When it comes to best practice, sharing really IS caring

Molly Jamieson Eberhardt

As a young teacher, I was constantly looking to my more experienced colleagues for tips and tools.  I shamelessly begged and borrowed —there was no need to recreate the wheel every day: savvy veteran teachers had developed approaches to teaching 7th grade Math that I could simply tweak to make my own.

Take targeted instruction, for instance. Targeted instruction just means using different teaching methods and exercises for different students based on their ability levels and interests. I knew from my training that targeted instruction was key to making sure that all my students were learning, but I needed more than that general advice: what exactly should I do, tomorrow, to make it happen? How should I group students? How would I give different sets of instructions to each group? Where would the groups sit? What would each group do, and how should I divide my time in supporting the groups?

While it was intimidating to find answers to each of these questions by myself, there were two or three teachers that I could rely on for advice. And, even better than advice, they shared their stuff. “Can you email me that?” was my constant refrain. A quick diagnostic assessment to figure out how to group kids? No problem. Instructions for each group cleverly disguised as “game boards” from which students got to choose exercises? Absolutely. Prompts and sample problems sorted by level? Got those too.

For busy teachers with lots of priorities to balance, access to these sorts of practical tools can mean the difference between following best practice (differentiating instruction) and not (one lesson for everyone—the easy route). I’m no longer in the classroom, but I still shamelessly beg and borrow. You’ve done a household survey of parents’ attitudes about education in India? My refrain returns: “Can you email me that?” You developed a simple tool for assessing cost-effectiveness of school-based interventions? “Would you mind if I take a look?” You wrote a pamphlet for parents summarizing the developmental benefits of reading with young children? “Can we adapt that for our new project?”

These are all real examples! It doesn’t matter if you work in a classroom, lead a school, manage a multi-site project, conduct primary research, or support implementers with funding or technical assistance: we all need easier access to practical, high quality tools that make it easier for us to follow best practice.

And that’s precisely why we made the Early Learning Toolkit. It’s part of our Center for Education Innovations and it is meant to serve as a go-to site for practical tips and tools that allow education practitioners to use best-practice approaches, without having to recreate the wheel. We sourced the tips and tools from practitioners in developing countries who have extensive experience implementing education best practices in pre-primary and primary grades. We’ve combined their expertise and insight with findings from the growing evidence base about the effectiveness of various approaches on learning outcomes in developing countries.

Over the next couple of months, we will be holding workshops to gather additional tips and tools, to get feedback on how to improve and expand the Early Learning Toolkit, and to give practitioners and their supporters a place to share their experiences trying to incorporate best practices into their programs. We are especially eager to learn about the challenges they’ve run into along the way, and the troubleshooting they’ve done to make best practice a reality, even facing the sometimes extreme constraints of education programming for the poor.

This Thursday, we’ll host our first workshop, in New Delhi. Representatives of over 30 education organizations in India will come together to get practical about best practices to improve learning, and we can’t wait to share what we learn from them and incorporate those learnings into the Early Learning Toolkit. We’ll hear from NGOs, government programs, low-cost private schools, foundations, and teacher groups. I am especially interested to see the extent to which these diverse organizations face similar or unique challenges, and whether potential solutions can be applied (with tweaks, of course) across the board.

Stay tuned for another blog post where we’ll let you know what we learned and where we’re headed next! In the meantime, browse the Early Learning Toolkit, tell us what you think, and send us any resources that have helped you make best practice a reality in your education program. Together, we can build the Early Learning Toolkit into a resource that helps education practitioners choose best practice over the status quo; it’s an easy decision when you know you don’t have to start from scratch—you can build on the expertise of your colleagues from around the world.

Molly Jamieson Eberhardt is a Senior Program Officer at Results for Development Institute (R4D).  Molly’s areas of expertise include innovative approaches to evaluation for program improvement, teaching and learning, and innovation in education. Currently, Molly leads R4D’s portfolio of learning and evaluation work in the Global Education practice; this includes working with programs to embed rigorous monitoring and evaluation methods into their program design and implementation efforts to facilitate data-driven decision-making. Prior to R4D, Molly worked as a mathematics teacher in the School District of Philadelphia and KIPP Charter Schools in Washington, DC.

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