Cluster Resource Centres (CRC) and Block Resource Centres (BRC) were first set up under the centrally sponsored District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) in 1994, with the primary aim of training teachers in improving their pedagogic practices. Under the aegis of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the vision of these centres was further expanded to include the provision of continuous academic support to teachers.
As an integral element of this strategy, the Cluster Resource Centre Coordinator (CRCC) is expected to hold monthly meetings; where teachers from the cluster can connect with each other, discuss classroom challenges and collaboratively arrive at solutions.
However, since most of them are overburdened with administrative concerns, these meetings have often been reduced to focusing on purely administrative and transactional issues like data collection.
Azim Premji Foundation (Foundation) has been working towards improving the quality of public education with a central focus on teacher professional development for long. Based on its experience on the ground, the Foundation recognises that platforms that break the isolation of teachers and enable collaboration and peer learning amongst them are important to creating a coherent and integrated approach to teacher professional development.
Across several districts of Uttarakhand, the Foundation has worked with cluster-level monthly meetings and has witnessed their transformation from forums for data collection and information exchange to spaces where teachers converge as professionals and collaboratively engage with classroom-related challenges and other academic issues; and through this process, further their own professional development.
This paper aims to describe and analyse these experiences in four clusters of Uttarakhand where sustained efforts of the CRCCs, teachers and members of the Foundation have revitalised cluster-level monthly meetings and created a teacher-owned space for academic dialogue.
- Any initiative to transform cluster-level monthly meetings into collaborative spaces for teacher professional development will require deep capacity building of the CRCC.
- It is important to build a relationship of mutual trust and respect among all stakeholders through formal and informal interactions. This relationship is crucial for collaborative learning.
- Setting up meaningful processes for organising and conducting cluster meetings is essential. This includes allocation of sufficient time for discussion, selection of relevant topics and adequate preparation by resource persons.
- The effectiveness of any such platform ultimately depends on the quality and depth of the conversations it facilitates. It is also necessary to establish backward-forward linkages with classroom processes to ensure that the platform has direct relevance for the teacher.
- It is imperative to involve teachers at different levels of decision making in matters concerning such meetings-at the level of content as well as processes.
- It is paramount that a democratic and non-threatening environment is created during these meetings.
- A conducive physical environment is crucial to learning. Selecting a convenient location and creating a clean, comfortable space is an acknowledgment of the teachers’ needs and attracts them.
Collaboration and peer learning among teachers is being increasingly recognised as one of the more effective modes of teacher professional development across the world.
Diverse mechanisms have been adopted in different contexts and geographies to facilitate spaces and forums that encourage teachers to engage with each other during the course of their work and use their collective knowledge to reflect upon and improve their practice so that it leads to a more meaningful teaching-learning experience in schools.
In India too, the importance of peer learning and the breaking of the isolation of the teacher finds mention in the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education 2009 (NCFTE).
Break out of intellectual isolation and share experiences and insights with others in the field, both teachers and academics working in the area of specific disciplines as well as intellectuals in the immediate and wider society.
Professional fora such as meetings in the school and in the cluster to discuss and review one’s practice, to plan for annual work calendars, and on a weekly and monthly basis to plan for one’s teaching as well as to discuss with colleagues, the school academic head and resource persons at the cluster or block level, is an essential aspect of the teaching profession.
For over a period of 15 years, Azim Premji Foundation has been working at the grassroots level to improve the quality of public education. Given its strong conviction and belief in the centrality of the teacher in providing quality education, the work of the Foundation is primarily focused on teacher professional development. The Foundation works with various modes of teacher professional development depending upon context, need and opportunity.
Based on its own experience of working on the ground and current views on teacher professional development, the Foundation is committed to engaging with alternative structures, processes and platforms that enable peer learning.
As a result of its engagements in 5 states and nearly 50 districts, among a variety of teacher professional development models, different platforms have evolved for enabling collaboration and peer learning amongst teachers in response to specific local contexts and opportunity.
Given the scale and depth of its engagements, the Foundation is well-positioned to contribute to the body of knowledge that looks at ways in which universally accepted principles of teacher education, such as collaboration and peer learning, could be operationalised in the Indian context.
It is, therefore, keen to share such first-hand accounts and insights with other practitioners and this paper is a part of a series of studies addressing the above objective. It focuses on the work done with respect to cluster-level monthly meetings in Uttarakhand over a period of time.
Specifically, this study examines the evolution of these meetings in Uttarakhand as an effective platform for in-service teacher professional development. It seeks to document and critically analyse the experiences in four clusters of Uttarakhand with a view to identifying and understanding the efforts and practices which led to this change
CRCs and BRCs were conceived as local institutional structures to provide ongoing professional support to teachers. However, for various reasons, they have served as another layer of decentralisation between schools and the district management without adequately achieving their mandated objectives.
Members of the Foundation working in Uttarakhand saw the potential to use the CRC and the cluster-level meetings to help teachers in the cluster to connect with each other and build a forum for academic exchange which would address specific teacher concerns and lead to improved teaching learning practices.
Over time and through a range of efforts from all concerned stakeholders, the meetings in these clusters are evolving into vibrant professional development platforms with clear academic purpose and direct linkages with classroom practice.
Challenges such as being able to cater to a mixed group of teachers — for example, getting teachers from lower and upper primary to attend a single meeting, teachers from single-teacher schools owing to their circumstances being unable to attend meetings and difficult geographic terrain in some areas, continue to remain.
Developing cluster meetings into effective platforms for teacher development is a continuous process. It takes time, patience, and sustained, multi-pronged efforts on the ground. The ultimate vision for these meetings is to make teachers take complete charge of the platform and operate as participants, facilitators and owners. Even in these clusters, there is still a long way ahead if one has to realise this vision in full measure.
At a broad level, this journey has, however, demonstrated that working to renew and strengthen such an existing system even with its constraints is a rewarding exercise. Given that these institutional bodies are already in place, staffed with people and resources, it is important to leverage this pre-existing space to improve teacher capacity.
Foundation’s experience with cluster-level monthly meetings has shown that existing structures can be reinvigorated through deep-rooted contextual efforts, respecting the autonomy of teachers and working in collaborative modes to realise their mandated objectives.