Strategy for the Sustained Mastery Program (SMP): An in service teacher training program by the 3.2.1. Education Foundation
India ranks fairly low globally on a number of development indicators especially with regards to poverty, access to resources, social justice amongst others. For many practitioners in the development sector, one of the key ways for individuals to climb out of poverty is through education and livelihoods training. These two areas have spawned their own sectors of work across the world, as well as in India. Due to the pioneering work of the organisation, Teach for India (TFI), that has been running since 2006, through a two year fellowship programme, a large group of highly driven, young individuals have started up a wide range of initiatives and organisations to tackle the mammoth issue of providing higher quality education and learning to those in need.
The 3.2.1. Education Foundation and SMP
One such organisation, was started by Gaurav Singh, perhaps one of the most lauded alumni of the TFI Fellowship programme. Gaurav started 3.2.1. with the vision of creating a system of education which was rigorous in its testing of new methodology while being on the cutting edge of research across the board when it comes to educating young children. And his attempt was to do so while running an organisation with a positive, collaborative and dynamic culture to match. Through various early iterations, at the time that I worked with them the model they had adopted had the following components:
- They had, in partnership with the municipal corporation of Mumbai (BMC) taken on the responsibility of a school whose medium of instruction was english in southern Mumbai. They started with one batch of children in junior kindergarten, and at the time of the project had four batches of children, one each in the junior and senior kindergartens, first grade and second grade. The teachers in the school were all well trained TFI alum who were, like Gaurav, highly driven and were constantly experimenting with techniques that had been proven or were on the cutting edge of education, teaching and pedagogy in the global community of educators.
- The other emerging component of the foundation, was the idea that techniques and approaches that had been perfected in the school would be spun off as intrapreneurial ventures/initiatives to scale up and disseminate the learnings.
Sustained Mastery Program (SMP)
Improving education as with other wicked problems requires an approach that combines several different solutions to various aspects of the problem. One major issue within education is the training of teachers, and SMP was one such response to the issue. The program has two major features: the content and the structure. The content at the time of this project centred around behavior management techniques and pedagogical techniques to ensure that all students were learning what was being taught. The structure was a system by which teachers were introduced to the techniques in a two to three day training programme, which was followed by periodic observation and feedback sessions over a four to five week period to ensure that the techniques became an integral part of each participating teacher’s repertoire. It is this aspect of the program that made it stand out for me from countless other training programs I had encountered in the past.
In late September in 2014, 3.2.1. approached me through my cousin who had been hired to build out SMP and was leading the work for that. At the time they had completed one small test of the programme, and were in the middle of the first ‘beta’ test with a group of about 20 teachers from a few different affordable private schools in northern Mumbai. The project was to work with the 3.2.1. team to help them craft a strategy and roadmap for the next two years of their operations with an eye at their ultimate goal of scaling up the program across India. In late October that year, they had a major board meeting of all the donors and advisors where the document I created would be used as a starting point to set the ball rolling on funding the next phase of work on SMP.
The project was carried out over a period of four weeks, working in short sprints. The primary method that was applied was interviewing various stakeholders which included the teachers at 3.2.1., the lead of SMP, and Gaurav, the founder of the organisation. Along with the team at 3.2.1., external stakeholders such as the principal for a number of affordable schools who was a vocal supporter of the program, along with a few of the advisors who were on the 3.2.1. board were also interviewed at various stages of the project.
Along with interviewing these individuals in unstructured discussions either face to face or over VoIP, observation and discussion activities were carried out for two aspects of the program. The first was observing the use of the techniques in the classroom by 3.2.1.’s own teachers, and the second was the training sessions that kicked off the program. Both were followed by discussions with the team at 3.2.1.
The Strategy Document
As mentioned earlier the key output of the project was a strategy document that outlined a plan for the next two years of the program. The key role of this document was to be a 'strawman' for discussion during the board meeting, such that there was a shared set of vocabulary and an approach that could be iterated in the meeting.
The document is broken into three sections that look at the program in progressively more detail from one to the next. It starts with channels at the broadest levels to whom the product can be sold, then the ‘product’ and finally concludes with a suggested two year plan.
1// Channels: The document begins by assuming that the first step in figuring out the long-term strategy of the program depends on the major stakeholder to whom the ‘product’ will be sold and administered to. As per my conversations with the stakeholders, it was clear that three channels were being considered, selling to the government and administering to teachers in the public school system, selling to affordable private schools and networks and administering to teachers therein, and finally, selling directly to teachers as additional certification.
2// The ‘Product’: This essentially meant figuring out the product service mix. At the time, the program depended on the hiring of very highly trained and driven personnel running the training and the observation and feedback system. But that sort of a setup would not be scalable. Thus the section looks at technology and the various levels of skilled/unskilled personnel available in the system and maps these to various stages in the program. The approach is based on the idea that if the whole process or system is broken down into parts, different mixes of technology and variously skilled personnel can be used to meet the expectations of quality and volume. Since this was the most critical part of the document, it is elaborated in the next section.
