Supporting from all anglesMarch 23, 2023
Edufundi releases 2022 Annual ReportJune 20, 2023
A recent article published in the Daily Maverick explored the need for newly qualified teachers in South Africa to be properly supported and mentored in their first years of teaching rather than being thrown in the deep end and expected to swim. At Edufundi - an NGO specialising in educator mentorship - our research and experience in the education space certainly backs this up: novice teachers who are nurtured and guided by experienced colleagues are able to make a far greater contribution to the profession in the short-, medium- and long-term than their peers who are left to work everything out for themselves. We advocate that a mentorship culture be cultivated in the whole South African education system, as a sustainable and wide-reaching way of ensuring professional development and support to all teachers in South Africa.
Mentoring teachers on a national scale would certainly shift things. But it isn’t a simple fix. For starters, we cannot rely on external organisations to provide the on-the-job mentoring and support required – there just aren’t enough resources. A systemic problem requires a systemic solution. We need to build this support into the schools’ structures and teacher training institutions themselves. This means challenging the existing beliefs around induction, professional development and performance management. It also means,– as a country, adopting a culture of mentorship and coaching.
It might not seem obvious, but teaching is a performance profession. Think of a singer, sportsperson or public speaker – how does this type of performer improve their performance skills? By setting aside time to practise specific things with the help of an experienced coach. But what about teachers? When do they get to practise, and who provides them with meaningful feedback that helps them develop and refine the vast repertoire of skills they need? It is not only new teachers who are left to figure things out for themselves. Considering how critical the teaching profession is to the success of our country’s citizens, there is not nearly enough of a focus on robust, meaningful teacher and leadership development. This is partly because those who are tasked with building up the capacity of their colleagues do not have the necessary expertise themselves. Developing teachers and school leaders requires specialised knowledge and skills that most educators have never had the opportunity to cultivate.
This is the challenge that the Edufundi Support Programme is working hard to address. We provide strategic one-on-one mentorship and coaching for teachers and school leaders in primary schools across the country, with the ultimate aim of improving learner outcomes by improving teaching practice and instructional leadership. Over a three-year period, up to 20 teachers in each school receive in-classroom mentorship and support. However, everything starts with the members of the School Management Team. In the first year, they work on improving their own classroom practice, with support from their team of mentors. They also receive specialised coaching in instructional leadership, thereby laying the foundation for the next phase. From the second year, the school leaders (SMT) begin to take ownership of the professional development programme. Supported by their mentors and coaches, they practise their coaching and mentoring skills, and integrate the principles of mentoring into their management practices. By the time the school graduates from the Edufundi Support Programme in the third year, they have a fully functioning professional development system: principles and practices have been integrated into the school culture and everyday activities, teachers are equipped with skills and techniques to maximise learning, and leaders have the capacity to support teachers’ (and each other’s) continuous development. The school has absorbed the Programme in a sustainable way.
Edufundi’s model is proving to be effective, and this is encouraging. It proves that, with the right kind of support, those within the education system are capable of changing their own trajectory. If this is possible with the school as the smallest unit of change, what could happen if the government came on board? Could a mentorship-based approach to school, curriculum and education management provide the ‘right kind of support’ for teachers and school leaders, and ultimately learners? It is worth putting this theory to the test.
Written by Robyn Pitot
Content Development and Training Manager, Edufundi