The ‘new normal’ for teachers

As the global pandemic was taking grip on our lives in February, a group of friends started wondering what this may mean for public services the world over. It wasn’t long after that entire public education systems started shutting down and this is when, we, as friends, decided to come together to consider the many aspects connected to school closures, which not only included how home-schooling and technology works, but, importantly, also about the widening of inequity.

These Zoom calls provided a safe space for discussion and exploration, and the honesty that system leaders brought to these meetings resulted in ideas being share devoid of politics or ideology, which itself felt like a watershed moment.

They spoke about issues such as school feeding programmes and what works, they talked about well-being and what’s being put in place for children, the discussed how to open schools up, again. They even explored whether this crisis presented opportunities for wider reforms.

I also convened a call with teachers, where I heard stories from the front-line that angered me. On that particular meeting, and in the few days after, I’d been reflecting on what I heard and decided that the concern wasn’t just about the immediate circumstances we face, but also about what the future holds for us. In common parlance, teachers were asking what the so called ‘new normal’ means for them.

Given I used to host the Global Education & Skills Forum, some of my teacher friends encouraged me to convene a virtual conference for teachers that attempted to answer that question. Our initial instinct was to bring just our friends together for this conversation, but given that technology now allows us to reach all corners of the world, I decided that we’d try to make this a global conversation. Why not?

Covid-19 has, at least in my opinion, for the first time, resulted in large swathes of the world – whether you are in the global south or in a western industrialised country, to a common experience. What that means, and I heard it for myself in several calls I had convened, is that a learning from one part of the world could be applied to another context.

In the absence of system leaders having any precedents to fall back on, I felt that providing teachers a platform and voice could be an incredibly powerful thing to do. Why shouldn’t teachers set the precedent, after all they’re at the front-line and dealing on a daily basis with such difficult issues! Let them set the pace.

That’s how T4 was born. We decided to focus on these four areas (hence the name): teacher well-being, teacher collaboration, teacher leadership and teacher technology as these were the areas that teachers were most often mentioning to me. Since launching the conference just two weeks ago, I am astounded with the level of interest this event has generated.

I’m really looking forward to hosting the event next week. I hope you’ve registered. I’d also be very grateful if you could take this poll as it’ll inform my remarks at the event.

The Zoom Policy Institute

Imagine if all the video Zoom conferences concerning education policy in the world were pulled together on one platform, no policy maker could ever say that they hadn’t heard of a development or an innovation that could improve their own ideas and efforts. We’d solve a major problem.

I offer that insight because this week I spoke and participated on a number of panels around the world sat in my dining room at home in London. Here are some takeaways:

In partnership with the World Bank, Brookings, and Senator Bullrich I’ve been bringing system leaders together to learn from former Heads of Government how to frame political narrative. This week, we had the honour of hosting former President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. One takeaway from our conversation what the need to embrace technology and use social media platforms to help frame narratives. Earlier in the series, the former Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi talked about constructing coalitions of interest as a way of influencing heads of government about education funding.

The dynamic and thoughtful, Daniel Dotse who founded Lead for Ghana invited me to speak to the Fellows of his programme about leadership lessons I had learnt. I spoke about some of the lessons I wrote about here, but was interested in the leadership lessons these young and dynamic leaders who were in classrooms in Ghana were learning. I’d love to revisit that conversation. I mentioned these three books as ones I had recently re-read which I thought were good primers for different aspects of this huge subject: (a) the Bhagvad Geeta (b) Dale Carnegie’s famous ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People‘ and (c) Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know by Ranulph Fiennes.

Mosharraf Zaidi of Tabadlab in Pakistan hosted an edtech panel, which involved a spirited discussion on the lessons learnt from the pandemic viz learning and education. I always find listening to those in contexts like Pakistan to be insightful and the key takeaway from the discussion that kept on coming through was the centrality of teachers to this discussion.

The panel included:

  • Salma Alam who is the founder of Durbeen–which has quickly come to assume a leading role as an organisation that is helping prepare teachers for the classroom of today.
  • Bilal Musharraf from Edmodo, an online learning platform with over 87 million users.  
  • Zainab Qureshi-Siddiqui who leads the Harvard Evidence for Policy Design’s work on learning outcomes through the LEAPS programme.
  • Dr Farrah Asif, who is a LUMS professor, and the founder of Edtech Worx, which was inspired by a passion to alter the learning experience of students.

Vongai Nyahunzvi, Africa Director of Teach for All hosted a panel discussion on the promise of education in Africa, and I really enjoyed, as I always do, of the incredible strides being made on the continent by leaders such as those on my panel, which included:

  • Doreen Kessy, Chief Business Officer of Ubongo – who is an innovator and edtech pioneer in Africa.
  • Chris Bradford, Founder of the Africa Leadership Academy who is always so thoughtful in his remarks.
  • Dzingai Mutumbuka who always bring much needed wisdom based on his decade long experience as Education Minister of Zimbabwe.

My next post will speak in detail about a conference called T4 that I am hosting on Saturday, 30th May.