WHAT WE DO
The TransformELT Approach
We support change initiatives at every level of the education process drawing on the experience and expertise of our extensive network of consultants, and following the principles set out in The TransformELT Approach. Since launching in 2017, we have worked in over 25 countries on a wide range of projects: as advisors and project directors for ministries of education on large-scale systemic reform; as school management consultants to individual institutions seeking progressive change; as researchers for in-depth educational studies; as curriculum designers and materials developers; and as trainers for teaching, coaching and mentoring. The point of departure for all our work is a detailed exploration of context to ensure that our interventions are practical, sustainable and above all, context-appropriate.
We aim to equip individuals within an education system with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable the whole system to develop autonomously. Generating sustainability across complex systems involves a highly participatory approach to change initiatives. We believe that the best way to enable large-scale changes across a system is to engage individuals in a series of dialogues that help them to understand fully and believe in the changes proposed, and take direct actions that are significantly different from what was happening before. This also involves our project managers understanding how the changes will impact on the individuals concerned across multiple roles within the education system. Ensuring that all relevant perspectives are taken into account during planning, implementation and evaluation of the proposed intervention is key to success.
While we acknowledge that there are similarities across education systems, each individual organisation has its own structure, character, procedures and processes. We explore this in depth before and during needs analysis to ensure that we have a thorough understanding of the context within which we are working. This contextual approach ensures that changes proposed fit the education system and the individuals that constitute it.
Embedding monitoring and evaluation procedures into all stages of the project ensures that information is fed back to participants, consultants and project managers so that modifications can be made to the project in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Ensuring that key baseline data is collected at the outset creates benchmarks from which we can measure success. Although these can often be concrete indicators that can be easily observed and counted, this is not always the case. More subtle changes can be uncovered with close observation and a more qualitative approach to data gathering and analysis. We use a ‘mixed methods’ approach at all stages to monitor the progress of the project and to evaluate outcome achievement levels.
For each project, we carefully select individuals from our extensive network of consultants. These highly qualified professionals have the skill sets required to equip change process participants with the knowledge and skills they need to achieve the desired change across the system. Once constituted, the project team is structured in different ways at different points in the project. Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and we endeavour to ensure that there is detailed communication between team members so that everyone has a clear picture of how the project is progressing and what needs to be done to enable successful delivery.
We support change initiatives at every level of the education process drawing on the experience and expertise of our extensive network of consultants, and following the principles set out above. Since launching in 2017 we have worked in over 25 countries on a wide range of projects: as advisors and project directors for ministries of education on large-scale systemic reform; as school management consultants to individual institutions seeking progressive change; as researchers for in-depth educational studies; as curriculum designers and materials developers; and as trainers for teaching, coaching and mentoring. The point of departure for all our work is a detailed exploration of context to ensure that our interventions are practical, sustainable and above all, context-appropriate.
SUSTAINING DEVELOPMENT IN LANGUAGE EDUCATION
In language teaching and teacher development, input is king. i+1 has become a mantra for language teachers trying to enable their students to move from where they are to where they want to be. Short-term, intensive training courses are still the preferred mode of teacher development, despite overwhelming evidence that they are very expensive, have little impact and depend on new ideas and activities presented and demonstrated by the trainer. These ‘new ideas’ tend not to be new at all. The most recent large methodology shift, CLIL (Content Language Integrated Learning) is now 20 years old, CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) over 50. But what happens after the input? That depends to a large extent on the context and the level of commitment of the funding bodies and stakeholders involved in making the change sustainable.
Sustainability in language education means finding ways of maintaining individual development at desirable rates, to prevent the human and material resources within our educational environments from becoming depleted. This involves feeding the system with enough fuel in the form of information, ideas and funding to enable the maintenance of current levels of development or preferably, steady rates of change. Abandonment of this fuelling process, as with almost any dynamic system, leads to disintegration.
A systems approach to educational development enables us to see how different parts of the system impact on each other: where certain parts might need more fuel; where others are being over-stimulated; where feedback loops are becoming fossilised; and what avenues we might take to divert energy flows between different parts of the system to make it work more efficiently, or effectively. Our image of this system appears in Figure 1.
