Katie Godwin, Research Lead for the Education Workforce Initiative
Miriam Mason, Country Director, EducAid Sierra Leone
Anne-Fleur Lurvink, Analyst, Open Development and Education
Teacher professional development (TPD) in Sierra Leone
In Sierra Leone, teachers in rural areas struggle to access meaningful opportunities for professional development due to their distance from teacher training colleges, limited understanding of English language, and lack of school-based communities of practice.1 Given these circumstances, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) are looking to identify the most effective ways to deliver in-service teacher professional development, especially for hard-to-reach areas.
Global evidence shows that when teachers collaborate and learn together, their professional development is more effective with positive impact on motivation and sustainable improvements in teaching practice. Given the potential of this approach, Open Dev Ed is working with the government through the Tich Mi Ar Tich Dem study to investigate the barriers and enablers of a school-based, peer-supported model of TPD that uses teacher group meetings (TGM). The first phase of this study took place in ten rural and semi-rural primary schools from February to July 2022 using semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with teachers, peer-facilitators, and school leaders as well as observations of teacher group meetings.
With support from the Multi-donor Trust Fund (World Bank, UK FCDO, Irish Aid, and European Union), the Education Commission and EducAid partnered with Open Dev Ed and the TSC to undertake complementary research on the role of school leaders in the Tich Mi Ar Tich Dem model. Through this research, we aimed to better understand how school leaders define their roles and responsibilities for teacher learning and the type of professional development and support they themselves need, to fulfil those roles. We explored these questions through interviews with each of the ten school leaders as well as a district official involved in coordinating the study.
School leaders’ roles in TPD
The school leaders interviewed said they support TPD in a variety of ways. First, they provide pedagogical and instructional support by helping teachers prepare lesson notes and teaching and learning materials, giving guidance on topics and subjects their colleagues struggle with, observing their teaching, explaining how and when they can use different types of teaching methodologies, and demonstrating teaching methods. They also reported having a responsibility to provide ongoing encouragement, especially in the face of low salaries and poor working conditions, and to remind teachers of the vision and reason for teaching. Some school leaders said they encourage teachers to pursue additional training and qualifications. Additionally, they mentioned they support the welfare and emotional wellbeing of their teachers, noting that they are responsible for understanding teachers’ personal problems and counselling them, especially to ensure their issues do not affect students.
In terms of the Tich Mi Ar Tich Dem TPD model, interviews with peer facilitators revealed that school leaders’ roles in the TGMs centred around several key functions: providing validity and resources for the TGMs to take place; encouraging and reminding teachers to join and be active in the TGMs; participating in the meetings and within that, providing guidance and acting as a role model.
Encouragement was the form of school leader support and engagement that teachers most frequently highlighted. Peer facilitators reported that school leaders helped motivate other teachers to join the TGMs, even in the face of some reluctance, and encouraged teachers to share ideas during the meetings. There was evidence of greater attendance and participation in TGMs at schools where the school leader was very engaged.
“Well he [the school leader] too, he plays a role, because you know that he is a role model, he knows much more than us, because even this training that we have gone through they have experience over that. Where we did not know, they step in, they guide us. Even our deputy head teacher, he knows much about this training. Where we did not understand, he stepped in and guided us or led the training to be successful.”
Challenges to school leader support for TPD
School leaders primarily reported resource and financial constraints, poor working conditions (such as high pupil-teacher ratios), and teachers not being on payroll as the main challenges to providing TPD support to their teachers. In addition, most school leaders interviewed have regular teaching responsibilities which limits the time they can spend supporting teacher learning.
To better support teachers, school leaders said they themselves need more training on monitoring, supervision, and administration; guidance counselling; how to help teachers understand students; as well as training in psychology in order to help address teacher and student wellbeing.
Currently, professional development for school leaders is ad hoc and provided by a diversity of actors. However, all school leaders expressed a desire for more frequent and in-person training and professional development for themselves. A few suggested linking professional development opportunities to school clusters so they can learn from other school leaders more easily.
Implications for policy and practice
The findings from this study showed that school leader support was essential for the implementation of a school-based, peer-learning model of TPD and that governments should work with school leaders to explicitly define their role in future iterations of school-based teacher learning. The research also shows clearly that school leaders do need training and support to facilitate teacher learning, and this should be factored into the design and implementation of teacher and school leader professional development programmes.
These research insights are helping to inform the design of a national school leadership program currently being developed by the TSC with support from the Education Commission and others. The program will focus on instructional leadership but also emphasizes the relational aspects and responsibilities of school leaders’ roles that this study has shown are so critical to teacher learning.
1. Education Commission. (2019). Transforming the Education Workforce: Learning Teams for a Learning Generation. New York: Education Commission; Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., ColesJordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L., & Coe, R. (2015). Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Teacher Development Trust.