Kat Thorne is the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Education Trust. She started her career as a teacher; having served students with diverse linguistic and educational backgrounds, EdTech became a powerful learning tool in her classroom. It was from these experiences that her interest in the meaningful application of training and vocational and technical education and training emerged. The Commonwealth Education Trust works across the Commonwealth countries to reach teachers in underserved areas through digital platforms which provide professional development opportunities.
When I first joined the Commonwealth Education Trust, the organization had already begun experimenting with EdTech. This journey started with our partnership with Coursera to provide teacher training MOOCs (massive open online courses), though we have since moved on from this model. What our team has come to realize through a review of evidence is that, in context of the “global learning crisis,” even if schools are built and resources are provided to assist with learning, teachers are the ones who are actually in the classrooms every day. As such, our work has shifted towards investing in teachers and harnessing the multiplicative power training teachers can have.
Traditionally, teacher training models have consisted of sending a teacher to a conference or a meeting where they receive training and then return home, however their practice does not necessarily change. As technology has expanded and we conducted visits to our partner communities, we found that teachers were interested in transforming their teaching practice, but they were constrained by the density of their curriculum, which often dictates how they need to deliver content to their students. We have found a low-cost, non-prescriptive approach which allows teachers to improve their teaching skills and become more active in their own professional development. Using technological devices to deliver this learning presents an opportunity that traditional teacher training does not necessarily provide.
For the last two years, we have been working with our community of teachers and schools to identify what a blended model might look like using high quality digital content. From those conversations, our platform, Teach 2030, emerged. There are three types of users on our platform. Some teachers directly enter our platform or are connected to our Google Upwards grant, others are linked through partnerships with governments or non-government organizations, and the rest access our content on other platforms.
Our hope is that this model can help promote a whole-school, continuous professional development (CPD) approach. Instead of teachers taking part in one-off workshops, we would like our model to be integrated into staff meetings or another format throughout a term or semester, where one section is covered regularly, ideally each week or every second week. We believe that this approach will help to sustain learning and ensure that teachers are using the skills they are gaining. Here’s how it works!
Our platform is web based, rather than in an app, to keep costs low, and ensure accessibility across a range of devices. We use a very simple platform that teachers can log onto, and through that link, they can browse our course offerings and enter the courses.
All of our courses and curriculum are mapped to the Cambridge teaching standards, which we used to align our original MOOC courses as well. These consist of eight topics from “What makes a great teacher,” to “Classroom management,” to “Effective assessment.” Each of our courses covers one of these themes and include four micro-courses per topic.
Each course is divided into two sections. The first part, which is free, contains the learning objectives, several short, animated videos, and practical tasks for teachers to test out in their classrooms. For example, one of our initial courses is called “Fresh Thinking in Your Classroom.” In this course, we hope to help teachers to start thinking differently about their classroom. Specifically, one of this course’s requirements is for teachers to record a small video of them teaching and then watch the recording back. We have seen some incredible transformations amongst teachers after they watch themselves and notice some of the things they might not have thought about otherwise.
In part two, the course includes additional content, an assessment, and a downloadable certificate. This portion can vary from free to a few dollars in cost, depending on whether it is individual teachers accessing the content or teachers connected to a specific partnership.
We release new content based on the interests and needs of our community. We hold interviews and calls with teachers to determine what would best serve their needs. Over the last year, due to the pandemic, we have had to pivot based on feedback from teachers about accessibility concerns, as many were using their mobile devices to view the content. Based on those conversations, we developed a new course outside of the curriculum plan called “Becoming a Digital Learner Using a Smartphone” to help our teachers develop and strengthen their digital literacy skills.
During the pandemic, we have seen a large increase in users, and the interest continues to grow. Moving forward, our focus is on continuing to build communities through our work, as well as improve the sequencing of the platform so that teachers can follow a clear path between different courses. Because the courses are self-paced however, this is more challenging for individual teachers using the platform.
With our current partnership model however, we use a different approach which helps build our partners’ capacity and further expand our teacher training efforts. For example, there are three key roles: facilitator, head teacher, and coach, which form a triangle of support.
The facilitator works at the government or organization level, undergoes training on the program, their role, and how they can support schools, and then they are tasked with engaging schools within their province or district. At each of those schools, the head teachers go through their own training, and then identify and appoint coaches within their school. They also ensure that the professional development is incorporated into the weekly schedule. Coaches are enthusiastic teachers who help with the facilitation of the course, such making sure everyone is coming to the training and helping to troubleshoot. Over time, we realized that some coaches and schools found it challenging to break up the course across a certain number of weeks, so we are working on creating session plans for them, additional materials, and observation forms. We are also conducting baseline surveys and impacts to continue improving our work.
Covid has only exacerbated the global learning crisis. Teachers are the one resource in classrooms across the globe who can improve learning outcomes. By investing in them and building their capacity, we can begin to free children from poverty by giving them the quality education they deserve and need to thrive.
To learn more about Kat Thorne and the Commonwealth Education Trust, please visit https://commonwealtheducationtrust.org/ and https://teach2030.com/. You can also see their HundrED campaign for the top 100 scalable teacher training solutions to tackle learning poverty here.