Leading change in communities during COVID

Cambodia suspended in-person class for the fourth time in February 2021, and since the Khmer New Year last week, the capital city of Phnom Penh has been on lockdown. Our fellows, alumni, and staff community are worried about the reality that many students will never return to school and the losses that many returning students will need to overcome. 

At the same time, many new possibilities have arisen—from teachers harnessing the power of available technology to facilitate learning, to leveraging student survey data to inform teaching strategies, to increasing focus on the importance of social and emotional learning, mental health, and well-being. Through it all, we are inspired by our teaching fellows and alumni who have continued to do all that they can to keep their own students learning while rallying to impact the broader community and system!

Teach For Cambodia Fellows and alumni are leading change in their communities and working to find solutions that can enable all children to fulfill their potential. We would like to share a few examples of this below.

Supporting teachers’ development

Peng An, an alumnus from the 2018 Cohort, is now working at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP). During his two-year experience teaching in public schools, he came to see that teachers play a critical role in bridging the gap between policy and implementation. This was made more clear as the pandemic hit and the ongoing learning of students relied heavily on teachers’ knowledge, skills and actions. He realized that teachers are the main mechanism to drive Cambodia’s education recovery, yet there are gaps in what they know and what is expected of them. This led to his decision to join RUPP to support teacher development. 

As a Project Coordinator for the Teacher Upgrading Program, Peng An is supporting more than 1,205 secondary school teachers and teacher trainers from all over Cambodia to build skills around improving educational assessments, instructional design and curriculum development, conducting action research in education, and practical school-based management strategies and tactics for school teachers.

“I believe teachers are not the ones to blame for the current state of education. Knowing our country’s history and acknowledging how young the Cambodian education system is, I am committed to instilling the values of empathy, love, and care among existing teachers, as they work together hand-in-hand to ensure a better educational system for the next generation.” 

Online teaching tools for low resource communities

Challenges with the internet can be very real in rural communities, but fellows like Thalyna and Sroem are working together to create innovative solutions to help others lead and teach in low resource communities.

Using Zoom and Google Meet can be costly in terms of bandwidth and data for some students in rural communities. That is why Thalyna and Sroem set out to discover other tools that would work better for their students. To do this, they set up a learning community to support teachers from ten different schools so that they could share their solutions and learn from each other. 

Since launching this community, they have provided introductory and demo sessions on Live Worksheet, Loom, Quizizz, Quizlet, and Quick Quiz! These are all different tools that can enable teachers to keep online learning exciting, track student performance, and increase engagement. Additionally, they held virtual spaces to reflect, gather and provide feedback from teachers who tried these new tools in different school contexts.

Supporting more teachers leads to reaching more students

Madona, an English and ICT Teacher at Hun Sen Sam Pov Poun High School (SPP), believes it takes supporting all teachers at his school to  enable the 1,882 SPP students to continue learning.

Similar to many rural schools, teachers in his community needed support with engaging students online. So, he created instructional videos for them on how to use online teaching and communication tools including Telegram, Google Meet, Google Form, and Google Classroom. In addition to the videos, Madona directly supports teachers by providing instructions and consultation in groups and one-on-one, to ensure that teachers are utilizing the resources and tools needed to reach their students. 

Madona realized that through providing this support, he is also building trust and relationships in his community which can enable progress in the future. 

Celebrating Khmer New Year, virtually

Dany and Kechleng, grade 7 teachers from Chea Sim Chroy Changvar High School, believe that the spirit of Khmer New Year can be a source of motivation during challenging times. That’s why they hosted a virtual celebration with their students to keep the spirit of New Year alive.

During the celebration, students were reminded of the value of Khmer traditional games and activities. Laughter and excitement could be heard through the screen as students and teachers guessed proverbs, shared wishes for one another, and sang along to traditional songs like Trot, and also modern classics like Time to Rise. Especially in difficult times, we can find hope and strength in our holiday to care for the emotional wellbeing of our students. Thank you Kechleng and Dany for keeping the spirit of Khmer New Year alive.

