Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Capacity Development of Field Teams

Last month, we published a post on Building Capacity for Making a Sustainable Change. Here we further discuss the idea of capacity development as it applies to our field teams, more specifically our Regional Program Associates (RPAs) to see how we can support them in being more productive and effective.

Role of an RPA
Within the context of this post it is important to define the role of an RPA and understand why we wish to focus on their capacity development.

RPAs are core members of our team and the face of our programme in the field. They provide the critical link between the Learn, Out of the Box programme management, and the schools and teachers – with the grand task of translating vision into reality. The RPAs are the key to our programme’s success.

More specifically, RPAs are responsible for training and supporting the teachers for the duration of the programme. They visit schools regularly to support the teachers with lesson planning and using the WebBox. They also track and monitor the progress of the program through classroom observations, and conduct data collection including feedback from the teachers and students. Their role also consists of supporting teachers with any hardware issues which arise.

The importance of the RPAs for the success of the program is why we are eager to help them develop their skills - to efficiently perform their roles. Additionally, we also hope that this skill development will contribute to their professional growth and help them achieve their maximum potential

Building Capacity
We have had the opportunity to observe and shadow some of our Phase 1 RPAs thus identifying areas of need. We have categorised the areas which pose challenges and in which we can take steps to develop our RPAs as being: Time Management; Planning and Organisation; Communication and Specific Skill Development.

Time Management
Time management is definitely an important skill to develop. We found that problems with effective time management often lead to a plethora of other issues, such as: spending excessive time on simple tasks, failing to meet deadlines, lack of punctuality, transfer of lax attitude to teachers, etc.

Some of the ways in which we can build on the RPAs’ time management skills are by:
  • Emphasising the need for a structured monthly plan of work
  • Having a more concrete system of daily planning, with structured schedules and assigned tasks for each school visit
  • Monitoring the aforementioned daily and monthly plans closely to make sure tasks are being followed
  • Providing feedback on RPAs plans and having constructive discussions on issues such as feasibility of their self-set timelines, allocating time efficiently, accounting for unknown variables, etc.
  • Speaking with school management/teachers and conducting unscheduled school visits to ensure that RPAs are fulfilling their responsibilities

When it comes to punctuality and time management, the key elements are thorough planning and regular monitoring, coupled with critically analytic feedback on these processes and structures. We hope that this will improve the time management skills of RPAs

Planning & Organisation
A vital part of the RPAs role involves visiting schools to work with teachers on lesson planning using the programme content and integrating the WebBox into their classes. They also perform classroom observations to monitor the effectiveness of the program, address teacher needs and identify areas of improvement.
With regard to this major area of work, we found that poor organisation, ad-hoc visits, poor preparation, etc. negatively impact the effectiveness of RPAs school visits. Since school visits take up a considerable amount of time and are a very important component of a RPAs role, ineffective or unproductive school visits affect the overall ability of an RPA to carry out their job well. Thus we also want to focus building on RPAs planning skills to work towards better organisation of their work.

For effective school visits some steps which can be taken are:
  • An increased emphasis on daily and monthly planning, with relevant feedback and discussion (as mentioned in the Time Management section) will help RPAs develop their planning and organisational skills
  • An increased focus on a professional work culture where RPAs confirm fixed meeting times, reasons for meetings, approximate duration etc, along with due follow up and preparation will also help with developing organisational skills
  • Encouraging RPAs to be up-to-date with the progress of their classes, with respect to the syllabus, and following up to ensure they are briefed properly will help RPAs plan their days better
  • Creating a compilation of teaching resources and a lesson plan bank will also enable RPAs to be better prepared for lesson planning sessions

Another area where we need to build is improving RPAs’ communications skills, both in English and with respect to using computer software such as MS Office. A lack of strong communication skills, in turn, hampers effective monitoring and reporting. Additionally, a lack of ability to balance a close yet formal relationship with schools too makes it difficult for RPAs to be firm with schools and teachers.
For better communication and reporting some steps which we can take are to:
  • Provide workshops on email writing, creating reports and collecting data - this would enhance the RPAs’ computer skills
  • Encourage the RPAs to write their reports on a computer rather than have them hand written
  • Enroll RPAs in English classes, as this allows them to understand the content better and improve their spoken English
  • Provide constructive feedback regularly to RPAs on their deliverables
  • Focus on improving RPAs’ overall soft skills
  • Accompany RPAs to schools on occasion and observe their interactions with teachers. Subsequently, provide feedback in any situations where it is required.

Specific Skill Development
Apart from the more generalised development mentioned in the sections above, there are some specific skills which we would also like to work on developing. These include:

Improving lesson planning ability 
  • Regional Programme Managers(RPMs) and Master Trainers (MTs) can conduct regular practice sessions and role-plays to strengthen RPAs’ lesson planning skills
  • The resource bank of lesson plans mentioned earlier will also help by providing ample resources and lessons plans for RPAs to refer to

Addressing technical issues  
  • When technical issues are faced RPMs should make sure RPAs are made aware of how to solve the problems that have arisen for their school
  • Even in cases where the technical issues are addressed at the high level, RPAs should be kept in the loop so that they understand the processes involved

Effective Classroom Observations
  • RPMs should also go through RPAs’ Classroom Observation Forms in detail, and give RPAs constructive feedback on what more they should look for while observing classes

The points mentioned above are just some initial ideas which have been discussed by the team in the realm of capacity development of RPAs. We hope to compile a report on Capacity Building of RPAs which also highlights the various challenges that RPAs face and the corresponding steps the State management can take to support them. We plan to circulate this report to our State Teams so they may take the requisite steps to adequately support the field teams to be more effective and improve their skill sets as well.