Teachers as learners: embracing a paradigmatic shift

Nivedita Bedadur and Anne Isaac
(with inputs from Roshan Pradhan and Nandashree Natarajan)

“I find it overwhelming to navigate the stress of online teaching while managing my personal life, household responsibilities, and even illness.”

“The number of new technologies I had to master during the COVID crisis was unimaginable. However, I persevered and successfully adapted to the new landscape.”

“You’re fortunate to have good internet speeds. In rural areas, we face challenges accessing reliable internet, which hindered our ability to learn effectively during the two years of the pandemic. Poor connectivity prevented us from attending government training programs.”

“When schools reopened, we encountered a significant learning loss. Students had forgotten what they had previously learned, and now we face the challenge of exploring new methods to address this setback.”

As COVID-19 unfolded, educators across the globe faced an unprecedented challenge – shifting to online teaching and learning how to do it overnight. This paradigm shift in education required teachers to embrace new pedagogies and technologies, adapting their instructional methods to an entirely new landscape. This sudden transformation demanded not only subject matter expertise (CK) and pedagogical knowledge (PCK), but also technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK), compelling teachers to become both learners and adaptors in the face of adversity.

In the pre-COVID era, teachers relied on various means to acquire new skills and enhance their capabilities. Prominent educational institutions like Kendriya Vidyalayas and state education departments established training wings, specifically designed to upskill teachers, enabling them to stay updated with the evolving educational landscape. Annual in-service training sessions were conducted by many schools, allowing teachers to acquire new knowledge and teaching techniques. However, in rural and economically disadvantaged city schools, teachers often had to rely on their own devices to keep pace with the rapid changes in education.

COVID-19 thrust online learning, teaching, and training into the spotlight. Even before the pandemic, the Indian government had introduced programs like NISHTHA and DIKSHA to support teacher professional development. However, the effectiveness of these resources varied.

To develop our understanding of how teachers learned during the pandemic, we talked to two administrators – Roshan Pradhan, former vice principal of Deorali Senior Secondary School, Gangtok and Nandashree Natarajan, headmistress of the nursery wing of Sri Kumaran Children’s Home, Bengaluru. Roshan and her team found that while DIKSHA was not user-friendly, NISHTHA provided highly interactive training modules for teachers from primary to senior secondary levels, proving to be extremely useful. Teachers all over the country experienced that social media platforms like Zoom and Google Meet played a significant role in facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing among teachers. The resulting exchange of ideas and best practices proved invaluable as teachers rapidly adapted to new teaching methodologies. It was during this time that the teaching community realized the power of collaboration and innovation, with teachers breaking free from traditional silos and embracing a collective approach to learning and development.

When schools first closed due to the pandemic, teachers faced a steep learning curve. Nandashree shares that their initial response was providing training sessions on computer usage for teachers. However, as the crisis deepened, trial and error and peer teaching became the primary methods of skill development. Teachers quickly realized that conveying the curriculum was insufficient; they needed to diversify their strategies to engage students in a virtual environment. This led to the incorporation of games, interactive activities, and even virtual field trips, requiring an enormous amount of preparatory learning and creativity. Initially, teachers faced intellectual discomfort while adapting to technology. Teachers struggled to replicate the hands-on experience necessary for preschoolers’ learning. Nevertheless, motivation and commitment to their students drove them to overcome these challenges.

Historically, professional development for teachers in India was primarily the responsibility of schools. In the case of government schools it was the responsibility of government departments to plan, organize, and assess teacher learning. However, the pandemic led to a paradigm shift in teacher and government approaches to professional development. A significant majority of teachers took matters into their own hands, becoming proactive learners adapting swiftly to online teaching methodologies. They embraced various opportunities for growth, attending workshops, webinars, and even funding their own participation in professional development programs. Furthermore, they engaged in knowledge creation, sharing and collaboration with their peers, recognizing the immense value of learning from one another. The pandemic highlighted that while formal training programs and courses are essential, it is the collaborative and supportive learning environment among teachers that truly fosters growth and innovation.

The resilience and adaptability demonstrated by teachers throughout the pandemic underscored the urgent need for shifting our understanding of continuous professional development opportunities to bottom-up, organic, and teacher-driven models. Post pandemic, a new and all-encompassing understanding emerged. This understanding covered five areas of teacher learning, each of which is entwined with the others: technological, content, pedagogical, social, and emotional. Some of the new subskills emerging from these areas were technological classroom management, technological pedagogical integration, effective presentation techniques, and ensuring active student participation. Collaboration between administrators, parents, teachers, and children emerged as a critical aspect of effective learning for teachers. As our interviewees corroborated, teachers attended workshops, webinars, and courses, but what stood out was the sharing of knowledge and collaboration between teachers. Strong networking with students, parents, and each other led to learning crossing the boundaries of the classroom and opening up new spaces.

Fig. 1: Changes in the knowledge of teachers

The exchange of ideas, experiences, and innovative teaching strategies proved instrumental in navigating the challenges of remote education.

