Teachers as Agents of Change: Supporting, Enabling, and Empowering

Posted: 21 July 2021

This blog post, cross-posted on the NORRAG Blog, is written by David Frost, a founder member of the Board of Trustees, HertsCam Network and Gulmira Qanay, President of the Kazakhstan State Women’s Pedagogical University. The post explores the efforts of the HertsCam Network to empower teachers as agent of change through a ‘non-positional teacher leadership’ (NPTL) approach which was initiated by David Frost in the late 1980s. The authors presented on this subject at a KIX Europe, Asia, Pacific (EAP) hub webinar in February 2021

Credit: School-gymnasium №8, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Origins of the Teacher Leadership in Kazakhstan (TLK) initiative

The aim, to enable teachers to improve practice in their schools, led to strategies designed to enhance their commitment and mobilise their moral purpose. We wanted to enable teachers to exercise leadership in order to build collaboration with colleagues and embed changes in routine practice in their schools. We rejected the idea of selecting teachers with special abilities to take on this challenge and favoured instead an inclusive approach in which any teacher could, with the right kind of support and enablement, exercise leadership.

Practical strategies to empower teachers as agents of change included school-based workshops facilitated by trusted and experienced teachers who would use carefully designed tools to scaffold reflection, deliberation and reciprocal support. Participants designed and planned development projects to address their own concerns as individuals. Each would consult their colleagues in order to shape their projects and draw others into the endeavour. School principals were asked to use transformational leadership strategies to build the kind of professional cultures in which teacher leadership can flourish. The teachers would organize their own network through which they could share narratives about their projects, construct knowledge about pedagogy and leadership and advocate for good practice and for teacher leadership itself.

This ‘non-positional teacher leadership’ (NPTL) approach was initiated by David Frost in the late 1980s in the UK and was subsequently developed within the HertsCam Network. In our webinar, a teacher from HertsCam, Diane Campkin, spoke about her experience. She described how, when she began her teaching career, she lacked status, voice and agency, but when she joined the Teacher Led Development Work (TLDW) programme, she found her professional voice and learned to lead change in her school. Having led a number of projects, Diane became a facilitator of a TLDW group which supported many colleagues in leading change. Her next step was to become a participant in HertsCam’s masters programme which supported her leadership of change and deepened her understanding of educational leadership. Following her graduation, she joined the teaching team for the masters programme which enables her to support many more fellow teachers in their leadership endeavours.

Becoming an international movement

When the HertsCam Network launched the International Teacher Leadership initiative in 2008, one of the early adopters was Moldova where Rima Bezede and Viorica Postica at ProDidactic launched a teacher leadership programme which continues to be influential so many years later. Rima spoke about this in our webinar highlighting the importance of development professional learning communities in schools in the post-Soviet space.

Another speaker in our webinar was Amina Eltemamy who created the CairoCam Network in Egypt using the NPTL model. She talked about the context with its history of ‘policy-borrowing’ and low teacher morale. She explained how her programme enhances self-efficacy by enabling participants to reconnect with their values and identities, self-evaluate, collaborate with colleagues to innovate and create knowledge. She quoted one of the teachers who said that “It is like inhaling fresh air in the middle of intense pollution.”

Most recently, the NPTL approach was introduced to Kazakhstan by Saule Kalikova at the Soros Foundation in Almaty who are funding the Teacher Leadership in Kazakhstan (TLK) initiative. Saule spoke in the webinar about their long experience of educational innovations and the promotion of the values of open society. Subsequently, Gulmira Qanay piloted the approach in Taraz and then acted as an advisor on a second pilot in Koshetau.

TLK in action

Having learned from the two pilot studies, Gulmira launched TLK with the help of School for All, a local NGO, and HertsCam. An Induction Conference was held at NUGSE, in Nur-Sultan city in August 2019. Taking part in that conference were 16 school principals from four different regions of the country, along with 2 experienced colleagues from each school. They would become the first cohort of TLK facilitators. In the webinar Gulmira explained the step-by-step approach to empowering teachers as agents of change and outlined how the programme operated through a series of schools-based workshops and regional networking events. She introduced her colleague at NUGSE, Matthew Courtney, who had assisted Gulmira with the research and evaluation dimension of TLK. Matthew shared some of the findings so far which indicate a very good link between the positive experience of the initiative, building teacher leadership capacity, the development of collaborative cultures in the schools and the perceived impact of the teachers’ development projects.

TLK was not de-railed by the pandemic. School-level meetings continued to occur online as did networking events. In fact, the networking was in one sense enhanced because we were able to organise international events involving teachers from the UK, Egypt, Malaysia and elsewhere.

Plans for going to scale have been revised but optimism prevails. We plan to include more regions of the country and many more teachers in the forthcoming academic year. Our learning so far is being documented in a book which also showcases teachers’ projects and we will be engaging with policy makers in the near future to share what we have learned. Our key message will be that empowering teachers as agents of change does in fact make a huge contribution to the education reform movement in Kazakhstan.