Change agents: the emergence of professional learning leaders at the middle tier

We were delighted to co-host an online panel session with IIEP-UNESCO last week to mark World Teachers Day 2020. The event, ‘Change agents: the emergence of professional learning leaders at the middle tier of education systems’ examined a new trend in education leadership: the rise of expert practitioners at the ‘middle tier’ of education systems, who can act as catalysts for change.

As governments, NGOs, and other actors worldwide seek to improve the quality of education around the world, the role of middle-tier professionals has often been overlooked. However, emerging evidence suggests that, utilised well, these professionals can act as catalysts for change by supporting school leaders and teachers to improve their practice.

 In this event, held as part of UNESCO’s World Teacher’s Day programme, we considered the rise of expert practitioners – such as teacher mentors, pedagogical coaches, network facilitators and head teachers – promoted to leadership roles and working across a range of schools and localities, and explored the potential of these middle-tier roles to contribute to teaching and learning reforms at scale.

The online panel discussion featured three such practitioners, who shared their experiences as middle-tier leaders, and how these contribute to improvements in teaching and learning outcomes in their contexts. Following introductory remarks from Education Development Trust’s Research Director, Tony McAleavy, who highlighted the importance – and frequent neglect – of the middle tier in education policy, we heard from Tegwen Ellis (Chief Executive of the National Academy for Educational Leadership, Wales), Deogratius Tuyisingize (National Leader of Learning, Rwanda), and Bhavna Sawnani (Mentor Teacher, Delhi, India) with fascinating insights into their roles. The panel was moderated by Amy Bellinger, Lead Consultant at the Education Commission, and was followed by closing remarks from IIEP-UNESCO Director, Suzanne Grant Lewis.

Several key themes emerged from the discussion – notably the need for collaboration, innovation, an embedded systemic approach to change, and importantly, support for teacher wellbeing. The panelists identified many similarities in teachers’ needs across their diverse contexts, and highlighted the way in which the middle tier can provide a voice for the teaching profession, enabling the growth of trust within the education system alongside policy influence.

We are delighted to have co-hosted this event, which provided a rich and interesting dialogue on an underexplored topic. You can watch the recording of the discussion in full here. Moving forward, Education Development Trust will continue to work with IIEP-UNESCO on a wider research project on the role of middle-tier actors in the education system. The first case studies from this collaboration have recently been published on our website, and a literature review and full research report will follow in the ensuing months.