Continuous teacher training provides teachers with an opportunity to develop expertise in their subject, enhance their skills, and increase their knowledge. In this month’s Ilm o Amal, Shahrezad Samiuddin spoke to three Karachi schools to look at how they meet their teacher training needs.

For this article we interviewed Ms. Durriya Ameer Ali, Vice Principal of Habib Girls’ School, Mr. Shahpur Jamall, Principal of Bayview Academy and Ms. Madiha Khan, Senior Academic Coordinator at the PECHS Girls’ School to get a sense of how they combine on-the-job teacher training with outsourced workshops for their staff’s professional development.

Who is responsible for coordinating training at your school?

DAA: My office receives letters informing us about workshops and I send them out to the concerned sections. The section heads then look into the requirements of the teachers and take a decision about whether to send someone to the workshop or not. Also any new teacher is handed over to a senior teacher who becomes her mentor as soon as she enters our school’s system. This starts her practical training.

SJ: Our school is structured in a way that training is inbuilt in the system. From Class 1-5, we have two teachers in every class. In Nursery there are 3 teachers to a class. This is from my own training as a teacher during which I learnt that one learns as much from their mentor teacher as one does in a theoretical framework that is taught in workshops and classes.

Besides that when someone new joins the primary section of the school we have our own orientation which is a 2-3 day process, before the year begins. Our Vice Principal conducts that programme on the basics of classroom management and lesson planning. We also have a teacher’s handbook, a manual that is given to all new teachers.

MK: I am the Senior Academic Coordinator at the PECHS Girls School and I coordinate trainings.

Who provides the majority of training at your school?

DAA: We have in-house training and we also outsource training. One Saturday of every month, usually the first Saturday, we have a 2- hour training session for teachers, wherever we feel they need to be trained. Every section has its own workshop according to its needs. Sometimes it can be a motivational workshop for new teachers, sometimes the workshop is for all teachers, for example, on behavioural issues or issues in classroom management. As for the other notices of workshop that we receive from outside, our coordinators usually take a decision on that.

SJ: Apart from the in-house training, the other training that we find very useful and which is essentially outsourced is online training. There are websites which conduct all kinds of workshops on various topics. To give you an example our teachers were enrolled in an online Phonics workshop.  These workshops are a few weeks long, they are conducted online and the school pays for them.

These workshops have course work, reading lists and blog sites where you can interact with other teachers. Teachers can complete the course at their own pace and time, as long as they put in a minimum number of hours. I find these to be very useful, even though they are expensive.

Our school is affiliated with the Cambridge system and our senior teachers go for training through CIE. Depending on the security situation, Cambridge sends its examiners here and there are usually 2-day workshops on themes such as the Cambridge Marking Scheme. Cambridge has live webinars also that our teachers attend.

Sometimes we also have good local workshops which our teachers attend. But that happens usually if a teacher comes to me and asks whether she can attend a particular workshop. Also the principal of the pre-primary section conducts a lot of trainings herself. She is a qualified High/Scope trainer and conducts trainings almost twice a week.

MK: The majority of our outsourced training is provided by TRC. In-house we have staff development days every Saturday. This could be a discussion on any issue that teachers are facing. We might share an interesting article (sometimes from Ilm o Amal) or even discuss the TRC monthly Opinion Poll during the session. A teacher might share material from a workshop that she attended at TRC.

How does your school identify employee training needs?

DAA: Section heads identify teachers’ training needs through classroom observation. The actual classroom observation and a teacher’s lesson planning skills give the section heads a good idea of their training needs. For example, if a teacher is unable to do Cooperative Learning she is sent to a workshop or we might decide to send the teacher to the class of a teacher who is doing cooperative learning and learn from her peer.

Sometimes a good workshop comes along and the coordinator feels that teachers will benefit from this. Also sometimes we see leadership qualities in a teacher and since it is our school’s tradition to build leadership from inside, we send a promising teacher to workshops that build on leadership quality.

SJ: We have a lot of good teachers and when someone new comes in who we feel doesn’t have the training, but has the qualities required for a good teacher, then their training is ongoing as they work with a mentor teacher for at least a year to acquire the skills they need to become good teachers themselves. So the mentor teacher has a good idea of the new teacher’s strengths and needs.

