KODA is empowering rural teachers through one-to-one mentoring

Rural Schools Transformation Network (Köy Okulları Değişim Ağı-KODA) is receiving grant support from our Donor Advised Fund for its project “Rural Teachers Hand in Hand Program” which aims to empower newly graduated rural teachers personally and professionally through one-to-one mentoring by experienced rural teachers and to facilitate their adaptation to the school and village environment.

Read below our interview:

Our readers are familiar with the work of the Rural Schools Transformation Network (Köy Okulları Değişim Ağı-KODA). For our readers who will meet KODA for the first time, can you tell us about your story?

We have been working to improve the quality of rural education since 2016. According to a study conducted by the World Bank in 2010, following differences in income, what determines a child’s ability to receive a quality education in Turkey is whether she/he is born in urban or rural areas. We are working to ensure that children living in villages can reach their potential and receive an education that prioritises holistic development. Our starting point was to empower rural teachers. Imagine that as a prospective teacher who was born, grew up, and studied in the city, you are suddenly appointed to a village in Harran, Şanlıurfa. Not only do you graduate without receiving any practical training on teaching in a rural school, but most of the materials you have, including the curriculum, are for teaching in the city.

On the other hand, due to the population distribution, there are mostly one or two teachers in rural schools. This makes it difficult for teachers to access people with whom they can share professionally, and they are socially isolated. At KODA, we have a Teacher Communities Programme to offer a solution to this problem. We bring rural teachers together regularly and create a space where they can learn from each other while receiving support from expert trainers. Currently we have 16 communities covering different rural areas of Turkey. We also have the First Step to the Village Programme for prospective teachers, which we carry out in cooperation with universities to ensure that teachers are ready to teach in the village and rural schools before they graduate.

We are working to ensure that children living in villages can reach their potential and receive an education that prioritises holistic development.

It is crucial to include local actors to improve education in villages holistically, so we try to involve local stakeholders such as village headmen and young people. On the other hand, developing educational materials and course content that respond to local needs is an important part of our strategy.

In Turkey, rural schools are often associated with deficiencies, but you state that rural schools offer many opportunities for students. Can you tell us about these opportunities?

There is great potential for the education that we imagine when we focus on the opportunities existing in rural schools without ignoring the physical deprivations in villages. Some of these opportunities are the small class sizes, teachers’ ability to take initiative easily, schools being in touch with nature, and teachers getting to know children together with their whole environment. When we empower teachers working in villages to utilise these opportunities, we can initiate a change in the way of quality education. Since local needs are variable, it is necessary to empower rural teachers, especially in problem identification, creative solutions, and responsible decision-making. At the same time, it is also crucial to increase the professional capacity of teachers so that they can improve their teaching methods in the face of locally specific problems.

You participated in the Destekle Değiştir (Giving Circle) event, which was organised online by the Support Foundation for Civil Society for the first time on November 30, 2021, as part of the Giving Tuesday celebrations in Turkey. Can you share with us your experiences regarding this event?

It was a unique experience for us to be with a community that believes in the power of civil society and change. Rural education in Turkey is often perceived as a big and unsolvable problem. However, we work to improve rural education with our strategy of empowering the adults around the child and producing locally specific content. We would like to thank the Support Foundation for Civil Society and all the participants for allowing us to make our voices heard and share our work with a community that believes in the power of change. Although the issue of rural education may not seem urgent today, it is one of the most critical issues of the future. It is crucial for us not to give up on our future and to invest in the quality of rural education today. Once again, we would like to thank all the participants who showed their belief in KODA with their contributions.

When we empower teachers working in villages to utilise the opportunities, we can initiate a change in the way of quality education.

You presented the Rural Teachers Hand-in-Hand project at the event. Can you tell us about the purpose of the project and its activities?

Rural Teachers Hand-in-Hand is a programme that aims to empower teachers in the first years of their profession by working with experienced mentors who happen to be rural teachers as well. Our aim in this programme is to bring together mentors and newly appointed rural teachers to support and empower them professionally and personally. We share our guidebook and ensure that rural teachers and mentors come together at least twice a month.

For new rural teachers, the first three years are of great importance. Teachers who receive support from experienced mentors who have had the opportunity to improve themselves for years can solve problems and learn alternative teaching strategies. Mentor teachers with at least eight years of experience achieve their biggest dreams while transferring their knowledge and skills: To support the development of another teacher. In this journey, mentors also develop their communication and leadership skills. This way, we can reduce the shortage of teachers in the villages and improve the quality of education with efficient and highly motivated teachers and students. Here are some of the feedback from our teachers who participated in the programme:

“It was a great relief to feel that I was not alone.”

(Gaziantep, Newly appointed rural teacher)

“It feels good to witness the excitement of new teachers and to help them solve their problems. Every meeting takes me back to the years when I first started working. It is great to move forward together.”

(Diyarbakır, Mentor Teacher)

About KODA

KODA works to improve the quality of rural education in Turkey by providing support to teachers and students. KODA carries out activities to implement an innovative understanding of education that will spread from the child to the whole community and support rural development.