“Teachers cannot be forced to attend programs!” For an NGO working in the education sector, specifically with under-resourced government-run schools, this isn’t a unique statement.
In fact, often teachers miss out on activities designed for their own professional development because they get caught up in the web of their own administrative duties. Take for example Samalochana Sabha — a department of education mandated meeting which was supposed to review subject-wise teaching on a monthly basis. But this couldn’t take shape.
Lack of funds, time, or even a missing Cluster Resource Center (CRC) – any of these could have been reasons for being unable to bring teachers of a cluster together. The CRC has been found to be a crucial aspect in the cluster approach to improve the quality of education in government-run school. Why? Because this is where teachers from all 12-14 schools in the cluster meet, discuss and share resources that help them improve teaching methodologies in their classrooms.
Even for a Samalochana Sabha to be conducted in an effective manner, a CRC was required where teachers could gather. A cascading effect, the lack of this center resulted in teachers not being able to part take in events that are mandatorily supposed to be conducted for them as enriching exercises.
How then, could we bring teachers of a cluster together? This question forms the story of an effort – conducting a teachers’ event – Samuha Sambhrama.
When we began working in the Dommasandra Cluster in 2017, we had no idea about Samalochana Sabha. While sharing the concept of our own Samuha Sambhrama with teachers, we found out about the already existing system. But the Samalochana Sabha, we learned, had ceased because of a lack of funds.
However, the actual challenge wasn’t of funds, but time. For a Samalochana Sabha, teachers were expected to spend an entire day (9:30 AM to 4:00 PM), which applied to reality, wasn’t feasible for most teachers.
This is where we learned our first lesson: To call teachers only for an hour, conduct a few activities, share the purpose of the visit (inaugurating the CRC), serve lunch and be done.
The Process – Setting up a Cluster Resource Centre
The whole idea behind Samuha Sambhrama was born out of a crucial need we saw in the cluster – the lack of a Cluster Resource Centre (CRC). Typically, a room in one government-run school in a cluster is identified by the department of education which must be used as the CRC.
A CRC is meant to serve as a common space for all teachers in a cluster to share resources and have regular meetings to discuss various aspects of school development —Teaching Learning Material (TLMs), upgrading resources, improving learning outcomes of students, engaging the community and most importantly planning a roadmap for improvement.
However, in many clusters, CRCs are dingy rooms serving the purpose of storage spaces. Our first task through the Cluster Transformation approach was to convert this storage space into a fully functional CRC with an aesthetic appeal that could encourage teachers to keep coming back to the center.
From cleaning up the room and painting the walls; to setting up computers, TLMs, and books for reference, a team of enthusiastic cluster transformation leads came together to revamp lifeless rooms into an interactive place for teachers and school leaders. This, of course, wouldn’t have been possible without the support of a Cluster Resource Person in every cluster we work with.
The first Sambhrama
Through Samuha Sambhrama we wanted stakeholders like teachers and school leaders to inaugurate these CRCs. By sharing the importance of this center, we aimed to help them build connections with each other, giving them a chance to interact with fellow teachers beyond their own school.
When we piloted the first Sambhrama in Dommasandra in 2017, so many teachers working in the same cluster, who had been friends for a long time, were completely unaware that they were working in schools barely a few kilometers away.
The event turned into a reunion-of-sorts, after which teachers came up to us saying, “We must have a Samuha Sambhrama every month!”
While only 25 teachers (out of 49) showed up for the event. Some teachers did complain about staying back on a Saturday for an extra hour. But we consoled ourselves and decided to look at the bright side to those who did appreciate the efforts put into making this event a success.
Subsequently, we conducted the same event in Hennagara, Chandapura, and Anekal Town which saw a much larger participation
We continue to focus on those who thought of the event as a positive intervention, for our work will only bring results when such teachers and school leaders join hands in making their clusters strong educational geographies. Overall, the event was a conquered success.
Leaders are important
At the core of Mantra’s work in any cluster is to identify and enable effective leadership within the system. The aim of whole school transformation is not for us, an NGO, to create change. We must catalyze change while stakeholders take the lead.