Routines that can save teachers time & energy

Chea Chet, a grade 9 mathematics teacher from Bun Rany Hun Sen Koh Dach High School, is working to find the best routines to help teachers save time and energy. Managing a virtual classroom of 80 students is not always easy. So he set up to look for the best routines that would minimize decision fatigue. These are just some of the different strategies he came up with:

👉 Created small learning groups of 8 to 10 students divided alphabetically and tasked each with a project to complete as well as independent learning materials. (recorded videos and exercise).

👉 Dedicated offline time for students to complete exercises while using live sessions to dive into difficult contents, key formulas revision, Q&A, and assessments using Live Worksheet. 

Now that he has set up this routine and his class is organized, he has the energy to focus on how he boosts his 81.25% engagement rate to 100%.

Virtual learning habits that set up students for success

Chamnan, a Teach For Cambodia alumnus now in his third year of teaching grade 7 and 8 English at Hun Sen Chak Angre High School, believes that establishing virtual learning habits is the first step to setting students up for success for online learning. A few ways he is doing that:

👉 He makes it a priority to respond quickly to students and provide feedback on homework and assignments.

👉 He stays frequently active in the Telegram channel he set up and reinforces positive behaviors when he sees it.

👉 He contacts parents to check in on students when he notices that they are not active in channels.

He wants students to know that they are accountable to each other, and so far, it seems to be working. 50% of Chamnan’s students actively submit assignments on a regular basis and since school closure has started, he has grown weekly participation by 5% each week.

Overcoming student perception about ICT during Covid

When the pandemic hit a year ago, Salen struggled to get students to learn online with her; students had the perception that without a computer at home, they could not learn ICT. This year, she’s taking a different approach by highlighting the “C” in ICT and shifting her grade 9 ICT class towards strengthening Communication. She introduced Class Dojo and quickly grabbed the attention of her adolescent students and got them invested in growing their skills. A couples ways she can customize learning for students: 

👉 Students create Monster Avatars to represent them in their online classes and submit assignments to online portfolios. During these interactions, students communicate about work and process and she gains insight into their needs and passions. 

👉 Through their engagement with ClassDojo, Salen can diagnose their English skills quickly, and simultaneously use speaking and writing to bridge gaps. Some students have shown interest in coding, so she provides guidelines and exercises to develop their knowledge. 

While distance teaching and learning are pushing teachers to work many more hours a day, teachers like Salen are also finding ways to provide more tailored support. 

Help small children adapt to online learning

How to help small children adapt to online learning? Prasal, a TFC alumnus teaching grade 4 students at Kean Khleang Primary School thinks it’s important to involve parents.

He first created Facebook Messenger groups with parents and students, then made phone calls to inform parents about their students’ work and ask for their help to get students logged in. He has gradually been able to shift from providing printed materials for his students to a virtual Zoom classroom with the support of parents.

Prasal has seen an 11% increase in students’ online attendance and engagement since he started to involve parents. While there are still many challenges with getting students into virtual classrooms, he sees that partnering with parents is an important step in reaching young students.

“One size does not fit all”

It is common for teachers like Socheata, a grade 8 English Teacher from Chea Sim Chroy Changva High School, to teach large English classes with students of varying levels of proficiency. To ensure that all of her students receive the attention they need, she adopted differentiation methods.

She evaluates her students’ learning during monthly assessments and divides them into three groups, each color-coded (blue for beginner/lower intermediate, black for the middle performer, and red for higher achiever). During vocabulary sessions, Socheata uses different color markers to write words based on the color code. These methods allow her students to catch up at their own pace. With classes now online, she adapted this same method to her slides to signal the same culture of learning. She is continuing to expand this approach to how she teaches grammar and other exercises, so she can show students that every child deserves clothes that fit them.