Supporting Low-Fee Private School Leaders: The Work of Education Specialists

Dear GlobalEd Leadership Readers,

Adwoa Nyantakyiwaa, Dorcas Adwoa Aidoo and Florentine Adjoa Ansah-Asare work as Education Specialists for Edify Ghana, which is a faith-based non-governmental organization.  Edify is dedicated to supporting and growing low-fee private schools through microloans, training, and technical assistance. In my role as VP of Education at Edify I have the pleasure of working with these colleagues in Ghana and their counterparts in ten other nations. I see first hand the impact of their work on schools so I asked my colleagues to write this blog for you–our readers.

Enjoy!

Paula Cordeiro

Adwoa, Dorcas and Florentine

As Education Specialists, we work directly and extensively with Edify partner school leaders and lead teachers towards improved school governance, environment and learning outcomes. We do these through partnerships, training and coaching.  We specifically focus in several areas.

A school first becomes an Edify partner school by accessing an Edify package loan from our financial partners, or walking in directly to Edify through staff members or a recommendation from another school. Before a school joins our partner school network, orientation engagements are organized for the school to share more about Edify’s work, learn about the school, and then determine whether the school wishes to engage with our services. If they agree, they fill out specific forms and undergo assessment(baseline) to identify areas where we can provide training. 

The Education Department, manned by the Education Specialists provides three major school leadership training modules namely; Conditions for Learning, Early Childhood Development, and Leading for Learning. These are research-based school leadership materials originally designed a team at the University of San Diego led by Edify’s VP of Education, Prof Paula Cordeiro. Other training offered to partner schools include, Classroom Management, Literacy, Teachers’ Standards, Child Protection, Strategic Planning and Leadership Empowerment Accelerated Programs (LEAP). The LEAPs are unplanned yet need-based training on government policies and current educational trends. The department also conducts annual programs such as the Edify School Leadership Institute (ELI), and Reading Festivals. 

Before we organize any training, we first conduct pre-training school visits to establish a baseline upon which progress is tracked. The visit also affords us the opportunity to further identify specific training needs of the schools. We pray with the school leaders, observe what resources are available in the school, interact with the school proprietor, share the terms of training and help them register for the training. Then, we deliver our first training program, called ‘Conditions for Learning.’ We conduct a post-training school visit between 4 and 6 weeks after the training to track training lesson implementation and provide coaching and other technical support. Based on the performance of the school regarding training lesson implementation, the leaders are invited to take the rest of the School Leadership Training. 

Expected outputs of these training include, but are not limited to draft school mission & vision statements, policies (recruitment, safety etc.), and School Improvement Plans.

Expected outcomes of these training programs are depicted below:

In addition to these training programs, one vital piece of our work is the trust-based interpersonal relationship we build with our school leaders. We have come to realize over the years that building trust and relationships with school leaders make for better training lesson implementation and sustenance. Below are some of the post training/coaching results that motivate us to give out our best.

School and Community Relationships. A school proprietor was able to finally solve a noise issue from a church next to her school, after participating in the Conditions for Learning training. Her school shares a wall with a church, but oftentimes the church’s activities were very noisy. Despite complaining a few times, the church had not responded. After the training on building relationships with the community, the proprietor invited the church pastor to give a speech at the school during a graduation ceremony. When the pastor came, the church was making noise and distracting him, so without needing to issue another complaint, he realized there was a problem and was able to change the church’s activities to resolve the issue. 

Another part of our training highlights the importance of making one’s school intentionally inviting. One school in the Greater Accra region replaced all of their old and worn out classroom desks with new, moveable classroom furniture (pictures 1 and 2). This improved group learning, space, lighting, classroom movement, and the overall teaching and learning atmosphere. In another school in Eastern Ghana, after attending the training, the school proprietor worked with the school leaders to paint the school, plant flowers, hired a security guard, and established hand washing stations and reading corners to make the school more welcoming and safe. Both the proprietor and his wife now stand at the school gate each morning to welcome children and their parents who drop them off (picture 3). Within six months of starting this practice, the school enrollment had doubled.

Old classroom furniture in Greater Accra region school
New moveable furniture in Greater Accra region school
Proprietor and his wife standing outside their school in Eastern Region, Ghana where they greet parents and children each morning

During one such visit, a school that began without a mission statement had posted the final draft on a wall. Every student was able to recite the mission statement from memory, and the school leaders and parents were all aware of the statement as well. We also emphasize that the mission and vision for the school needs to be shared with students and parents, so it was heartening to witness how the entire school community had embraced the statement. 

Our follow-up visits include tracking, one or two in-person visits, and virtual coaching and training, with all post-visit follow-ups occurring within the fiscal year. We have found that for some people who attend our training, they are not able to grasp the concepts well, and require additional coaching, both in-person and via phone. Coaching sessions help address challenges educators may be facing, providing the technical support, such as step-by-step classroom management support or helping with drafting the mission statement if there have been challenges. What we have discovered is that most times, if a school is struggling with implementing one of the training lessons, it is due to a lack of funding and resources, or lower education levels, rather than a lack of commitment. In particular, document development, such as creating policies, can be a challenge, in which case we will either complete that task on their behalf or guide them through it. 

During our assessment process, we might also identify a need that we are not currently providing to schools. In such cases, we have to quickly develop a training module or incorporate relevant instruction into their existing training. Sometimes, we create an entire program to address the gap. Beyond program development, we also help identify potential partner organizations. One of our roles is to study and then introduce a new curriculum to our partner schools to enable better implementation. For example, the government introduced a new curriculum policy and lesson plan format, including how to introduce a lesson, engage a learner, and teach with a learner-centered focus. As education specialists, we collaborated, consulted, and developed a model that will train teachers on how to prepare the new lesson plan and deliver the corresponding lessons.

When we need even more specific knowledge, we work to identify a resource person who is a specialist in a particular area, such as on the new curriculum. We find a partner who is well-resourced and learn from that partner so that we can then bring what we have learned from them to our partner schools. The partner might train our schools once or twice, and then we take over the training once we have learned their approach. 

A classroom in the Western Region of Ghana where educators have established learning centers and reading clubs. 

As you can see, our work is diverse and it keeps us very busy but we love getting to know and supporting new schools and hope to expand from working with the current 1129 school leaders to 3000 school leaders by 2023. 

To learn more about Adwoa, Florentine and Dorcas’ work with Edify Ghana, please visit http://www.edify.org/.  or Home – Edify Ghana

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