Teach For All: A Case Study in Spreading Social Innovation

03.06.2014 Blog

As part of our Tepsie work on spreading social innovation, we have completed a series of case studies examining the growth of individual innovations. In one of these case studies we looked in detail at the Teach For All Network, an umbrella organisation familiar to many English speakers due to its close relationship with the highly successful Teach First in the UK and Teach For America in the US. Through the Teach For All Network, programmes similar to these have now been established in thirty-four countries worldwide, spanning hugely different contexts from Latvia to Colombia to China. The success of the Teach For All network highlights key issues around the trade-offs between control and flexibility for localised innovation, as well as how a central idea can give rise to different adaptations.

Teach For All exists to spread a model which involves recruiting and training young leaders who will have a positive influence on students in the short term, and in the long term go on to create systemic change in their national education systems. Given the many variations in education systems across different countries, the network has taken a pragmatic approach which recognises that the model will have to adapt to each country in which it is implemented. For this reason they take a non-prescriptive approach in terms of what they require of their partners, although partners must agree to a set of Unifying Principles.  These include:

• Recruiting and selecting as many as possible of the country’s most promising future leaders
• Placing participants as teachers for two years in high-need areas
• Training and developing participants to maximise their impact on student achievement
• Accelerating the leadership of alumni
• Driving measurable impact

Groups accepted into the network receive a range of supports as their programme gets established. These include, knowledge sharing between organisations, access to shared events, leadership development training and access to global resources that are shared between partners.

It is interesting and unusual that the Teach For All network has managed to spread to so many countries so quickly – thirty-four in six years. One explanation is that Teach First and Teach For America have received a lot of attention in the English speaking press, and in many instances, information about the model has spread to partner countries simply through word of mouth. Additionally the model has been able to benefit from a globalised market in education, as many country leaders were first exposed to the model while studying abroad in the UK or the US. There is growing awareness however that this model of growth has limits; for example, there is currently only one partner in the whole of Africa.Teach For All have recently employed someone to help spread information and develop networks across Africa in order to build up demand within the continent to implement the model.  As Amy Black, Vice President Growth Strategy & Development of Teach For All explains, it is important for the network to remain demand driven: “The impetus and energy needs to come from the national environment - it's not something we seek to impose. So even in these new contexts, people come to us independently just as they have elsewhere – but it is Teach For All’s role to make them aware in the first place.”

Although the team originally had doubts about how well their model would work outside of the Anglo-American context in which it began, Chief Operating Officer Nick Canning explains that “when you boil it down to the basics, it’s about channelling a country’s top talent to improving education in that country – and at that simple level we have found it appealing to countries at all different stages of development.” Mārīte Seile, CEO of the partner organisation in Latvia agrees that this flexibility has been important for them: “we share core ideas of equity and high quality education for every child, but the programme doesn’t force us to use any particular operational model”. Dzameer Dzulkifli, CEO of Teach For Malaysia, concurs: “the model can be adapted very easily. And it was implemented in places that we thought it couldn’t be – so that raised the sense of possibility for everyone…when we learnt of it in India, we thought, well if India can do it with all its bureaucracies, so can Malaysia”.

In other cases, adaptations might go beyond the operational model and be about how best to interpret the core mission of Teach For All to develop lifelong leaders in education. A shared commitment to help alumni to reach positions of influence may look different in different contexts. So in Australia, it might be that the team believes that the highest impact can be had by participants staying on in schools and becoming school leaders because head teachers have a lot of autonomy and these positions can be powerful levers for change. In contrast, in China, the view is that the highest impact will come from students going on to set up for profit and non-profit education companies in order to try and catalyse change from outside the system.

This example raises interesting questions about innovation, adaptation and replication. In this case, adaptations are not just features that enable an innovation to fit into a new context. They add value and change the nature of the original innovation as well, often adding richness and depth that could not have emerged had the innovation stayed the same. 

We’ll be publishing the full report later in the summer.

Photo courtesy of Teach For All.