Teaching as a profession is often associated with adjectives that tend to describe it as respectable, noble, dignified, etc. While there is no contention on this, what the profession also tends to be is an extremely arduous and demanding one. It is one of those occupations that requires a unique kind of drive, vision, and multidimensional aptitude. Over the years, the idea of educational change has evolved and teachers have been placed at its center as a critical unit for change. A lot of emphasis has been placed on quality teacher education, improved teacher recruitment processes and continuous Teacher Professional Development (TPD). Due to the constantly evolving nature of the domain of education, TPD is pitched as a necessity by educators and policymakers alike to ensure constant capacity building of in-service professionals. Such TPD programmes attempt to capacitate teachers on a range of aspects concerning their practice on a need basis,for example,classroom content and pedagogy, assessment planning, Teaching Learning Materials (TLM) designing, leadership training, soft skills training, etc.
Professional development opportunities to on-ground practice
In India, be it for public school teachers or private school teachers, there is no shortage of TPD programmes. However, the quality of TPD programmes offered tends to vary widely. In fact, in our experience of working with public school teachers over the years, their stints with TPD programmes have been quite varied in nature. Some teachers tend to attend these programmes to satisfy the prescribed TPD requirements, while few others tend to proactively seek out such opportunities for self-development. Learnings drawn from such programmes vary in terms of actual practice. Some learnings are directly implementable in the classroom, some require a more sustained effort to work towards a larger goal and a few others just tend to work as piecemeal solutions with no lasting impact on a teacher’s professional journey. However, one commonality of implementing the learnings from such programmes is that consistency and adaptation on the part of the teacher becomes key for effective on-ground impact. While teachers are provided with opportunities to attend multiple TPD courses, seminars, workshops, etc., what is also equally important is the support required at the school or classroom level to transform their learnings into tangible practice. Continued support in terms of brainstorming ideas on pedagogy and content, lesson feedback, co-creating resources, lesson plans, assessments, etc., needs to be emphasized.
Role of peer collaborations
In the given context, peer collaborations among teachers can function as a considerable influence in implementing good teaching-learning practices. The shared context of their professional reality is a powerful tool, which if well utilized, can lead to mutual learning and effective practice. Multiple research studies (Madrid, 2016), (Bone, K., Bone, J., Grieshaber, S., & Quinones, G.,2018) acknowledge the importance of professional friendships leading to positive impact in terms of better student performance, teacher performance, teacher retention and overall improvement in school culture. However, here it is important to understand that while there is a correlation between these aspects, a direct causality of peer collaborations alone automatically leading to productive educational change cannot be expected. Peer collaborations are in fact facilitated through a constructive school culture and vice versa. The studies emphasize the role of school leaders in building a conducive school environment where teachers’ professional development needs are prioritized and there is a proactive effort to build a teacher collegiality of some sort within the school.
Even policy documents recently have highlighted the importance of peer collaborations and learning in the context of TPD. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, talks about the concept of school complexes which involves clustering a number of small schools within a geographical area to a school complex with shared access to resources. One of the key reasons that the NEP 2020 gives to support this idea is the need for teachers to work as part of a professional community. It emphasizes the role of a peer collegiate that could build a vibrant teacher knowledge base, exchange ideas on best practices and collaboratively contribute to better student learning.
Further, the proposed National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST), which is an immediate outcome of NEP 2020, details a set of professional standards for teachers by laying down specific competencies that are considered critical to the profession of teaching. One of the notable features of these competencies is the emphasis it gives to the need for peer collaborations and mentoring. For almost every standard mentioned in the framework, the highest level of the concerned practice involves teachers engaging in peer mentoring and guidance.
Strengthening peer networks
Research and policy at both national and international level is clearly emphasizing the need for stronger peer collaborations for improved teacher professional development. Although it is more of a desirable addition than a one-stop solution, its significance cannot be overlooked. While there might not be enough documentation, there are multiple ongoing efforts at different school or institution level where teachers as a network of professionals come together in developing a better understanding of their own practices along with exchanging ideas on effective practice. As educators working in the domain, we have been part of multiple such peer network initiated TPD programmes. The Voluntary Teacher Forums in Rajasthan (Azim Premji University, 2016) and other states supported by the Azim Premji Foundation serve as an excellent example of teacher-initiated self-development platforms. In such cases, not only is there an attempt made by the participants to transform their learnings into practice, but there is also a lot of continuous learning that emerges through mutual discussion and collaboration. Social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook are often utilized as a useful forum to keep up the momentum of such peer collaborative work both within and across institutions.
Peer collaborations that are open to mutual learning and development tends to be the most effective. Care needs to be taken to ensure that such collaborations are not bound by hierarchical relations of any kind. While more experienced teachers can constructively mentor and guide newer teachers, the stakes of such mentoring need to be kept low and focused on professional development. Basing administrative decisions such as teacher appraisals, etc., on the basis of teacher contribution to joint collaborations may have a detrimental effect on the core purpose of such collaborations. The key is to nurture and develop peer collaborations in such a way that it is voluntary, mutually guided,flexible,and taps into the intrinsic motivation of the teacher as a professional. Encouraging plurality of ideas and perspectives are key not only in ensuring overall productivity of peer collaborations, but also in creating an optimum level of conflict that could push teachers to explore more innovative and out-of-the-box thinking. The ultimate goal of such collaborations should not only be restricted to ensuring mutual support to each other as educators but also to productively challenge each other to effectively work towards the common goal of positive educational change.
• Azim Premji University. (2016, October 1). Starting and Sustaining Voluntary Teacher Forums. Retrieved from Field Studies in Education: https://azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/field-studies-in-education/starting-and-sustaining-voluntary-teacher-forums
• Bone, K., Bone, J., Grieshaber, S., & Quinones, G. (2018). A Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) approach to pre-service teacher professional experiences in Australia: organisational friendships. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 1-14. doi:10.1080/1359866x.2018.1539215
• De Lima, J. Á. (2001). Journal of Educational Change, 2(2), 97-122. doi:10.1023/a: 1017509325276
• Madrid, D. (2016). A case study of the influence of professional friendships among teachers on teacher retention, school culture, teacher performance, and student performance (Doctoral dissertation).
• Ministry of Human Resource Development. (2020). National Education Policy. New Delhi: Government of India.
• National Council for Teacher Education (2021) National professional Standards for Teachers, New Delhi, Government of India.
The author is a faculty member at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. She has been working in the space of educational assessments for the past seven years. Her research interests include teacher assessments for teacher professional development, student socio-emotional learning & assessments and examination reforms. She can be reached at email@example.com.