Strength in numbers: Building a global community of Education in Emergencies practitioners

Publication date
Katy Noble, Head of Education in Emergencies and Tamara Durzi, Senior Director, MENA
People stand in a circle with their arms around each other

In May, Teach For All held its first Education in Emergencies (EiE) Immersion to bring together network partners who are impacted by crises to learn from each other, share solutions, and expand educational opportunity for their crisis-affected students. Staff members of nine network partners working across diverse emergency situations attended the event. Some, like Enseña por Colombia, Teach For Bangladesh, Teach For Sweden and Teach For Armenia, support large populations of refugee or internally displaced students, while others are addressing the impact of natural disasters, protracted conflicts, or political unrest, such as Teach For Ukraine, Teach For Uganda, Enseña por México and Teach For Ethiopia

Teach For Lebanon generously hosted and co-designed this learning experience in the ancient port town of Byblos—one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. According to UNHCR, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. However, the country is experiencing numerous additional crises - political instability, economic collapse, repercussions of the Beirut port explosion of 2020 - all of which Teach For Lebanon is navigating to drive impact in its classrooms, programs, and beyond. 

Over the course of the four-day Immersion, the group explored how different partners are engaging in EiE at various altitudes. For example, when partners are impacted by natural disasters or other sudden-onset crises, they choose to pivot to short-term emergency relief efforts, such as providing psychosocial support, replacing learning materials, and training teachers on trauma-informed pedagogy. Other partners, in areas where crises are more protracted, are choosing to focus on medium-term EiE outcomes of reorienting teaching and learning. Their teachers are building authentic connections with students, understanding their perspectives and motivations, and fostering a sense of belonging where all identities, nationalities, and cultures are welcomed and celebrated. To have a long-term impact in such contexts, other partners are choosing to harness the power of their alumni to change the systems in the humanitarian sector. They see the need to have more people in EiE decision-making spaces who are truly connected with, have learned from, and have built lasting relationships with crisis-affected communities.

Although the Immersion enabled attendees to exchange technical solutions, such as classroom tools and teacher training best practices, there was also a deep focus on the inner leadership competencies and mindset shifts required to work in crisis situations. The group spent the week reflecting on questions, like: How can we maintain a sense of possibility while working in environments characterised by uncertainty, flux, and unknowns? How can we centre wellbeing and avoid the risk of burnout, knowing that working in emergencies is a marathon, not a sprint? How can we approach this work with a 'good enough to try' attitude, instead of being paralysed by perfection, in order to reimagine what’s possible for emergency-affected children and teachers? The group concluded that in order to deepen our collective impact in crisis settings it’s important to spend time on  the adaptive challenges at play—the root causes of the technical challenges that tend to be less tangible and related to deeper patterns or dynamics.

“We’ve been learning from diverse crisis contexts and different ways of strategizing, moving away from being hyper-focused on our own emergency situations. Coming together here has broadened my way of seeing a problem and solving it. Despite our different challenges, I’ve also learned that shifting mindsets is key to unlocking the opportunities that exist when a crisis arises.” 
—Ana Gomez-Gallardo, COO, Enseña por México

Attendees left the Immersion with a desire to get clearer and more grounded in their organisation’s EiE vision, and use that clarity to inform future decisions they take—for example, the types of teachers they need to recruit, how they want to evolve the design of their leadership development programs, and how to best support students in these contexts. Collectively, the group gained a deeper understanding of the importance of developing leadership in emergency-prone contexts, as good leaders are able to make quick yet strategic decisions, allocate resources effectively, communicate clearly, be empathetic, persevere in times of uncertainty, and embed a culture of learning for when the next crisis hits. Participants agreed on the need to develop this kind of leadership in partnership with many others—students, parents, schools, the communities in which they work, their donors, and other Teach For All network partners. 

By coming together in Lebanon, the group was not only able to see the lived realities of one country’s crisis, they were also able to build relationships with one another and form a supportive global community of EiE practitioners. One of the most common reflections coming out of this experience was that attendees felt a stronger sense of hope for what could be possible in their own emergency situations. “By connecting to people in the same position as me, I’ve seen how they think about their work and the approaches they take,” shared Teach For Ukraine Head of Programme Viktoriia Simakova, “which makes me feel more empowered in this work and able to let go of my analysis paralysis.” Working in such contexts is hard, and we know that human connection is so critical to ground us, keep us from burning out, and strengthen our collective impact for crisis-affected communities