The Local Leadership of Global Goods: Teacher Wellbeing and the Complexities of Contextualization

Teacher Wellbeing

Our failure to address and guarantee teacher wellbeing in education policy and practice has adverse effects on students’ learning and wellbeing outcomes. Teacher wellbeing is key to providing quality, equitable education for all. It is associated with the creation of healthy relationships with students, managing the classroom effectively, implementing social-emotional learning programs well, and improving the classroom climate so that all children and youths are better able to learn. This is true in situations of armed conflict, forced displacement, protracted crisis and natural disaster, and has become particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In response, since 2020, INEE has been in the process of developing a toolkit of resources to support teacher wellbeing in emergencies. This blog reflects the process involved in the contextualization of one of these resources, and the lessons and implications for future work.

The Teacher Wellbeing Toolkit

In April 2021, INEE completed phase 1 of the Teacher Wellbeing Toolkit project, which included developing 1) a comprehensive, collated collection of existing multimedia tools, frameworks, measurement tools, and other resources related to teacher wellbeing in crisis contexts; 2) a resource and evidence map (mapped to the Teacher Wellbeing Conceptual Framework and the INEE Minimum Standards); and 3) a resource gap analysis of the resource and evidence map, highlighting key gaps, which can be accessed here: Teacher Wellbeing Resources Mapping & Gap Analysis.

In July 2022, INEE completed phase 2 by publishing the Guidance Note for Teacher Wellbeing in Emergency Settings that captures global promising practices, and leverages the rich experience and perspectives of the Teacher Wellbeing Reference Group, the TiCC Working Group (formerly Collaborative), the INEE PSS-SEL Working Group (formerly Collaborative

For phase 3, which focused on tools development, INEE sought to address gaps highlighted in the resource mapping phase. We wanted to respond to recommendations put forward in the gap analysis. In particular, recommendation 4: ‘Invest in adaptation guides to support the contextualization of the materials available.’ 

While making this recommendation, we also sought to understand what “adaptation guides to support the contextualization of the materials” could mean or look like in practice. We wanted to know what investment is needed to support the contextualization of materials in terms of both funding and human resource development. We also wanted to know what types of questions, approaches, adaptations, and considerations are required to make materials accessible, meaningful and relevant to teachers and other education professionals across the diverse contexts and cultures in which we work.

Contextualizing the Guidance Note on Teacher Wellbeing - four contexts

To undertake this work, INEE commissioned four teams of consultants working in emergency settings to contextualize the three principles and five domains of the Guidance Note on Teacher Wellbeing. The teams of consultants represent:

  • Colombia
  • Kenya (Kakuma Refugee Camp)
  • Myanmar
  • Palestine

We deliberately left the scope of work broad, asking consultants to: “document the contextualization process used in their specific context to model possible successful approaches for use in other similar settings. This will also be an opportunity to explore the challenges and limitations of contextualization, and provide better understanding of the variety of processes that can be undertaken to ensure that a tool (in this case the Guidance Note on Teacher Wellbeing) is “fit for purpose”.”

In leaving the scope of work broad we aimed to make the project less prescriptive, opening the process of contextualization up to be more locally defined and led. In some cases, this contributed to an unforeseen set of challenges and complexities, as was reflected upon by the teams of consultants:

“While contextualization may be a common concept in the development and humanitarian sphere, the concept was foreign to many stakeholders, particularly those working on the ground, such as teachers and school administrators. For our action researchers, understanding the idea of contextualization and the goal of this project, was one of the biggest challenges we faced.” 

-- Reflections on contextualizing the INEE Teacher Wellbeing Guidance Note

“In the first meeting we discussed the concept of contextualization and understood it as: the process of engaging relevant stakeholders, who in our case were teachers and school administrators in discussing, building consensus and agreeing upon the meaning of global guidance in their local situation, so as to make the content appropriate and meaningful to them.”

-- Reflections on Domain 3 of the Teacher Wellbeing Guidance Note, Kakuma

“Although the term ‘contextualization’ is known to many stakeholders, on the grassroots level, it is completely new.”

-- Palestine- Contextualization of Domain 2- Reflections

“Understanding teacher wellbeing and the idea of contextualization and its purpose, presented the biggest challenge to us. For instance some teachers were not free to talk about their wellbeing, as one teacher explained “Why tell the truth and lose my job?"”

-- Reflections on Domain 3 of the Teacher Wellbeing Guidance Note, Kakuma

Despite our efforts toward the decolonization of education in emergencies and the decentering of Global North actors in policy and programming, these reflections on the extent to which the concept and purpose of contextualization remain foreign and abstract represent an uncomfortable tension: Global agendas and associated norms continue to exclude the knowledge, voices, and priorities of our colleagues, thereby reinforcing the very realities that we seek to change.  

