This article originally appeared in The Mail and Guardian 3 March 2017. By Sarah Lubala
Research shows that an inspiring and informed teacher is the most important school-related factor influencing learner performance. Given the poor performance of schools, it is critical that we pay close attention to how we train and support new and experienced educators.
Continuing professional teacher development (CPTD) assures a high level of expertise and ensures teachers keep up-to-date with new research on how children learn, emerging technologies for the classroom and new resources.
It was the question of managing CPTD that formed the main theme of a recent Teachers Upfront seminar.
The topic was introduced by Jackie Batchelor, from the department of science and technology in the faculty of education at the University of Johannesburg. She highlighted the limited progress in the area of learner performance despite the vast resources and efforts poured into teacher professional development.
One solution was put forward by Charles Marriott, director at Deliver, a nonprofit organisation specialising in developing emotional intelligence and leadership skills in educators and students. He profiled his organisation’s Naledi programme — a face-to-face approach that turns the focus on teacher development from cognitive training towards emotional and relational practice. The programme centres on dialogue circles — a supportive space in which members can talk about sensitive topics, share ideas about working practice, work through differences and build consensus.
“Working collectively is fundamental to good practice,” said Marriott, “and it’s important that we think about how we can fit relationship into the learning process and into the school experience.” The dialogue circles are self-regulated, activity-based communities of inquiry and practice rooted in personal relationship and an interchange of ideas.
Richard Kieck, the operational head of the Curro Group, discussed a more embedded approach to training. It looks at the long-term development of leadership skills, progression and growing capacity from within the school. Kieck focused on providing quality middle management and explored the issues around appointing and developing staff.
He asked the audience to consider what criteria might be used to identify staff members with the potential to perform effectively in management positions. Kieck cautioned against simply promoting the top teachers to managerial roles as they often do not possess the required skills. “The qualities that make someone a good teacher do not necessarily make a good manager,” he asserted.
He cited a leadership study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in the Harvard Business Review, which identified a focus on results, inspirational problem-solving and analytical thinking, as well as high levels of integrity, as the most highly sought traits of innovative and effective managers.
He emphasised that managerial expertise cannot be acquired through osmosis or by following the example of the school leader. Schools need to work proactively to provide opportunities for teachers to move into middle management and for middle managers to develop the strategic skills they need to move into higher levels of management.
Omashani Naidoo of SchoolNet SA discussed the work of her organisation in the area of professional teacher development. Some programmes are face to face, some use web resources and social networks, and others are a blended model of the two to accommodate the different skills levels in a school.
Naidoo made special mention of SchoolNet SA’s train-the-trainer model — a distributive process that fosters collaboration among educators through peer teaching strategies. The approach involves training facilitators who return to teach their peers in their schools.
The organisation’s initiative involves more than 300 trainers who provide flexible training, often after school hours.
“The aim is for the change to become sustainable,” said Naidoo. “This is a key value of the train-the-trainer model. There is someone on site so you can have multiple interventions and you can build up multiple capabilities within the school, the district and the circuit.”
The Gauteng department of education’s deputy chief education specialist in teacher development, Xolisa Luthi, discussed its long-term view to develop teachers in the use of information and communications technology (ICT).
The online-focused initiative is part of the department’s larger mission: a commitment to providing functional and modern schools that enable quality teaching and learning.
The department’s efforts are manifold and include providing incentives for well-performing schools such as ICT resources. Training programmes in Microsoft at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre and the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance are part of the department’s online teacher development initiative.
The department is also partnering with Vodacom to establish digital classrooms. Pearson provides online diagnostic assessments for maths and English teachers.
The department of basic education is working to provide online professional teacher development in Google classrooms as well as in the use of mobile technology (by partnering with Ukufunda).
The seminar came to a close with a round of questions and comments from the audience. One important contention raised was the issue of terminology and whether the term “training” implies that teachers are inherently deficient.
Although we cannot overstate the importance of CPTD, we may need to consider whether terms such as “upskilling” and “capacitation” would better motivate educators to pursue their continued development for the benefit of learners.
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Sarah Lubala is the knowledge manager at Bridge. The Teachers Upfront seminars are hosted by Bridge, Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, the Mail & Guardian, the University of the Witwatersrand’s school of education and the University of Johannesburg’s faculty of education