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  • 08.10.2021

Teachers in Crisis Contexts: We must invest in their strengths, not rest on them

This blog has originally been published on 5 October 2021, on World Teachers' Day, by the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) and written by Danni Falk and Chris Henderson from Teachers College, Columbia University.

"Just like the children I teach, I have experienced the loss of my home and know what it is like to flee a war I did not have any part in. Perhaps that is the reason why I wanted to come work here and make a difference for these children." - Francis Ocaya, Teacher, Uganda.

Teachers are at the heart of a child’s learning, well-being, and holistic development. On World Teachers’ Day this year, we recognize that “teachers are also at the heart of education recovery” as schooling systems across the globe continue to grapple with the ongoing Covid-19 health pandemic. Though the scale and scope of the pandemic is unprecedented -- disrupting teaching and learning for 1.6 billion students and more than 100 million teachers and school personnel -- countless educators have been teaching amidst conflict, crisis, and displacement for decades (Sherif, Brooks, & Mendenhall, 2020). 

Teachers such as Francis, who grew up and attended school in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in northern Uganda during civil strife and violence wrought by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) know this all too well. Francis now teaches South Sudanese children and youth in a refugee settlement in the same community where he himself was once displaced. This shared experience with his learners, which Jackie Kirk and Rebecca Winthrop coined as an ‘alternative qualification’ of educators working in crisis contexts - motivates Francis to work with refugee children and youth, and uniquely positions him to understand and respond to the adversities his learners face.

Despite Francis’ skills and strengths as a teacher, we cannot expect him or his colleagues to undertake this work alone. Yet, too often teachers feel overlooked and under-supported. Teachers working in crisis contexts -- who may be national teachers working with refugee learners, IDP teachers, or refugee teachers -- face extraordinarily challenging and complex classrooms and rarely receive the support they need to meaningfully carry out their work. 

It is well documented that amidst crisis, teacher professional development is sporadic, uncoordinated, and of varied quality (Burns & Lawrie, 2015), teacher management policies frequently restrict compensation, benefits, and long-term engagement in the profession (Mendenhall, Gomez, & Varni, 2018), and teacher well-being is overlooked despite the stressful nature of teachers’ work (Falk et al., 20192021INEE, 2021). Further, the constellation of actors working closely with teachers -- most notably their supervisors and school leaders -- receive insufficient professional development to create a positive school climate that would enable teachers to effectively carry out their work (Mendenhall et al., 2021). This must change now. 

In an effort to make this change, the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies’ (INEE) Teachers in Crisis Contexts (TiCC) Collaborative brought together a group of humanitarian and development actors to develop an initial Call to Action that aims to transform sector-wide support to teachers in crisis contexts. Consisting of five action-points centered around teacher management, teacher professional development, teacher well-being, and school leadership and governance, this Call to Action urges the international community to:

  1. Prioritize teachers from the very onset of an emergency, through to recovery and development, with increased financial investments, better data, and effective planning so that adequate numbers of teachers, including female and minority teachers, are teaching where and when they are needed most.
  2. Respect teachers, including volunteers and facilitators, as individuals and professionals with appropriate and equitable recruitment policies, pay and employment terms, and working conditions.
  3. Enable teachers to support all learners by continuously investing in and dramatically improving the nature and quality of teacher preparation, continuous professional development, and sustained support.
  4. Support teachers’ well-being, recognizing the impact of crises on teachers in their own lives and in their ability to do their work, and providing comprehensive support to teachers at the individual, school, community, and national levels.
  5. Listen to teachers’ expertise, experiences, and opinions, by including them in decision-making bodies and coordination mechanisms, program design and implementation, and research efforts.

Over the coming months, the TiCC Collaborative, in partnership with the LEGO Foundation, Education International, Oxfam, UNESCO, and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, invites you to participate in a series of events that will feed into, improve, and mobilize this emerging Call to Action. The TiCC Event Series 2021-2022 will provide an opportunity for us all to collectively and effectively improve and commit to the Call to Action. It will also help us understand how to better mobilize this global agenda for improving support to teachers throughout their careers.

