“I feel like it's actually moving the teaching profession to a different level” – Teacher Mentor Professional Development
While there are dozens of studies with a range of conclusions around interventions driving learning outcomes in low-income countries, one of the most consistent recommendations is that “repeated teacher training interventions often associated with a specific task or tool” is a key driver of improved student learning. In May 2021, Opportunity EduFinance rolled out a new Teacher Mentor Professional Development (TMPD) within our three-year holistic EduQuality program. To date, TMPD has launched in Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, and will also soon be starting in Uganda and the DRC in 2022.
TMPD sessions are delivered by our expert team of local Education Specialists and uses Chalkboard Education’s innovative digital learning platform for low connectivity environments to host our content and support in-person development sessions. Every school involved sends teachers (one teacher for every five teachers) to learn specific teaching strategies and techniques and then return to coach mentee teachers in their schools. The professional development sessions are facilitated at a host school usually after the school day ends, and are attended by the teacher mentors from a cluster of local schools who are already working together over the three-year program.
The Education Specialists support the mentors to observe and develop the teaching practices of their mentees. Each year the mentors take part in five sessions, completing fifteen modules over the three-year program to earn a certificate of professional development. Concurrently the mentors are sharing their learnings and training sessions with their mentees to improve the quality of education in their schools.
To learn more about the experiences during the rollout in 2021, we spoke with three Education Specialists who have been working on the TMPD rollout:
Dr Innocent Masengo, Head Education Specialist, Africa
Anne Njine, Education Specialist, Kenya
Shadrack Niyonzima, Education Specialist, Rwanda
What is the aim of EduQuality’s Teacher Mentor Professional Development program (TMPD)?
Innocent: The main aim is to improve learning outcomes by focusing on the classroom environment and practices. We are looking at inclusivity through the differentiation of lessons, through conscious and intentional planning, through strategies that engage all learners. And at the end of it this will improve the teaching and learning process, and ultimately [we believe] learning outcomes will be improved.
One of the things that this program will mitigate is learner attrition or learner dropout. There are learners who get frustrated and give up on learning today because they think they are not performing, and that it is their fault. With the learning strategies that are part of the TMPD, we are engaging all learners and at the end they will be able to learn.
Anne: We work for quality education in the schools. And we can't do this without the teachers. The main aim is to make sure that there’s a change in the school of the thought of the teachers, ensuring that they are now thinking differently. Most of the teachers will always use the traditional methods of teaching and learning. However, now we are bringing in new and best practices in the world for them to learn how to work with children and ensure that they are giving quality education. This will involve the school leaders coming to the teachers and working with the learners, and also find ways of ensuring that it's also going home.
Shadrack: The aim is to improve the quality of education in the schools we support. We believe empowering teachers will have a direct impact on the learners’ performance, which is our prime target.
What types of teaching strategies are you sharing with teacher mentors?
Shadrack: Mentors are trained in teaching strategies that will help them to engage all learners in classroom. In addition, we train them on how to lead a professional development session in their schools and how to coach their colleagues through observing them teaching in class and having a coaching conversation with them afterwards.
Innocent: We have strategies like ‘cold calling’ which enables learners to be attentive. It is a strategy where everyone knows that in time, the teacher is going to ask them to answer and so they are able to use an example to capture the learners’ attention. From the traditional way of delivering teaching in our culture, learners are supposed to be passive recipients. They're not supposed to talk. So now we bring encouraging approaches where they actually allow learners to speak to each other, and they're able to learn from each other. And so through these methods, learner collaboration is then going to enable them to understand more.
Anne: One strategy is called ‘turn and talk.’ These are strategies that will help the teachers to engage all the learners and ensure that every child participates. So for turn and talk, if there's a question for assessment of learning they have time to discuss it, so it allows every child to talk and share the ideas that they may have.
What skills are you training teacher mentors on?
Innocent: They are trained in classroom management skills, lesson delivery skills and learner engagement strategies. Ultimately, they will be able to engage all learners regardless of leaner type, make lessons more exciting and involve all learners. They are also trained in coaching skills to enable them train other teachers and to give constructive feedback.