Lessons Learned from Four Contexts

Each team documented their lessons learned and principles for contextualization. You can read them in full via the links below:

Below, we have synthesized key points that were echoed across each of the consultancy team’s reflections:

  • “Involving grassroots stakeholders such as teachers and school administrators in the contextualization process offers unique opportunities to hear new voices in the humanitarian sector. Yet, doing so also requires clarification around the meaning of contextualization itself as well as key terms in the global good being adapted.” (Myanmar)
  • “Paying attention to local meanings of key terms and concepts can reveal gaps in the global good which are important to consider and address in the contextualized version.” (Myanmar) 
  • “This type of work needs to invest huge efforts in coordination specifically in this case of working in an emergency context in order to ensure these efforts are carried over to next steps of planning, designing, implementation and above all funding” (Palestine)
  • “The context in Palestine is separated into emergency and development context while on ground, the conflict in Palestine impacts all areas with minimum differences” (Palestine)
  • “Teacher wellbeing was received as a secondary need by some stakeholders. In one KII with a supervisor, she was saying “teachers still lack basic needs such as professional development, sufficient salaries, working conditions, and we are not caring about wellbeing (psychosocial).” (Palestine)
  • “Applying a multi-sector, multi-level approach helps put teacher wellbeing at the center of discussions” (Palestine)
  • “Teachers' well-being is rarely a priority for the education system and may not be seen as an important element affecting the school environment and its relation with student learning.” (Colombia)
  • “The school calendar impacts availability of school community members to participate in a contextualization process.” (Colombia)
  • “Teachers working in vulnerable contexts tend to have a high level of resilience, so the way to approach well-being and mental health need to be carefully done.” (Colombia)
  • “During the process of sharing findings, there is a need to adapt the content according to the different audiences.” (Colombia)
  • “Involving teachers and school leaders in the contextualization process offers great opportunities to hear their voices expressed together for a common good. However this requires demystifying terms such as wellbeing and contextualization to enable ease of interpretation and adaptation of such terms in the global good.” (Kenya)
  • “Asking teachers to give meanings of key terms such as wellbeing in their mother tongue brings to fore the gaps in the global good which can then be addressed in the contextualized version.” (Kenya)
  • “The contextualization process requires significant time, adequate budget and effort. As such INEE should have this in mind as they endeavor to contextualize global goods in future.” (Kenya)

Lessons for INEE

As a network whose work and influence has been anchored in the production of global goods for more than 20 years, and at a time when INEE is interrogating its positionality and seeking to better understand itself through a lens of decoloniality (see our ongoing work with darvaja collective), this project provides real life examples of existing and often entrenched tensions.

If we zoom out, we are looking at a project that was designed by actors in and from the Global North in the pursuit of improving teacher wellbeing for teachers living in emergency settings (which are overwhelmingly in the Global South). The Teacher Wellbeing Reference Group is a diverse group of experienced EiE actors from across the globe, and the consultants who produced the Gap Analysis and Guidance Note (who also represent multiple cultures and contexts), played a pivotal role in the design and direction of this project. But the uncomfortable fact remains that the initial proposal was not a result of co-creation with our wider membership or with teachers. The ramifications of this means that from the outset we were curtailed by the circumstances of our design. We wanted to be flexible and led by actors in the field, but we walled ourselves - and everyone else - into a project agreement with associated budgets, deliverables, and timelines that needed to be fulfilled. Thus, while we were excited to commission four local contextualizations of the Guidance Note, significant limitations, as noted by each of the contextualization teams, hampered full scope and potential of this work. It is therefore critical that we reflect on the origins of this predicament and seriously consider how we can avoid recreating conditions like this while also delivering high-quality outputs and outcomes. 

As we have learned, contextualization is a tricky endeavor. We heard from each team that while this concept is broadly understood in the field of humanitarian and development work, it is not something that teachers or others at the school level are familiar with or even recognize the need for. Reaching an understanding of and arriving at an agreement on what contextualization entails has timeline and budget implications. It also reflects how all the conversations around decolonization, contextualization, and localization have been happening in a siloed, top-down, or outside-in way - at a global or regional level, which, despite our best intentions, excludes the very people these efforts profess to be for. 

What’s next?

As this project wraps up, we encourage you to check out each of the outputs and consider how these might support your own work:

INEE is also in the process of developing a training package so that you can host your own workshop on teacher wellbeing and develop a sector-wide action plan to address teacher wellbeing in your context. These materials are currently being piloted in Palestine with support from the Norwegian Refugee Council. INEE will be publishing the training package in the coming months. 

If you have any questions, reflections, or comments, we would be delighted to hear from you and engage in further dialogue. Please get in touch


Rachel Smith blog picRachel Smith is the INEE Coordinator for Psychosocial Support and Social and Emotional Learning. With a background as a UK-qualified primary school teacher, Rachel moved into the field of EiE six years ago, starting out with a national NGO in Lebanon, then with a refugee service provider in Egypt, before working with Terre des Hommes Italia in northern Iraq. Rachel holds an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies from the University of London’s Refugee Law Initiative. Rachel speaks English and Arabic.


Chris Henderson blog picChris Henderson is the Co-Chair of the INEE Teachers in Crisis Contexts Working Group. Before joining the world of EiE, Chris was a high school teacher in New Zealand. He has since worked on youth and teacher development focused initiatives in numerous contexts, including Bangladesh, Palestine, Indonesia and the Pacific Islands with UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Bank. Chris holds a Master of Education from the University of Sydney and he is a Doctoral Fellow at Columbia University in New York. He speaks English and Indonesian.


The views expressed in this blog are the authors' own.