The background environment for the learning ecosystem can also be called the learning context. This includes geographic location, school location within that, education system processes, and the policy environment in the widest view, but also for an individual, their family background, socio-economic situation, and home culture. These factors all interact in multiple complex ways to influence teachers and learners alike.
Within the actual education system itself, the assessment sub-system is key. If it isn’t tested, don’t expect the learners to learn it, teachers to teach it, or parents to care about it, no matter how much training and support the teachers receive. Similarly, enlightened models of education feature concepts such as whole child development, rounded education and supplementary programmes. These require large amounts of energy to maintain, and so are best embedded within the wider educational approach. Without such integrated design, these programmes are likely to be left by the wayside in favour of the curriculum goals that are assessed and graded. Classroom methodologies that maximise these self-sustaining elements, building them in so that they generate intrinsic motivation, making participation in these activities particularly fun and enjoyable, or ensuring some other form of phatic, or actual reward for participation, are the most likely to generate impact.
All learners need support. Teachers are often held solely responsible for this, but what happens at home and in the community is also important. The quality, quantity, and availability of learning materials certainly matters, but the way that learning is managed around these is more important. Availability, quantity, and quality are not sufficient conditions for learning. Individual learners may have the capacity for autonomous learning, but unless they operationalise that capacity, no amount of high-quality materials in their own bedrooms are going to help them develop their language ability. Some people seem to have a natural ability to pick up languages effortlessly. However, they do make a lot of effort, they just know how to organise their own learning more effectively than others.
Organising learning is the main job of the teacher. Knowing what resources can be used to support learners; providing advice to learners and suggested activities to help them make productive use of their time; scaffolding the linguistic content of topics of learning; and giving feedback on the quality of language they are producing: these are the skills teachers need to optimise learning. These skills can be introduced during training courses, but they cannot be mastered over short periods of time. Ukraine has recognised this in its PRESETT English language teacher preparation programme. By increasing the number of practical teaching hours for pre-service teachers from 150 to 650, and drip feeding target teaching skills over a three-year period, they have given novice teachers the time to be able to develop the skills they need to become highly skilled practitioners.
In-service teachers need a support system, too. In Algeria, we have been building that system, over the last four years, with the Ministry of National Education and the British Council, training school inspectors to work together with teachers and school heads to enable deeper change within teaching practice across the wider system. Deep change like this requires deep organisation of the change process and a significant period of time within which to germinate and grow. This project promises to continue for at least another two years.
Sadly, this long-term vision is not the way most education ministries and development agencies operate. Constrained by short term appointments and year to year budgets, the default setting is to run training courses for as many teachers as possible, and equate the number of people taking a course with its impact.
The number of people taking a training course is NOT impact. Depth of change within the system in terms of quality of teaching behaviour and consequent increases in quality and quantity of learner outcome achievement are the measures by which education change programmes should be judged. That involves a lot more detailed monitoring and evaluation than head counts or checklists. Monitoring and evaluation systems, when well-engineered, should be a component of the project structure that helps enable change processes to proceed.
As all complex systems are sensitive to initial conditions, small fluctuations in any one of the inputs into the system (materials, teaching/learning, assessment, teacher support, infrastructure, ideas and information) can lead to unpredictable effects on large-scale outputs. For example, in West Africa, our Toolkit for English Clubs is part of the learning support system that is engendering changes in classroom teaching. At the moment, we are witnessing the potential for that small intervention to have a huge influence over classroom teaching across the secondary system in some of the countries where it is being used.
Building sustainability into our change projects involves considering the people involved and the processes they are taking part in. We need to take a human perspective on the actual changes we are asking individuals to make, the real effect they are likely to have on the participants, and how different these new ways of working are from those already embedded and engrained. Appreciating the traditions behind current practice respects existing practices and helps empathise with individuals we work with. Ensuring that our project partners believe we are suggesting changes that have their best interests at heart is more likely to ensure buy-in from the outset, and support deep change in the future.