We continue having teacher training workshops, such as the one we just did recently on classroom management. This was over two Saturdays and was conducted by the vice principal of the primary school and one of our senior teachers. Something like this usually happens when a new area of concern arises. We may have workshops such as this a couple of times a year on Saturdays.

MK: When we hire a teacher we look at what kind of training she has already undergone. We have a lot of TRC-IECE graduates working here. However if a teacher cannot go for a longer training such as the ECE-CP, we ensure that she attends some of the shorter courses that TRC offers. Even for higher classes we eagerly await workshops.

We also observe teachers in their classrooms and talk to them to identify their needs and match it with the workshops that TRC is offering. This process of matching needs with workshops is done by a whole team of learning coordinators who conduct classroom observations. We stay in touch with TRC and also give feedback about the kind of workshops we are looking for.

For what kinds of training does your school consider external training?

DAA: Sometimes a teacher comes into the system who has not worked with the Aga Khan Board and she may feel lost. She may face difficulties in areas such as setting exam questions. So we send such teachers for external training.

We usually look to external training, if we feel that only 2 or 3 teachers require a certain kind of training. Why have full workshops in school for just 2 or 3 teachers? In such cases it is better to send them for external training which also saves us the time that we would have to spend training them.

SJ: When going for external training we look at who the workshop leader is and also the content of the workshop. Another consideration is whether a teacher can gain credit towards higher education by attending the workshop. Some online workshops offer us that advantage. Usually if we have the in-house expertise, we don’t consider external training in that particular area.

MK: Where we feel that we are looking for an element of professional development through a workshop we look to external training usually through TRC to meet our needs.

Do you measure the effectiveness of the training programmes? And how do you do it?

DAA: Teachers are given assignments on the theme for which they were sent for training to assess how much they have learnt. For instance if they were sent to a workshop  to learn about some kind of methodology, we usually assign them to develop a lesson using that methodology and implement it in the classroom. We also monitor the teachers to see what they have learnt.

SJ: I think over time one does get a sense of what the teacher has learnt and her professional growth. A 3-day workshop will not change anyone’s life, but in some way it will contribute overall in making the school more effective. One cannot put a figure on these things. But I find it is more effective if an in-house or outsourced workshop is conducted for all primary teachers in the school. School-wide workshops are always more effective than those that individual teachers attend.

MK: We encourage teachers to share anything that they have learnt with their peers and of course include it in their own lesson plans. We find that when teachers make lesson plans they acknowledge anything that they have learnt from a workshop and then of course you see the growth of a teacher. We also discuss a teacher’s professional growth and development during the appraisal process.

What do you feel are the benefits of outsourcing training?

DAA: Sometimes teachers feel that the school management is advising them needlessly. When they go to a workshop and hear the same advice coming from someone else, it confirms what we have said to them. Also when teachers attend workshops outside the school it helps teachers network. There they meet other teachers and have the chance to talk and learn from them.

SJ: For me the criterion is not outsourced or in-house training, but the quality of what is being offered. I find the online trainings that our teachers do, very structured, well prepared and well presented. They are very professional and offer flexibility in terms of time commitment. I also feel that longer workshops where the teachers are learning something over 3 or 6 weeks and are expected to practice in the classroom during the workshops, to be very useful.

MK: All our training is outsourced to the TRC. Conferences are the new thing these days where we have team sharing. These are not workshops, and the whole point is that you go there to share whatever you are doing in your classroom. We sent our teachers recently to one called ‘Incorporating Project Work’.  Each school was invited to share their style of project work and it was a forum for schools to get together and brainstorm ideas. So something like this can be quite beneficial.

Generally speaking we find that when you outsource training, you see teachers grow professionally. Our teachers interact with different schools and because the trainers are experienced, I feel quite a bit of real life learning takes place. We also get consulting services from TRC where their senior staff personally mentor our teachers. We were able to negotiate a plan where we paid TRC the equivalent of one teacher’s or two teachers’ salaries a month for these services. In time, our own staff was able to handhold and mentor, the new staff that was inducted.

March 2015