4 min read
Too often, government officials in India are perceived as unmotivated and ineffective in driving change for their citizens. But these officials, particularly at the district level, are critical role models in translating ambitious plans into tangible behaviour change among headteachers and teachers at the school level.
The Education Commission has recognised the importance of district leadership in improving education outcomes. Its recently launched report, “Transforming the Education Workforce”, identifies two critical roles that district officials can play:
1) District officials should adopt instructional leadership by creating a roadmap and environment for learning, especially for the marginalised.
Instructional leadership includes “guiding teaching and learning through clear educational goals; curriculum planning; supporting and providing feedback to teachers; and creating an enabling environment for learning, including for the marginalised”. But officials need to be supported to design and execute these strategies.
At STiR Education, this recommendation has been core to our work in partnership with governments in Indian and Uganda, where we offer targeted role modelling and capacity building support for district officials. As a result, we’ve seen district officials starting to create the emotional safety for teachers to try out new practices, and officials increasingly engaging with how teachers teach through regular observation and feedback. Officials are also starting to role model the importance of curiosity and critical thinking with headteachers through monthly collaborative meetings.
We’re now conducting a longitudinal study with the Ministry of Education and Sports in Uganda. And the recent findings show promising results. By shadowing officials, we learned that they now spend the majority of their time away from the office, visiting schools in their districts to provide instructional support to teachers as well as ensuring alignment between various actors. Consequently, teachers are increasingly being observed and thereby changing their practice – although we’re now focused on improving the quality of feedback to ensure that this focuses not only on what’s working well, but also on what could be improved.
2) District education officials have an important role in supporting schools through data-driven improvement.
The district officials that we work with generally value data. But we see significant potential in ensuring they are equipped with more useful data, as well as building their capacity to use it more effectively. Through regular reflection on data, district officials can support headteachers to identify performance gaps and consequently prioritise how to best encourage sustained professional development.
In STiR’s system learning partnerships, we aim to support teachers and officials with two types of data. The first is “thin” outcome data, such as teacher attendance, which tells us (and governments) whether they are making progress towards their intended behaviour change. But as Dan Honig and Lant Pritchett describe, a sole focus on thin data for accounting-based accountability purposes can be detrimental to system-wide performance, since it draws attention from other factors that are harder to measure, but critical to drive improvement.
This second type of data is “thick” data, such as the quality of feedback that a system official provides to a teacher, the consequent change in teaching practice, and the extent to which students trust their teacher and are engaged in learning. This helps us to understand the nuances that drive behaviour change, thereby stimulating discussion not just about whether officials and teachers are “on track”, but more importantly how to improve based on these insights.
STiR therefore aims to ensure the effective use of both types of data in our support to district officials and their work with teachers, driven by the fundamental pillars of intrinsic motivation: autonomy (the sense that they can change their district or classroom), mastery (the sense that they’re on a journey of progress) and purpose (the sense that their behaviours ultimately contribute to improved learning).
STiR believes in sharing its learning to strengthen the sector. We would welcome partnerships with other organisations committed to harnessing government officials to drive student learning. Please find more of STiR’s learning here.