Teacher Mentorship Programme

The Teacher Mentorship Programme was established in 2014 and currently equips 15 Foundation Phase teachers at Trevor Manual Primary School, the local government school in Fisantekraal, to deliver quality education to the children in their care. With approximately 200 children in each of the grades 1, 2 and 3, we have the opportunity to empower teachers to significantly influence the educational trajectory of almost 600 lives each year.

We are excited to announce that next year we will be extending this significant programme to include the Grade 4 teachers at Trevor Manuel Primary, thereby broadening our reach to begin to support Intermediate Phase teachers too.

Many teachers in impoverished communities like Fisantekraal themselves attended underperforming schools, then studied teaching through distance learning and therefore have had little to no exposure to what quality education really looks like

Therefore, in this programme, we coach and mentor the teachers to improve the four key areas of learning and teaching, namely; classroom set up, lesson planning, lesson delivery and assessment. In addition to this, we also mentor teachers in soft skills such as time management, professionalism, team work and effective communication.

More recently, we have had the privilege of partnering with Acorn Education, another non-profit organisation working into the school, and have received training in the Ark Model of Teacher Coaching. This has allowed us to dovetail our approach with another excellent organisation, which has allowed for wider mentoring scope in the school environment. This is done by means of meetings, class visits and coaching from our mentors as well as professional development workshops in key aspects of curriculum.

Resources

The severe lack of resources has always been overwhelmingly apparent during our dealings with the school. Once we had studied the Grade 1 classrooms more closely, we realised that this filtered down to the classroom too. Every classroom lacked the necessary resources for effective teaching and learning. The resources that were in place were below the acceptable standard and most classrooms looked tired and dirty. This communicated a lack of value for the learners who spent much of their day there. We aimed to counteract this through the classroom makeovers which added substantial value into the learning space. However, even once the makeovers had taken place, we still lacked many of the additional resources needed to make the programme work effectively. The resources that should have been provided by the school were not in place, due to a variety of factors beyond our control. As a result, we have personally developed and purchased many of the necessary resources to support the syllabus that we have created.

Teacher Effectiveness

During our observation, we realised that many teachers lacked the ability to teach effectively. Most had gone to disadvantaged schools themselves, and their teaching style was built around what was modelled to them. Many of the children they teach are also severely underprivileged and face various issues of their own. This alone brings factors into the classroom that would be a challenge for even the most highly competent teacher to meet. Many teachers would teach a concept, and were able to realise that their learners were not grasping the content, but were unsure of how to teach it any differently. We soon realised that the teachers would need in-depth coaching in different teaching methods and strategies, as well as daily support. For this reason, as part of our programme, we spend time daily with the teachers in their classrooms to observe teaching and learning. In this way, we are able to offer teaching and learning support based on real and current needs. We discuss progress daily, and focus on developing areas that are lacking. We also model effective teaching strategies at weekly planning meetings and offer Teacher Workshops once a term, to strengthen professional skills.

Learner Assessment

Another critical area that needed focused attention was the assessment of learners. Assessment forms a major part of our National Curriculum and is meant to be integrated into daily teaching. However, at Trevor Manuel, teaching would completely stop for the last 4 weeks of term in order for assessment to take place. Assessment for the various subjects would be printed out in booklet form and handed out to learners to sit and complete. This not only disrupted daily teaching and learning, but it put young learners in an exam-type situation that they were not emotionally ready for. We have therefore re-developed the assessment tasks to better support the curriculum and have ensured that it is seamlessly integrated into the normal teaching day. In this way, we are able to ensure that the assessment is age-appropriate and is less overwhelming for teachers and learners.

Structure

Through our observation period at the school, we realised that there was a severe lack of structure within the various grades. Teachers across the grades did not meet regularly to plan for teaching and, therefore, each teacher was on a different page. When teachers did meet to discuss their teaching, it would usually be the Xhosa teachers on one side and the Afrikaans teachers on the other. This caused segregation between the teachers in the grade. For this reason, we decided to run weekly planning meetings with the teachers involved in the Teacher Mentorship Programme. This has ensured that every teacher teaches the same content at the same time, and has also developed a spirit of unity across the grade. At our weekly meetings, we discuss planning, teaching strategies, assessment and the management and development of resources. These meetings also create a platform for teachers to touch base, share ideas and concerns, as well as support one another. The sense of unity that our weekly meetings have created is priceless.The Grade 1 teachers now operate as a team and work together for the benefit of the grade.

Benefits

The Teacher Mentorship Programme has been a great success to date, and has added tremendous value into the teaching and learning environment. It has opened up doors to fostering better relationships with the Department of Education and the management of the school, both of whom readily accept our support. Further evidence of its success is shown in the comparison results of 2014 and 2015, where the pass rate in every subject of learning has improved dramatically. This shows the Programme’s benefit in a tangible way and motivates us to continue to move forward, full steam ahead.