Online, Blended & Hybrid Learning
The underlying principle driving our collaborative approach to change projects is appreciative enquiry into specific contexts. Our training interventions are informed by in-depth background research, and where possible, by scoping studies, designed to help us achieve a nuanced understanding of educational traditions and how we can best support the desired change while respecting those traditions. Thorough needs analysis provides an objective basis for negotiation with our clients to identify appropriate project goals, and helps to ensure that our training interventions are context-sensitive, respecting institutional priorities at the same time as responding to the needs of practitioners and learners. We aim to remain in contact with groups and individuals after a period of training, and we welcome opportunities for further involvement, whether on a formal or informal basis.
TransformELT draws on an extensive network of highly experienced consultants, covering a wide range of areas of professional practice. We manage and provide leadership and support for diverse projects, supplying teams of consultants or individual specialists, according to the scope of the project and the client’s requirements. Our expert consultants are able to envision and plan large-scale curriculum and syllabus reform projects, as well as working in collaboration with local practitioners on training and materials development initiatives. The point of departure for all our consultancy work is always an exploration of the educational environment to gain a deep understanding of its professional ecology and ensure that our interventions are practical and context-sensitive. Monitoring and evaluation processes are embedded in all our consultancy work from the outset and throughout the life of a project.
Coaching & Mentoring
Coaching and mentoring are closely related forms of professional support and development provided for practitioners, depending on their needs at different stages of their careers. Coaching involves facilitation, often by someone external to the institution, in situations where teachers are seeking to review their established practice or engage with some new practice. Mentoring is usually associated with early career development or with moments when a teacher is moving into a new role. Mentoring is usually carried out by more experienced members of the same institution with less experienced teachers. Both coaches and mentors have advisory functions, and both processes call for the individual being coached or mentored to be actively involved in goal-setting and reflective practice. Depending on the scale and scope of a project, TransformELT consultants operate as specialist coaches themselves, or as trainers, enabling experienced teachers to become mentors or coaches.
Whether a fresh endeavour or the reform of an existing curriculum, curriculum development is a complex undertaking, and needs to be approached systemically. For a curriculum to have a real impact on teaching and learning, it has to be much more than an inventory of content, and should address a nexus of interwoven elements: teacher preparation, professional development, materials design, learning resources, modes of delivery and assessment – each of these factors needs to be seen in relation to the others. The integrity of a curriculum and its effective implementation depend on a detailed awareness of these reciprocal impacts. Our view of curriculum design is of a blueprint for a dynamic learning process that is capable of adaptation in a changing educational environment, with scope for change and further development.
As with all of TransformELT’s projects, our work on materials development always proceeds from a thorough investigation of target contexts and learner needs. Whether it entails developing a curriculum for a global product or writing a country-specific textbook, our materials development is informed by an appreciation of the culture or cultures of the learners, their learning priorities and how their attitude to language learning is influenced by educational traditions. Although our materials writers all have extensive experience of writing for both global and local contexts, their approach is based on sharing and nurturing local expertise. Rather than imposing predetermined solutions, they approach materials projects with professional curiosity, and as far as possible pursue a policy of working collaboratively with local practitioners to develop capacity and sustainability.
The complex nature of education calls for a layered approach to research, so as to ensure the fullest consideration of the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. Whether the research subject is an individual institution or an entire system, we aim to form as complete a picture as possible of the present situation, through multiple sources of data, and to identify realistic and practical actions designed to achieve the desired outcomes. Education is a social process, and valid educational research has to investigate values, beliefs and attitudes, as well as professional practices. Our approach to research studies, while evidence-based, is therefore as much concerned with qualitative as with quantitative data. As far as circumstances allow, we employ a mixed-methods approach, integrating literature review, interviews, questionnaires, observations, and focus group discussions, as well as examination of key performance indicators.
Monitoring & Evaluation
As can be seen from our Theory of Change (above), monitoring and evaluation procedures are built into the TransformELT approach at every stage of project planning and implementation. The M&E process begins by gathering key baseline data at the inception of a project to establish benchmarks. This then enables us to form a clear picture of what success will look like after the intervention. Periodic monitoring throughout the life of a project keeps all the stakeholders informed of progress, ensures that the desired outcomes are kept clearly in focus, and that project processes and activities can be modified accordingly. A ‘mixed methods’ approach is designed to capture qualitative as well as quantitative data. The same triangulated approach is used to evaluate outcomes, outputs, and wherever possible, impacts.