Through the Cluster Approach, we seek the support of energetic Cluster Resource Persons (CRPs) who act as bridges between teachers and the system. Empowering such leaders further is crucial to transformation.
When we began entering each of our four clusters, the notion was that teachers cannot be disturbed or forced to attend events like Samuha Sambhrama. Over time, however, an effective and persistent CRP has always been instrumental in the successful conduction of Samuha Sambhrama.
Ms. Bharthi, CRP of the Dommasandra Cluster is one such dynamic CRP who makes sure that teachers in her cluster attend enriching programs like Samuha Sambhrama. As she gained trust in the work Mantra does in the cluster, she made sure her attitude trickled down to every teacher — whom she coordinates and works with on a daily basis.
Read here about another initiative under the leadership of Ms. Bharathi.
While our first Samuha Sambhrama witnessed a low teacher turnout; events conducted more recently saw nearly 40 teachers participating, mostly because of Ms. Bharthi’s encouragement and the way she echoed Mantra’s work in her cluster.
Mr. Shankar Murthy, Block Resource Coordinator (BRC) is another such official who part takes in such events. Mr. Murthy filled in for the CRP during three such events when we conducted Samuha Sambhrama for teachers and school leaders in the Anekal, Chandapura, and Hennagara clusters earlier this year.
The road to change
The changes we saw in Dommasandra after the Samuha Sambhrama we conducted there gave us the confidence to push for this event persistently in other clusters as well. In 2018, over a course of two months, we conducted the event in Anekal Town, Chandapura, and Hennagara.
System and NGOs working together will always amplify efforts — this has been our key learning from the experiences we’ve had in the four clusters. Over the last year, we’ve had to work relentlessly to help the system see that we weren’t there to create change. We were there just to enable them to create it. As success stories began to come out of Dommasandra, inspiration seeped into other clusters as well.
From our end, we ensure regular reports and updates to all system leaders working in a cluster. Today, Mr. Shankar Murthy needs no prompt while he talks about Mantra. The energy to collaborate and work towards education transformation has come a long way since we first began our work in the cluster.
The lack of funds within the department had led to many CRCs in pathetic conditions, but our planning sessions together helped the situation. They gained the confidence that MANTRA’s intervention wasn’t FOR teachers, but WITH teachers.
The BRC especially liked that we left this event open and voluntary. Many NGOs, to conduct events, bring orders from the department. The wonder of keeping teachers in place even after school hours is great. Our achievement here was that teachers volunteered to stay back even without an enforcing order.
Nothing has ever been possible to achieve without challenges. The absence of a CRP in Hennagara, the delay in obtaining the key to the CRC in Anekal, and the initial hurdles in getting teachers to come for the event after school hours on a Saturday were just some of the challenges we were greeted with when planning for the event in all four clusters.
However, the challenges we faced while creating a CRC were no different from everyday challenges teachers and school leaders went through because of the absence of the center. In Anekal, it was worth going through the difficulties in obtaining the CRC when we saw how happy teachers were that it had finally opened! The Education Coordinating Officer (ECO) in fact conducted a meeting with teachers right after the Samuha Sambhrama event —being the first to utilize it for it’s actually meant to be used.
Purposeful use of CRC
Opening a CRC and encouraging teachers to use it doesn’t end our work on the field. A constant follow-up on the use of the CRC is crucial to understanding whether the collective efforts of creating such a space have actually been fruitful or not.
We devised a surprise model of checking for activities being conducted in the CRC. Most times, teachers haven’t disappointed! They have created dedicated spaces for various TLMs like the Ganitha (Math) kit or the Science kit, for instance. The cleanliness factor adds to the quality of the CRC.
Sustainability is not result-oriented; it’s process-oriented. As we reach each milestone through our cluster approach, the act of sustaining these efforts follows soon after. While we try to increase our collaboration with teachers on various levels, the story of Samuha Sambhrama and the processes it involved are guides for us as we build engaging spaces like Cluster Resource Centres.
Written by Venkatesh D, Field Operations Manager, Cluster Transformation Project, Mantra4Change