by Rebecca Akinyi Migwambo
In the evolving world of education, the continuous growth and development of teachers are essential in ensuring high quality and relevant learning experiences for learners. Regular and continuous professional development opportunities for teachers are a way of realizing the Sustainable Development Goal 4.
Kenya Connect Organization’s Teacher Professional Development Program has prioritized teacher capacity building and development by tailoring professional development sessions according to the needs and gaps experienced in its partner schools which are based in the rural setting of Mwala Sub County.
In the month of May, grade specific teachers engaged in a benchmarking exercise rotationally in the classrooms to learn from live classroom contexts. The benchmarking exercises involved learning of best practices and processes in action through observation and reflection of the teaching and learning process.
Identifying best practices
The outcomes of the benchmarking exercise were so enriching and had a deeper and authentic learning impact for the teachers. In one of the sessions, where the benchmarking session was in a Class 8 Science lesson on Energy Transformation. The class had 48 students present. A visiting teacher was elated by how easily the host teacher was able to have learners conduct experiments in groups and present their observations to the whole class. She noticed that the groupings were seamless and that there was deep involvement of students in the learning process. The students were tasked to connect wires, bulbs and a dry cell and make observations, every student had a role to play. Her takeaway was on group management, something she confessed during the post conference session that she had struggled with for a while. She also got tips from fellow teachers of how she could use different grouping methodologies to help with setting up learners for group activities and discussions.
In another benchmarking session which was on Grade 3, Mathematics. The visiting teachers were blown away by the use of an improvised, custom-made multiplication table. The multiplication table was adjustable to the learners height and the learners could use the strips to find the products of the mathematical problems that the teacher gave them by moving the strips accordingly.The joy among the learners in the classroom was so heartwarming when they all learnt how to use the table. It was easy and hands-on. Interested to find out which multiplication method the learners liked most, the teacher asked and the learners did not disappoint, they went ahead and demonstrated which method they liked most; student agency!
In the Grade 1 benchmarking exercise on Environmental Activities, the visiting teachers were impressed by how the host teacher was able to integrate ICT in learning for the lower grades. While learning about plants found at home, the learners went for a field trip in a homestead neighbouring the school and took pictures of the focus plants using the Learner Digital Devices issued by the government. Teacher Elizabeth felt that she had learnt how to integrate technology into learning meaningfully!
Promoting collaboration and networking:
Collaboration is a core competency in the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC). Benchmarking exercises facilitate collaboration and networking among teachers, fostering a sense of professional community. While out at Kisola Primary School for a benchmarking exercise in Grade 6 on Physical Health Education (PHE), I observed how teachers engaged in a meaningful discussion on the topic at hand which was on the handball court and positioning of players in a handball game. While exchanging experiences on teaching Kabaddi, a very new learning area in the curriculum and a not so popular sport in Kenya, the teachers quickly made a decision of forming a WhatsApp group for the Physical Health Education teachers where they could be sharing resources for teaching and learning in PHE. The networking was so needed and since then the teachers have been very resourceful to one another. Collaborative learning environments not only promote the exchange of knowledge but also create a support system where teachers can seek advice, reflect on their own practices and collectively brainstorm solutions to common challenges.
In all the benchmarking sessions conducted, the first stop was always the headteachers’ office which had the display of the performance trends, certifications and trophies earned by school on various activities. By the end of the benchmarking sessions, I could hear the visiting teachers validate the trophies and certifications. Teacher Ann quipped, “ Indeed the school must have won the trophies I have seen displayed in the office deservedly! These learners and teachers are so disciplined, welcoming, well organized and hardworking!” She reflected upon her schools’ learning culture, instructional practices and methods. She promised to share the perspectives and insights with her colleagues back at school.
Fostering continuous improvement:
Seeing what other teachers are doing and evaluating performances against benchmarks set by other teachers succeeding in almost the same environment, all the teachers who participated in the benchmarking exercises shared that they were convinced, charged and challenged to take ownership of their professional growth.
Empowering data-driven decision making:
In the benchmarking exercises, teachers gained access to data and evidence of the various schools that informed and keeps informing the decision making processes. By analyzing the performance outcomes, teaching and learning approaches and student engagement levels observed during the exercises, the teachers were able to pinpoint the importance of data and evidence driven decision making and approaches in ensuring that the educational interventions are tailored to the specific needs of learners and yield positive outcomes.
In conclusion, benchmarking exercises provide a powerful tool for teacher professional development, offering opportunities for growth, collaboration and reflection. The adoption of benchmarking as a standard practice can lead to enhanced educational experiences for learners and teachers, as teachers become proficient at meeting diverse learning needs. Benchmarking is a vital component in nurturing a culture of continuous improvement and excellence in education.