmented efforts and leverage the limited resources being allocated to this sector.

In sum, we must think about school leadership beyond just the necessary measures to ensure that school heads receive adequate preparation for their role. The conversation in the field needs to be comprehensive, and policy makers, academics and practitioners must find ways to collaborate and strengthen this critical lever of education systems around the world.

Meet Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen