The Impact of Teacher Support and a Social Classroom

The Impact of Teacher Support and a Social Classroom                             Posted November 14, 2016 by Annah Mason

In October, five CommonBond members and three employees visited Ghana for our Second Annual CommonBond Impact in Action trip. Read on to learn more about each of the participants' experience seeing the impact of CommonBond's Social Promise first hand. 

I recently had the opportunity to participate in CommonBond's Second Annual Impact in Action Trip to Ghana to see our Social Promise in action. For every loan we fund on our platform, we also fund the education of a child in need at a Pencils of Promise (PoP) school in Ghana, mainly in its rural Volta Region where community resources run low. Having worked in public service prior to joining CommonBond, my goal was to better understand how a cross-sector partnership like ours can help solve a social problem. Namely, how does our support translate into meaningful capital for Ghanaian communities?

The answers to this question became clear on the fourth day of the trip. We drove to a small and vibrant community called Adaklu Sofa to observe a school PoP had recently built with its signature orange paint and sturdy sand-and-cement walls. Adaklu classrooms are regularly aided by Teacher Support, a flagship PoP program that served 280 teachers in 2015 via workshops and coaching that provided teaching methodologies and other materials.

As we entered the classrooms to observe a few lessons in action, the first sounds we heard were not the teachers' voices but rather those of the students. In one class, a student was reading aloud to others, garnering support from the group whenever they seemed unsure. In another, the students were enjoying a call and response game with the teacher. In the last, we found a circle of first graders improvising their own knock-knock jokes.

Afterwards we learned from Adaklu's teachers that the high level of student engagement is the result of an approach called Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Developed by Responsive Classroom, SEL integrates thinking, feeling, and behaving into lesson plans to promote self-awareness and behavior management. "The focus on combining academic and social skills creates an environment where students can do their best learning," said Courage Tetteh, a Teacher Support Officer for PoP, who visits schools regularly to train and mentor teachers.

When we sat down with the teachers at Adaklu, we learned that SEL most often takes the shape of activities like greeting circles, experience sharing, and group exercises. A soft spoken teacher named Gabriel explained that he recently held a morning meeting to start a dialogue among students about what they ate for breakfast, tying in the activity to food-related words they'd learned the week prior.

Many Ghanaians grew up with a different kind of learning environment, Adaklu's teachers went on to explain. With traditional teaching methods in the region focused more on lecture and memorization, an approach like SEL is an evidence-based way to enhance the national curriculum with proven new learning strategies.

One of those strategies employed by PoP is to supply classrooms with e-readers loaded with more than 100 stories. Students can utilize them at school or at home, and those who do are 18.7% more reading proficient, according to PoP's 2015 annual report. Also in 2015, the 3rd and 4th grade students at PoP schools saw a 151% greater improvement than their peers in early reading indicators, with similar progress made by other age groups.

"Providing e-readers to students is significant for two main reasons," said PoP's Impact Manager Ali Jones when we connected about the trip. "Teachers are able to lead a more effective group discussion if everyone has access to the same book. Students are also able to choose which books they want to read. Awarding students with the ability to self-select literature has been linked to increased reading engagement, motivation, and ultimately achievement."

The dual focus on reading and relating was clear in the PoP classes we observed, and when it was time to leave Adaklu, I could sense that the entire CommonBond group would have rather stayed among the students' bright uniforms and chirping voices. Their energy for learning was contagious, and made it easy to envision the pathways each child could take.

For me, the visit highlighted how exposure to an engaging learning environment can be the springboard for both academic and civic success. And since this often begins with the ability to educate and innovate, a partnership like CommonBond’s and PoP's as well as social impact business models as a whole can be the difference in whether those resources are available to the communities that need them.

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