3//Suggested plan: The document concludes with a suggested two year plan, that gives a more concrete direction to the team. In this case the suggestion centred around testing various iterations of the SMP, every time through testing and research determining what mix is optimum for every step in the process.
The design of the document was kept very simple and somewhat rough to give the sense of a working document. It lays out the text simply and the language gives the sense of exploration and room for iteration. There are two parts of the document that were important additions that were not part of the brief per se, but felt like essential additions.
1//Open questions/further research: Given that the research process was very brief and centred around speaking with the stakeholders already involved, it was critical to point out the areas and questions that had been uncovered as areas for further research, but do so in a way that was constructive in the future work done by the SMP and 3.2.1. teams, rather than come off as defensive. Thus to tackle that small ‘question’ boxes were added at the end of each section of the channels part of the document.
2// Organisational structure: While it was not part of the brief, through various conversations it became critical to think about how to situate the work of SMP alongside the core work of the school and furthering research through the teachers of the school. This was then provided as a kind of appendix to the main strategy document rethinking the structure of the entire organisation keeping in mind future developments of intrapreneurial ventures like SMP.
Product-service mix and the Program structure
For this project there were two very important steps to figuring out the strategy. The first was to break the program down into its constituent parts/stages. And then to apply the lens of the kind of configuration of human intervention and technology would be reuqired for optimum results for each part. The key to this kind of thinking was the idea that instead of thinking of a level of technology used across the project, a textured application of technology and skilled human intervention could give us optimum results. Additionally, the fact that the team could over successive iterations over a two year period test and evaluate various combinations was key to the suggestions.
The program was broken down into five key elements:
- Pre-program assessment: This phase is before the actual programme, and acts as a way to observe and assess the teachers and understand what gaps exist in the teacher’s current repertoire, as a way to help the teacher better understand themselves as well as can act as a marketing tool, to help a school leader understand the gaps that exist in their staff
- Transference: This is the process where the 3.2.1 team explains and demonstrates the behavior management and pedagogical methods
- Application: In this part of the workshop, the team puts the teachers in the driver’s seat and through a series of demos, every teacher gets to try out the methods that were ‘transferred’, getting feedback at first from the 321 teamand then as they day wears on from their peers as well.
- Observation and feedback: This is probably the most critical part of the whole programme, in which over an extended period of time after the initial workshop the participants are observed and given feedback while in their classes, to help them make the methods second nature and part of their repertoire as teachers.
- Post-program: This phase is after the official end of the main programme, and should be a periodic check to see if there are development of any ‘bad’ habits, or loss of good ones. This would also help teams to track the efficacy of its programme.
The Product-Service mix
The phrase 'product-service mix' is a poor stand in for this manner of thinking. Essentially what we did was looked at resources that were available or could be created in terms of tools and people involved mapped from low touch to high touch. Wherein touch means the level of involvement of a highly skilled member of the 3.2.1. team:
Tools:Manuals, Video, Voice, Mobile Apps, In-person
People:Teacher/Self, Peer, Schoolleader (Headmaster/Supervisor), "3.2.1. certified professional", 3.2.1. Staff.
The key was to figure out a combination of tools and people for each of the five steps in the structure and to test combinations. For example for the Observation and feedback stage in the program, I made these three suggestions, going from high-touch (which would mean less teachers reached) to low touch (thus more teachers reached but with certain losses in quality):
1// 3.2.1. Observes + 3.2.1. Gives feedback: In this approach, the 3.2.1. staff would visit the schools and give feedback to the teachers directly. In the testing the team would also need to ascertain what the ideal number and intervals of visits would be to ensure mastery.
2// Observation through technology/video + 3.2.1 Gives feedback remotely: In this approach, the school sends the 3.2.1. team videos of a teacher teaching in class. The video can either be collected by a 3.2.1 volunteer, CCTV camera fixed in classrooms, or a peer from the school. The feedback can then be given to the teachervia a telephonic conversation.
3// Stakeholder observes + Stakeholder gives feedback: In this approach, the team could have a particular stakeholder - supervisor, headmaster, a peer - do an observation and feedback session with the teacher. 3.2.1 would provide tools and support wherein there would be a description of all techniques, a rubric, checklist to mark long term success and some training on how to give feedback.
In the two years since the team took the strategy forward, they did a number of iterations creating new content, and systems for managing the various aspects of the program. By mid-2015, they had hit upon a configuration that was working and they could scale with some viability. At the time of documenting the project (December 2016), they are scaling up the project with the target of reaching about one thousand teachers by the end of the next academic year (April 2017) across three cities, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.