Through various virtual meetings between 2021-2022, the TiCC Event Series warmly welcomes you to:

  • Listen & Learn: from and with teachers, practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and donors as they share promising approaches and persistent challenges across policy, practice, and research. Contribute to this discussion and build an evidence base on how to best support teachers by submitting a case study on teacher management, teacher professional development, teacher well-being, and school governance and leadership, by Friday, October 15th.
  • Collaborate & Commit: with diverse stakeholders across the development and humanitarian sectors to review, revise, and improve the emerging Call to Action. Help us draft recommendations for stakeholders on how to best mobilize and enact this global agenda in a way that transforms  how we support teachers. 
  • Engage & Empower: teachers to share their perspectives and experiences by writing and submitting their Teacher Stories, which we will be sharing throughout the Event Series. These efforts will garner more attention to the critical role teachers play and situate teachers as experts in describing their roles and responsibilities and the support they need to effectively carry out their work throughout their careers.

While today -- on World Teachers’ Day -- the international community celebrates the incredible work of teachers, we must also reflect on the challenges they face and recognize our collective responsibility to provide teachers with the support they deserve. In doing so, we must acknowledge the skills and knowledge that teachers, like Francis, bring to classrooms across the world’s crisis-affected communities. 

At the same time, we cannot let our celebration of teachers’ work cause complacency. We must recognize teachers as leaders in their communities’ response to disaster, recovery from war, and preparedness for climate change, while at the same time prioritizing the conditions that inhibit the full potential of their work. 

During this year’s United Nations General Assembly, world leaders pledged USD$138.1 million to Education Cannot Wait, the fund for education in emergencies. The same week, the LEGO Foundation pledged US$150 million to UNICEF’s efforts to get children back to school. As we work towards a post-pandemic world, education is taking center stage. 

With this opportunity we must invest in teachers’ strengths, not rest on them. We must address structural and systemic barriers, not bypass them or settle for the status quo.

Please join us in the TiCC Event Series as we continue this work with and for teachers to transform sector-wide support for educators in crisis contexts. For more information on how to get involved with the TiCC Event Series, please contact:

Photo: A teacher in Colombia. 2016. Copyright Edgar León / NRC.

The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors; they are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.

  • 18.10.2021

EnlightED Hybrid Edition

ProFuturo is participating in enlightED Hybrid Edition, the largest international meeting on education, innovation and edtech, and we don't want you to miss it! Follow all the presentations and round tables and participate in the workshops of this fourth edition with an innovative hybrid format.

Over the three days of enlightED, a wide range of international experts will reflect on and share solutions regarding the education, innovation and digital gaps that have emerged as a result of the pandemic:

On the opening day of this fourth edition, on October 19, Magdalena Brier, general director of ProFuturo, will speak at 5:00 p.m. (CET) with Wendy Kopp, CEO and co-founder of Teach For All. The conversation on how to "Empower, train and advise teachers for the digital age" can be followed here.

Right after, at 5:25 PM (CET) ProFuturo organizes a round table on “How to achieve excellence and equity in education in a data-driven world” with Robert Hawkins, Global Director of Education Technology and Innovation, World Bank, and Wayne Holmes, Research Consultant and Professor, University College London. You can follow it here.

Both sessions will be held in English with translation into Spanish.

Finally, our participation in #enlightED 2021 will culminate on October 21st at 4:00 p.m. (CET) with the organization of a workshop (only in Spanish) aimed at teachers on how to incorporate Computational Thinking in the classroom. It will deepen our methodological proposal in Primary Education. Register in advance here to participate.

Check out the full enlightED Hybrid Edition 2021 schedule.

  • 30.08.2021

Supporting teachers in back-to-school efforts: A toolkit for school leaders

Many schools in the northern hemisphere will resume in-person classes in the coming weeks after over a year of intermittent closures - despite the continued presence and uncertain evolution of the COVID-19 virus. Other schools will opt for hybrid teaching and learning. Whichever modality they choose, the reopening of schools that had been closed because of COVID-19 continues to raise many questions for school leaders. They need to put the school community’s safety and health first. At the same time, they have to ensure that schools’ front-line workers – teachers and education support staff – have the help, protection and tools they need to resume work.  Teachers have played a key role during school closures by ensuring that learning can continue and by keeping in touch with students and their families. Their role during school reopening will be just as important.

