“We don’t have the best of everything—not many resources. We have large classes, poor and sometimes hungry children. All we have are committed teachers and the love they have for their learners. These are the only two things that have enabled our school to produce good results over the years.”(Principal, School KV-Quintile 2)
The principal quoted above argues that when faced with major challenges, he capitalises on enabling conditions to improve the quality of curriculum delivery at the school. While enabling conditions do not always cause things to happen, they increase the likelihood that things will turn out as expected. Attending to the following five enablers help top performing schools to ensure sustained and positive learning outcomes.
THE FIVE ENABLERS
- A CAPABLE TEACHING FORCE
- FLEXIBILITY AND AUTONOMY
- BEING AN NSC EXAM MARKER
- TEACHER COMMITMENT AND DEDICATION
- A FOCUSED CURRICULUM
A CAPABLE TEACHING FORCE
In their quest to provide learners with quality education, high-performing schools make sure that learners are taught by properly qualified and effective teachers. To achieve this, they focus on three strategies. These strategies are briefly discussed below:
Recruiting and appointing the most qualified teachers
Top performing schools are proactive in recruiting teachers. Following are examples how these schools recruit properly qualified teachers as part of their strategy to improve the quality of teaching. They:
- Target skilled teachers with pedagogical training and qualified teachers with university majors in the subjects they are teaching.
- Target university students enrolled in education faculties who were former learners at the school.
Retaining good teachers once recruited
Schools that work use different approaches to retain teachers once appointed. This includes:
- Raising funds to build decent housing in rural schools for teachers who stay away from home
- Supporting new teachers when they join the school by assigning them to a mentor who is a senior teacher.
- Motivating staff, incentivising teachers for the job well done and providing school-based staff development.
Creating good conditions for teachers to excel
Principals in high-performing schools strongly believe that their teachers cannot teach well unless suitable conditions are created.
FLEXIBILITY AND AUTONOMY
Principals in schools that work strongly believe that HODs and teachers know their learners best. For this reason, they feel that “placing decision-making closer to the classroom and holding HODs and teachers accountable for results is the best way to increase learner achievement”.
Top performing schools do the following:
- Give flexibility/autonomy to the HODs in their departments: Driven by a belief that flexibility/autonomy encourages an environment of creative thinking so HODs and teachers can tailor teaching strategies to fit their departments and their learners, each department has flexibility to try practices or take actions that would work for them but perhaps not in another department.
- Give flexibility or autonomy to the teachers in their classes: Teachers decide how to teach in class (autonomy) but they are held accountable for learner performance. Flexibility or autonomy and accountability are treated as two sides of the same coin.
BEING AN NSC EXAM MARKER
Principals encourage teachers to apply to become National Senior Certificate (NSC) exam markers because they value what being an exam marker means—not just for individual teachers but also for other teachers in different departments.
But why should teachers mark examination papers? What is in it for their schools and their learners? Teachers in top performing schools identify the following as the benefits for being an NSC exam marker:
- Allows teachers to see common errors learners make in the exam.
- Enables teachers to develop exam style questions and create model answers more easily.
- Enables teachers to improve their teaching.
- Strengthens teachers’ subject content knowledge, particularly in aspects in which teachers are not as competent.
- Enables teachers to give more support to those groups of learners who need extra help in specific topics.
- Develops teachers’ understanding of the mark schemes used
Teacher commitment and dedication is one of the highest-ranking enabling factors that define high-performing schools. Teachers hold themselves accountable for helping learners improve. For these teachers, teaching is not just a job.
Teachers in top performing schools display commitment and dedication in different ways including the following:
- Take responsibility for their own performance as well as their learners’ performance.
- Give learners more opportunities to learn within and outside school hours.
- Care deeply about their learners
- Send their own children in the same school where they teach.
A FOCUSED CURRICULUM
Top performing schools specialise in a few subjects and do not spread themselves too thinly because, as one principal notes: “It does not make sense to offer too many subjects or streams and then struggle to recruit qualified teachers in those subjects.” (Principal, School LL-Quintile 2)