However, access to professional development opportunities has never been equitable for all teachers. Those in rural areas often face limited access to the internet and other resources in addition to incomprehension of English in which most instructions are given. This hampers their ability to stay updated with the latest developments in education. To bridge this gap, mainly in the area of English language and technology, a collaborative approach between urban and rural teachers can be instrumental. By leveraging technology and establishing mentorship programs, experienced teachers from urban areas can support and guide their counterparts in rural regions, enabling a more inclusive and equitable professional development landscape for all teachers. During COVID, Sikkim set an example of bridging the gap for other states by innovatively using radio, local television channels and other media* to train teachers as well as continue with uninterrupted lessons for the students.

Fig. 2: Changes in the learning paradigm

In the past, the well-being of teachers was often overlooked both by schools and the teachers themselves. However, the shift to online teaching during the pandemic brought various stresses for teachers while working from home. Despite these challenges, teachers managed to maintain their professionalism and didn’t let personal struggles affect their classroom teaching and management. Recognizing the significance of teachers’ well-being, many school managements began organizing meetings and interactions focused on mental well-being, arranging talks by counsellors and offering courses on positivity. These initiatives have since become integral parts of today’s school setup, highlighting the growing importance of prioritizing teachers’ mental health.

The conversation below provides valuable insights from two highly experienced administrators. They share their experiences, showing how teachers navigated through unprecedented circumstances and the positive changes that emerged from prioritizing teacher well-being.

Nandashree: Ours is a private school. There were no government programs for us especially at the pre-school level. Our school conglomerate, Sri Kumaran’s, regularly organizes workshops by prominent educators.

Nivedita: How did these ‘stand- alone’ workshops help during the pandemic?
Nandashree: In the beginning, they did not help much. It was a period of trauma; we were all working out of our comfort zones. A stand-alone workshop needs sustained anchoring for application in day-to-day pedagogy. Later, we created an open resource folder of learnings from various sources. I anchored it during its inception. Later, teachers contributed to, dipped into it and shared learning from the folder regularly. For example, the folder contained lesson plans on how to use apps like kahoot, an online game-based learning space and Menti-meter, a quiz and poll platform. This spread enthusiasm. We were pulled into the world of innovative pedagogies.

Nivedita: How did government programs help?
Roshan: After a month of COVID lockdown, there were messages from the government to start online teaching. We were worried, but the transition happened smoothly. Our IT teacher took over. He created learning groups on Whatsapp. We learnt fast after the initial hiccups. We met in school during the breaks in lockdown and virtually too. There was a lot of sharing of different apps, videos, lesson plan ideas, questions, assignments, and motivation of children. The year was not lost at all. We even had oral exams virtually. Also, NISHTHA was a boon. It was interactive and teachers worked hard to complete all the modules both for certification and learning.

Nivedita: While teaching online, the classroom entered the homes of students. What were the challenges, and what did you learn from them?
Nandashree: One major challenge was that some teachers were coping with the loss of loved ones. But, they never missed a class, which was both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. We also organized staff meetings for well-being, where teachers exchanged greetings and shared their concerns. This fostered strong emotional bonds among the staff. Of course, we also held meetings for learning purposes.

Nivedita: Can you recall any extraordinary challenges you faced?
Roshan: In online classes, parents would appear on the screen, particularly those who were first-generation learners. Many households lacked separate rooms for children to learn, so everything happened in the same space where the teachers were teaching. The entire family would be listening and watching the class together. This required teachers to be extremely cautious about their words and tone. Moreover, cell phones, previously exclusive to parents, now had to be shared with children for educational purposes. Messages from teachers had to be responded to by either parents or children, and schedules had to be followed. All of this presented a significant learning curve for both teachers and parents, teaching us essential lessons in virtual management. Every aspect was challenging, but one shocking incident remains vivid in my memory. An inappropriate video was circulated in a class WhatsApp group, causing uproar among the parents. We had to involve the cyber cell to investigate the matter. Eventually, it was discovered that a particular parent’s unused phone number had been reassigned to someone else, who maliciously posted in the group.

Nivedita: Indeed, such incidents are shocking, but sadly not uncommon. Many schools implemented preventive measures to avoid such situations. I understand it must have been distressing for you.
Roshan: Distressing is an understatement. We were bombarded with questions from parents, had to answer the police, and feared a repeat incident. However, we united as teachers and administrators, devising collaborative strategies.

The above conversation underscores the resilience of educators and their ability to adapt to virtual learning, but also highlights the importance of socio-emotional support in teacher development, virtual management skills, and preventive measures to address unforeseen challenges that arise in an online learning environment.

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for change in the field of education, urging teachers to rapidly adapt and embrace new pedagogies and technologies. The resilience and creativity displayed by teachers across India during this challenging time were remarkable. The experience highlighted the power of collaboration with teachers stepping out of their comfort zones and actively engaging in learning from their peers. While access to professional development opportunities remains unequal, efforts should be made to bridge the gap, ensuring that all teachers have the resources and support they need to continually enhance their skills. By embracing the role of learners themselves, teachers are better equipped to guide and empower their students, creating a brighter future for education in India.


Nivedita Bedadur is an educationist who loves both teachers and children equally and is presently involved in nurturing teacher professional development. She can be reached at nitavbedadur@gmail.com.
Anne Isaac is a consultant with Education Mentoring India, an organization dedicated to empowering all stakeholders in a school ecosystem. She can be reached at isaacanne163@gmail.com.

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