Anne: We have to work with listening skills, we have to talk about how they listen. And of course, we as the Education Specialists must also demonstrate these skills. The next module that we are covering in Kenya is going to be on leading a coaching conversation. How do they ensure that they are able to communicate with their teachers without the other teachers feeling that their mentors are going to look for mistakes? We have to ensure that the conversation taking place helps the teacher, the mentee, to be ready to go back and implement what they're learning. So an example is we teach them how when giving feedback to use phrases like “it was effective when…” and “next time try...”
What is the observational tool teacher mentors use to observe mentees in the classroom?
Shadrack: They access and fill in the tool [form] on the Chalkboard app while observing. It has success criteria that they can look at when observing teachers and giving them feedback.
Innocent: We call it a coaching tool, and it is aimed at supporting the mentors to observe fellow teachers with the goal of helping them improve on their teaching, as opposed to pointing out errors. As part of the tool, the mentor and mentee agree on the next time the observation will take place in which the mentor will observe the improvement.
Anne: This tool helps them to know what they are looking out for. And then once they fill it in, they sit down with their mentees and they go through it to ensure that the mentees understand what they observed.
What changes have you seen so far in teacher mentors?
Innocent: We have seen the enthusiasm with which the teachers are eager to try out and implement the new learner engagement strategies in their own classrooms before even beginning to train their fellow teachers. They are also eager to show us that they have grasped the strategies and that they work. We are seeing a lot of collaboration among teachers from different schools, and they seem to be forming kinds of communities of practice. They seem to be learning more than we are teaching them.
Anne: There’s a lot of improvement, as teachers are becoming more confident. We are also seeing teachers beginning to plan, which was always a struggle between teachers and school leaders. In Kenya, we have started a new curriculum and it's more of an experiential one. Teachers are still really struggling with this and the TMPD has really come in at a good time, because the teacher mentors are [now] able to understand what to do.
We have seen changes now and when they talk they have more confidence as well. Even just how they dress up [professionally] it's really changing their outlook.
Teachers from different schools are coming together and are challenging each other. Teachers are looking forward to these sessions.
Shadrack: I have seen quite a few improvements. Teachers have [now] got a platform to share experiences. It was surprising to see teachers who are in the same location but don't know each other because they have been working in competition before. But after joining the cluster, they started putting their efforts together.
Moreover, teacher mentors are now training their colleagues. I always receive reports and pictures of teacher mentors training their colleagues on what we trained them on.
What have you seen in your Teacher Mentor clusters in Kenya and Rwanda?
Shadrack: I have an example of a teacher mentor – Theophile - who was voted ‘Teacher Mentor of the month’ for November in Rwanda.
The teachers did not know strategies they could use to engage all learners. They all have learners who remain unengaged in different learning activities. After Module 3 on ‘Leading professional development,’ Theophile organized a training and explained to mentee teachers how they can start engaging all learners in their classes. He kept supporting his colleagues through observing them in classes and giving them feedback on how they can better improve on the use of new teaching techniques.
I am now receiving positive feedback from school leaders that since teacher mentors were trained and started training their colleagues, there is a lot of improvement in their teaching practices.
Anne: In Kenya it's very timely, because it's coming at a time when the government has just said that all teachers must undergo professional development yearly. Professional development is not a big thing for teachers here. Once you go to college and you have a job, that's it, you don't go back for professional development. So at the beginning, they were a bit hesitant. But right now I can say that even when we [Education Specialists] go for the school visit, they are very open, and they get excited to see us.
When I look at the whole program, I feel like it's actually moving the teaching profession to a different level, where teachers know they need to go back to school [training], and it will help them understand different ways of teaching and learning. Because remember, we are preparing children to go out into the world. And today the world has become a global village. We need children to experience quality education and we need to see that children are learning from teachers who are also open to learning themselves.
 Evans, D. and Popova, A. (2015). What really works to improve learning in developing countries? an analysis of divergent findings in systematic reviews.
 New waves of COVID-19 restrictions and closures impacted the training schedule in 2021, but the EduQuality team is working to adjust the schedule and ensure teacher mentors receive all 15 modules within the three-year program.
 Kenya’s new competency-based curriculum (CBC) was first introduced in 2017 by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development. https://www.nexxushub.com/blog/CBC-New-Kenya-Education-System
 The EduQuality team implemented a ‘Teacher Mentor of the Month’ initiative in each country as part of TMPD to highlight teacher development and inspire and encourage others.