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Our Teacher Training: How Technology Inspires Great Pedagogy

Annette Quinn, Head of Operations & Impact
At the Breteau Foundation we have learned through years of training teachers that this is not just the transfer of one educator’s skills to another. Our training model is ever-evolving, but it starts where needs are identified. It’s structured to meet local contexts and using technology and it aims to nurture teachers to be exceptional digital leaders. Below we hear from Mona Mkumatela, our country manager in South Africa.

When I first started the Breteau Foundation teacher training programme, in 2015 in South Africa, I made some very specific assumptions of how our sessions would be delivered. After providing schools with classroom sets of tablets and apps, our plans were to introduce the technology to teachers, all of whom had not previously used tablets in their classrooms, if at all. As you would imagine there was excitement and anticipation from the whole school community. Everyone was raring to go and I had the wonderful task of making the teachers tablet and app ready.

Teacher Training Objectives

Originally, I believed the aim of our training was to focus on use of the tablets and apps. Therefore I planned and crafted a three hour, hands-on workshop starting with the basic functionality of the tablets, then moving on to the folders of apps we had carefully selected. While I envisaged troubleshooting technology issues along the way, I believed my training would produce confident teachers with good technical tablet and apps skills ready to launch into their classroom practice. Our country plan was also clear, if the teachers were able to meet these objectives, our partner schools would swiftly integrate the tablets into their everyday teaching and learning in their classrooms, and that would be a great job done.

After the first hour of training at one of our first partner schools to receive our training, I learned that my training delivery assumptions were fundamentally wrong! A shift took place in my mind, as to what we were trying to accomplish and I asked myself, “Are we trying to train teachers in technology or are we trying to train teachers to improve their pedagogy through use of technology”? The answer was clearly the latter! Later that night in my rural village accommodation near the school, I reworked my training plan for the following day.

Using Tech to Improve Pedagogy

The following morning and at the next session, I asked the teachers to fill out a basic lesson plan with learning objectives, a beginning, middle and end. We discussed the pedagogy and the ‘why’ behind each part of their lesson plans, and it was from this point that we worked through where and how we would weave in the use of the tablets and apps. Immediately, I could see that this was a more practical starting place for teachers to grasp this pedagogical change. Our training needed to address the fact that the teachers in my training programme had spent their entire careers to date, standing at the front of the classrooms teaching young people. So our training needed to directly address this perspective.

Since this time, we have designed every aspect of our training sessions to be directly relevant and immediately linked to the classroom experience. We start our training from the perspective of how a teacher would deliver edtech from day one with his/her students. This includes designing and setting behavioural expectations and consequences for the use of technology for teachers and students alike. Building a structure for teachers from the start, builds their implementation confidence. Just as putting in place critical links between the tablets, apps and the curriculum has meant that teachers are able to work from their knowledge base and expertise. It is not about new skills for teachers, it is about adding tools to the classroom to bring the curriculum to life.

Training Programmes that Reflect Local Needs

As the embedding of technology progressed, we offered workshops in specific subject areas and working with teachers we took deeper dives into what technology can do to strengthen, personalise and individualise student’s learning. As our teachers developed, we adjusted the app selection in schools, and of course our training programmes. We began to consider local needs and to address the schools’ needs for apps in home languages as most students in South Africa are bilingual in the country’s 11 official languages. In 2018 we made a significant step by introducing cluster groups so that teachers, across schools would participate in workshops together and share and learn from each other. A recent workshop we ran was Teaching Literacy and Language Using Technology. As you can see we have come quite a way.

Most of our teacher training workshops are now delivered in cluster groups and designed to incorporate classroom best practice. Our geographical clusters aid us to promote continuous professional development sustainability – this means, a trainer does not always need to be present to create great hubs for teachers learning together and we don’t expect to need to be the sole trainer in the medium term. Experienced edtech teachers from partner schools can lead and train and new teachers from existing or new project schools can join the cluster. When we do host training sessions, teachers no longer sit and listen for long periods, and we as trainers do not see ourselves as lecturers. Our training is a journey and we aim to make each part of the journey an experience that is engaging, a time for deeper and more thoughtful discussion on technology and pedagogy and a time for self-discovery, experimentation and group learning. Just as a great learning environment or classroom should be!

Real-time Support for Teachers

Furthermore, we have added another element of our training: we now provide in-class support and coaching to teachers, in real time. As educational colleagues we stand side-by-side with our project school teachers, several times a year as he/she implements technology into their classroom practice. The feedback we have received is that this experience is invaluable to our teachers who, no matter how much training they have attended, still need to overcome the fear associated with using technology with young learners, for the first time. From our own perspective, this opportunity aids the continuous development of our training practice so we too can be better trainers and cascade our insights, back through our school clusters. It is a self-supported cycle for keeping our training materials up to date. As we recently commenced our training with our new partner schools in 2019, I feel I can confidently state that every aspect of the Breteau Foundation training programme is now designed to give teachers exactly what they need to succeed and grow as great teachers who use technology. The transformation of our own training programme has positively impacted the schools where we operate.

Key Facts About Teaching in our Project Schools in South Africa

  • Education resources are limited
  • Student per teacher ratios are high with class sizes reaching an overwhelming 45-80 learners to one teacher.
  • Teacher absences can also mean class sizes can double on certain days and in some school this can be a frequent occurrence
  • Due to large class numbers, students with reading and writing challenges may not be recognised or receive any one to one attention from a teacher
  • The number of desks and chairs is often a lot less than the numbers of learners in a class, so children have to share seats, desks and sit on the floor which can increase distraction levels or challenge learners ability to focus
  • Textbooks and stationery materials can sometimes be in a poor state or very limited thus reducing teachers ability to use much needed resources to support teaching and learning
  • In low socioeconomic areas children are more likely to attend school hungry and tired due to their home conditions: food is lacking, they have poor sleeping conditions and the children are required to travel long distances on foot to attend school.

    In our work in our South African partner schools we have come across so many wonderful teachers who have been outstanding in their commitment to enable us at the Breteau Foundation to deliver our support to their schools, teachers and learners. Thank you to all of you who have worked to make our training materials better for future partner schools. We recognise that your support is well beyond, what is already a very challenging school day.

    Written by Mona Mkumatela and Edited by Annette Quinn
    At the Breteau Foundation our mission is to improve academic engagement of disadvantaged children worldwide by empowering primary school teachers through digital technology and training. Please follow these links for more information on our impact, our teacher training and our educational programmes.
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