Last year, UNESCO, the Teacher Task Force and the International Labour Organization released a toolkit to help school leaders support and protect teachers and education support staff in the return to school. The toolkit complements the joint Framework for Reopening Schools and the Task Force's policy guidance. It breaks down the seven dimensions in the policy guidance into a series of actionable guiding questions and tips. While many education systems have already been closed and reopened several times over the past year, the dimensions on supporting and protecting teachers and students remain relevant. These include how to support teachers’ health, safety and well-being, how to foster dialogue with teachers and the community, and how to ensure learning resumes.

Download the Toolkit in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

Seven dimensions to support teachers and staff as schools reopen:

Figure 1. Seven dimensions to support teachers and staff as schools reopen

The toolkit recognizes the importance of local context. In many countries the pandemic is still evolving daily. Local decisions about when to reopen schools will be determined by a broad range of considerations; what is right for one school may not be right for another. In all contexts, school leaders will need to set priorities  and recognize that  trade-offs may be needed.

The toolkit shows us that school leaders will need to think about key issues in relation to teachers and education support staff as they adapt national directives to plan to reopen their schools.

  • The importance of consultation and communication

Teachers, school staff and their representative organizations should be actively involved in setting out policies and plans for school reopening, including occupational safety and health measures to protect personnel. Communication with teachers, learners and education support staff about reopening can ensure clarity about expectations  and highlight their role in the success  of safe, inclusive return-to-school efforts, including overall well-being, and the teaching and learning recovery process.

As decisions to reopen schools are made by central authorities, it will be important to communicate early, clearly and regularly with parents and school communities to understand their concerns and build support for plans to reopen. Parents will want to know what safeguards have been put in place to minimize health risks. They will also need to hear about the school’s ongoing commitment to key educational principles and goals. As teachers are often the first point of contact with parents, they will need to be prepared to ensure everyone is informed continually.

  • Reassuring teachers and school staff about their health, safety and rights

Concern for the well-being of teachers, support staff and students is at the heart of decision-making. It is important to balance the desire to return to school with consideration of the risks to (and needs of) teachers, support staff and learners, so that the needs of the most vulnerable members of the school community are met.

School-level responses may include ongoing psychological and socio-emotional assessment, and support for teachers and learners. School leaders and teachers should be free to address their own needs, exercise self-care and manage their own stress. School leaders can help teachers develop stress management skills and coping mechanisms, so they can teach effectively and provide much-needed psychosocial support to learners. It is also critical to understand that schools are a workplace and that it is more vital than ever to respect the rights and conditions of the people who work there.

 “Before schools reopened, the teachers were worried about resuming work and contracting the virus, as were the parents. We had no WASH facilities, no masks and large classes. Discussions with health staff would have helped us a lot. It would also have been reassuring to have psychologists in schools for psychosocial care. In the end, we were able to obtain sufficient sanitation and masks from an international NGO, and only one grade returned to school to prepare for exams. The classes were split in two", stated a Primary school principal from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

  • Using teachers’ expertise in the new classroom environment

In most contexts, when children return to classrooms it will not be business as usual. In some cases, only some students will be present, or there will be double shifts. Lesson plans, assessment and overall curricula will be adapted, and remedial lessons will need to be developed and deployed.

School leaders need to ensure teachers are empowered to make decisions about teaching and learning. They can work with teachers to adjust curricula and assessment based on revised school calendars and instructions from central authorities. School leaders should also support teachers to reorganize classrooms to allow for accelerated learning and remedial responses, while adhering to regulations on physical distancing.

Teachers’ key role in recognizing learning gaps and formulating pedagogical responses remains critical. This is especially true for vulnerable groups, including low-income families, girls, those with special needs or disabilities, ethnic or cultural minorities and those living in remote rural areas with no access to distance education.

To manage the return to school, it is important for teachers and education support staff to receive adequate professional preparation to assume their responsibilities and meet expectations. Training, peer-to-peer learning and collaboration with other teachers, both within the school and more broadly, will be critical. Such support is particularly important where additional strain may be placed on teachers’ time if they are required to conduct both face-to-face and distance education.

Education recovery will require investments to ensure that a generation of learners is not lost. Which is why the Teacher Task Force is urgently calling for greater investment in teachers and teaching. Read the Call for Greater Investment

Download the Toolkit in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

See also the Guidelines for national authorities in Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

Photo credit: MIA Studio/