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How Change in Attitude Can Exponentially Impact Effectiveness of Teacher Professional Development

Abhijeet Yadav, Zaya`s Head of Customer Success, recently shared an account of champion teachers he’s worked with and trained recently in Tamil Nadu. In a region, where regular electricity and running water cannot be taken for granted, he shares how a non-profit organization has worked with new technology users (teachers) and facilitated them to become champions in the classroom!

At Zaya Learning Labs, we believe the role of technology in classroom, for teachers is critical. But the real way to achieve successful ed-tech product adoption begins with hands-on implementation services. Training teachers, to help them get comfortable with technology takes time but pays off in the long run.

The AHA! moment

It was early October 2015. A regular day in the office for Meg, then Operations Director at Zaya. She was having a quick chat with her friend, Greg Buie. Both equally passionate about the education space in India,  Greg also happens to be Executive Director and Co-founder at Visions Global Empowerment, a non-profit organization working in India, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia to overcome systemic challenges in delivering education for impoverished children and youth.

Visions at that time wanted to seriously improve six schools in Tamil Nadu. These were schools in rural areas lacking some of the most basic resources. But the major challenge for the schools was lack of access to technology to keep pace with learning across the globe. The teachers there meant well, but didn’t have enough skills to overcome this issue. Meg, began talking about how Zaya had recently begun working in low-cost private schools in Mumbai and Hyderabad, with similar issues. While rural locations presented an altogether different context, Meg had seen para-teachers respond positively to training on blended learning practices.

What started as a casual conversation, turned into a strong working relationship between the two organizations. We have partnered with these schools through Visions now, for close to 2 years, across primary school grade levels of 1 to 5, helping teachers deliver learning in English and  Math to their students. But not without some challenges.

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Growing pains and roadblocks

During the first few days of the program, we deployed the ClassCloud, Zaya`s portable, classroom specific wireless device with an adaptive learning platform to the schools in Tamil Nadu. This would deliver the learning resources the school needed, without having to build sophisticated internet infrastructure or computer labs. The school only needed a few tablets to start, and students would then have access to lessons and tests in Math and English. But, we took for granted the one thing needed to run the class. Our first big issue was overcoming unreliable electricity and incessant power cuts. Two months in, we landed on a solution, to install inverters or backup power generators which solved most of the hassles initially faced. This had cost the program time, that students needed.

Finding the right training regime

Many of the teachers have been teaching in these schools for 7 to 8 years. We knew that they had a lot of experience teaching and so could pick up new skills easily. So we tried an intensive 3 day hands-on training program. The initial feedback wasn’t very positive. Our customer support and success team began receiving a high volume of very basic platform-related queries, around the technical usage of the ClassCloud product.

This made it clear that the training, was not really successful, because we had gone in with the wrong assumptions. Yes the teachers were passionate about teaching, but teaching someone to do something new in the classroom means helping them develop a different attitude to it. We then went in and changed the training programs to cover more practical exercises and activities wherein the teachers were asked to use the platform during the training. Assessments were carried out to understand the technical understanding of the teachers after the revised training regime.

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The start of a mindset shift

After a change in the teacher training model, teachers began to express that they were actually happy and excited about the technical integration classrooms! The queries to our customer support team have reduced to almost nil.

Abhijeet says “explaining the role of technology in classroom to teachers is important but the real way to a successful ed-tech product adoption begins with hands-on implementation services. The ability to train teachers to make them comfortable with technology takes time but pays off in the long run. This has been one of our biggest learnings so far.

Once we started to see a mindset shift, engaging students became extremely easy. Teachers started looking out for more videos, and content to download for their students. We have seen a lot of improvement in teaching methodologies in teachers.

Ray of hope

With all this focus on the teacher, we’ve also seen a dramatic change in students behaviour as well! Since December 2015, we’ve seen grey walls in the classroom being transformed with colourful charts for multiplication tables, vowels and new sight words. We see an increase in the level of ownership and interest. Students now ask teachers to come to their classrooms during free periods. Along with increased ownership for their classrooms, teachers and students also involve parents in the process now. Just a few days back, on 15th of August, one of the schools also organized a Zaya class for parents which was very well received.

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Overall we have been able to help Visions, reach out to passionate but non-tech savvy teachers, and give them a practical and workable way of using a piece of technology in class. This has in some ways given them access to learning resources that they can use in, reducing their frustration to deliver new material that will engage their students better.There’s certainly been an increase in students` engagement and learning, which is our ultimate goal. We want to keep working on strengthening schools with the skills and attitude to adopt blended learning methods, no matter what the terrain or environment. Many more lessons from the field to follow.

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