Curriculum Delivery



It is common knowledge—backed by research findings—that teacher quality is one very important factor which has a direct and positive influence on the quality of teaching and learning.

Teachers need time to understand how to tackle difficult concepts, learn new skills, develop new attitudes, research, discuss, reflect, assess, try new approaches and integrate them into their daily classroom practices. But how do teachers do this and where do they find time to do it?

Policy makers, school managers and parents view unfavourably anything that draws teachers away from direct engagement with learners. Many teachers themselves often feel guilty about being away from their classrooms for staff development activities.

Thus, many schools find themselves caught between the horns of this dilemma: On one hand, the prevailing school culture demands that a teacher’s proper place during school hours must always be in front of a class and, on the other hand, being in class all day and everyday isolates teachers from other teachers and discourages teachers to work collaboratively and to learn from one another.

This article outlines what top performing schools tell us about effective professional development for teachers working in a structured, learner-cantered environment.


Professional development programmes in schools that work provide a structured professional learning which results in changes in teacher classroom practices and improvements in learning outcomes at school.

Following are key characteristics of school based teacher professional development in top performing schools:

  • It allows teachers to learn in the day-to-day environment in which they work rather than getting pulled out to attend an outside training
  • It is collaborative—providing opportunities for teachers to interact with peers. A more collaborative approach is mutually beneficial to all teachers
  • It changes teaching practices and improves student learning
  • It provides on-going support for teachers to implement new teaching practices or Strategies
  • It provides teachers with feedback about how implementing new skills, content and knowledge impacts on learning
  • It includes opportunities for individual and group reflection and coaching
  • It focuses squarely on improving teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogy
  • It provides adequate time and follow-up support
  • It is ongoing, accessible and inclusive
  • It recognises teachers as professionals and life-long learners

“Development by teachers for teachers,” as described below, addresses the flaws of traditional approaches, which are often criticised for being fragmented, unproductive, inefficient, unrelated to practice and lacking in intensity and follow-up. Thus, school-based teacher development in schools that work leads to greater investment and raises the chance of follow-up implementation.


Emphasis in high-performing schools is placed on training staff in areas of most need as identified through at least three processes including the following:

Internal Quality Management System (IQMS) processes

Teachers carefully fill out their development needs and are provided opportunities to suggest continuing professional development training. This ensures that any professional development provided to teachers is targeted, relevant and make the best use of limited time.

Analysis of learner assessment results

Unlike schools which blame the learners, government, lack of parental involvement, or something else, but not themselves, when their learners perform poorly, teachers in the high performing schools take some responsibility for their learners’ performance.

SMT members’ observations during class visits

During formal and informal class visits, School Management Team (SMT) members observe “a lot of good things going on” and then ask teachers if they would share some of the good teaching strategies at departmental meetings, so that teachers can learn from one other.


Schools that work formally establish “collective staff time,” just as they set minimums for class time and teaching days. Three broad approaches to finding time for teachers to collaborate, prevail in top performing schools. Given below are examples how top-performing schools create time for school-based teacher development:

Adding time by extending the school day

An average school day has grown markedly in high-performing schools. These schools use more hours than the conventional school calendar (planned time). Because teachers have little time outside their classroom activities to prepare for their lessons, they use increased school time in the morning and/or in the afternoon for teacher development.

Extracting time from the existing schedules

A typical planning session among teachers starts with preparing their lesson for the following day or week, strategizing how they would present a lesson in class and asking each other how they think their learners would respond to a lesson.

Block scheduling

Block scheduling also makes it easier for schools that work to carve professional development time from the school day.

Starting a school day half an hour before or after school, allows teachers in schools that work to teach all allocated periods and have extra free block time for teachers in different departments to meet and plan or engage in other professional work. That is, in the schools that work, at least one common double period a week, teachers teaching the same subject in the same grade have no teaching duties. Learners are given work to do in cooperative groups and teachers are free to use this added time to engage in teacher development activities discussed below.


The principal quoted above represents the views of many principals in schools that work. Principals in these schools do not just wait for districts to provide professional development opportunities for teachers. But setting-up learning committees where teachers engage in regular and on-going curriculum conversations is seen as an intrinsic part of making teachers more adept and productive in the classroom. The elements of school-based professional development in schools that work include the following. They:

  • Are content-focused

In the first instance, this element includes an intentional focus on improving teachers’ subject knowledge content base. In the second instance, the emphasis is on pedagogy, i.e. how best to present the content to learners with varying abilities.

  • Support teacher collaboration

Teacher collaboration ranges from teachers working together in an informal, unplanned way to the implementation of more formal collaborative approaches, such as professional learning communities (PLCs).

  • Provide coaching and expert support

While training sessions may improve teacher knowledge, it may be difficult to translate that new knowledge into daily classroom practices without further support. Coaching programs seek to provide exactly that.

  • Incorporate active learning

This approach moves away from traditional learning models that are lecture-based and are unrelated to practice.

  • Offer feedback and reflection

Curriculum conversations among teachers provide built-in time for teachers to think about, receive input on, and make changes to their classroom practices by reflecting together and soliciting feedback.

  • Are of sustained duration

Teachers have adequate time to learn from one another, practise or implement what they have learnt and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their classroom practices.

Effective school-based teacher development is grounded on the theory of change, which suggests that teacher classroom practices can result in a widespread improvement within the school when all teachers participate in a professional learning community that is engaged in a continuous and collegial cycle of learning, practice, reflection.

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