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Enhancing continuous teacher professional development through mobile mentoring: Lessons learned and emerging questions from Kakuma Refugee Camp

Tue, March 27, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 3

Proposal

Teachers are the strongest school-level predictor of student learning (Schwille, Dembélé and Schubert, 2007), and yet, professional development opportunities for teachers working in refugee and crisis-affected contexts are most often infrequent, short-lived, low quality, and offer little to no post-training follow-up for teachers (Burns and Lawrie, 2015). This project, based in Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, was designed to respond to these shortfalls through a multi-pronged and continuous teacher professional development approach. The project combines teacher training, peer coaching, and mobile mentoring. The mobile mentoring component entails connecting small groups of teachers who are participating in the professional development program with global mentors -- i.e. formally trained teachers or passionate educators around the world who are willing to volunteer their time, experiences, and expertise with refugee teachers living and working in the camp. Global mentors and their teacher mentees interact through WhatsApp utilizing messages, photos, and videos to share strategies and reminders linked to the teacher training and peer coaching activities as well as pose questions about dilemmas the teachers might be facing in their classrooms. Mobile mentoring was intentionally developed to be group-based in order to allow for horizontal exchanges of ideas among peer teachers, while also benefitting from more vertical exchanges with the global mentors situated outside of the camp.

The program was piloted in Kakuma refugee camp in 2016-17 and is now in its second year of implementation. The pilot year included 130 primary school teachers. By March 2018, an additional 420 predominantly primary school-level teachers from both Kakuma refugee camp and a nearby local settlement called Kalobeyei will have participated in this professional development program (total teachers, n = 550). The teaching population participating in our project consists of mainly refugee teachers, but it also includes national Kenyan teachers working in the area. The mobile mentoring component specifically benefited from support provided by a Kenyan telecommunications company and its foundation, which raises important questions about both the opportunities and challenges of engaging in public-private partnerships within the field of refugee education.

Throughout the project, we have engaged in a robust data collection strategy -- including interviews, focus groups, classroom observations, and a Most Significant Change technique -- for the entire professional development program in an effort to discern which components of the project may be more effective in helping teachers to improve their teaching practice, strengthen their confidence, and bolster their motivation. To date it has proven difficult to isolate the effectiveness of one particular component over the other as each layer connects and extends opportunities for reflection, collaboration, and learning. The findings that emerged from the pilot exercise, however, point to myriad benefits of the approach in terms of creating and sustaining collaboration among teachers in the camp, improving relationships between teachers and students, and finding opportunities to crowd-source potential strategies to respond to challenges in the teaching and learning process.

The data collected and analyzed specifically for the mobile mentoring component revealed that more than half of the teachers (in the pilot exercise) experimented and had success with many of the tips and strategies shared through the WhatsApp platform. We also found that the majority of the exchanges via WhatsApp centered around pedagogy and specifically topics related to overcrowded classrooms, student attendance, and classroom management. The information gleaned from the mentoring exchanges was also helpful for cycling back to the teacher training and peer coaching components as we continued to make adjustments about what topics and challenges to further prioritize across the entirety of the professional development experience and future training cohorts.

In this next phase of work, we are keen to continue sharing lessons learned and promising practices through this approach while also benefiting from critical feedback about how we might further strengthen our research, evaluation, and learning framework. While our priority is on the teachers’ experience and how best to support their professional development and well-being needs, we will also continue to grapple with the degree to which our approach can and should speak to the quintessential question of improving student learning outcomes as well as how it might be sustained by other actors.

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