In 2017, VVOB set its five-year goal for the Rwandan education system: ‘Leading, Teaching and Learning Together’. In partnership with other valued education institutions in the country, such as the University of Rwanda – College of Education and Rwanda Education Board, VVOB offers relevant professional development opportunities to primary and secondary school leaders, mentor teachers and science teachers. They, in turn, then provide their learners with the best learning conditions. In secondary schools, professional development programmes are part of the Mastercard Foundation’s Leaders in Teaching initiative.
To stimulate lifelong learning among teachers and school leaders, they partake in professional learning communities (PLCs) to exchange experiences about and solutions for shared challenges. Head teacher Father Theophile Harerimana and PLC facilitator Claudine Niyonagira share how VVOB’s support to their daily activities has transformed their leadership skills.
International research agrees on the importance of quality leadership in schools. School leaders play a vital role in creating the conditions necessary for teachers to teach effectively, and for learners to learn deeply. A school can only improve the quality of its education if it is headed by a competent and responsible school leader. That’s why VVOB invests heavily in their continuous professional development (CPD) in Rwanda.
Father Harerimana is the leader of a primary school in Eastern Province that caters to roughly 3,000 students and a teacher’s staff of fifty. He is one of hundreds of school leaders to have successfully completed VVOB’s diploma course in Effective School Leadership: “Even though I had been leading the school for a while already, I had never been trained in doing so. I am definitely more organised now, and have been incorporating some crucial aspects of school leadership in my daily work. For example, I used to organise workshops to develop a school improvement plan without involving important partners such as those of the school feeding programme. They need to be on board the planning meetings too if they are to really understand the school’s challenges.”
Bridging the gap with PLCs
VVOB’s experience has shown that CPD trainings alone are insufficient for real and sustainable change to occur. Even effective trainings need to be complemented by strategies that provide continuous support after they have finished, and that involve the trainees themselves. Professional learning communities are a proven effective instrument that bridge the gap between the theory of a CPD training and putting that theory into practice. They provide the opportunity for participants to break out of their professional isolation, create a forum for sharing and even increase the levels of job satisfaction and motivation.
VVOB works with local government staff called sector education officers (SEOs) to organise PLCs for school leaders in their jurisdictions. SEOs benefit from a training in Educational Mentorship and Coaching that enables them to support their participants in leading their schools effectively. Ms Claudine Niyonagira has been an SEO in Eastern Province since 2012, but she did not learn about PLCs until she enrolled in the certificate course in 2018: “I already had meetings with school leaders, but PLCs are something different. They are more focussed and interactive. You meet, discuss issues and identify a way forward together.”
School leaders inspire
Ms Niyonagira believes that PLCs have increased collaboration with and among school leaders. They share good practices and lessons learnt in the PLC, so their peers can use similar approaches to deal with the issues in their own schools. She shares a good example: “During one PLC in my sector, a school leader shared that the learning objectives were not being met in his school. The students were unable to read or write Kinyarwanda, the local language, after completing the first year of primary education. But this is a precondition to be able to follow the other subjects. Coincidentally, other school leaders had faced the same issue and gave advice about how to deal with it: identify the struggling students and organise additional classes so they can catch up. The first school leader was inspired and addressed the problem in a similar way.”
VVOB and partners developed a diploma course ‘Effective School Leadership’ and regularly organise professional learning communities (PLCs) with facilitation from sector education officers (SEOs). The aim is to support (deputy) school leaders to develop and/or strengthen the competences needed to create a stimulating and supportive school environment that enables effective teaching and
facilitates deep learning.
To assess the delivery, relevance, impact and sustainability of the diploma course and complementary PLCs, VVOB has set up a large-scale mixed methods study together with The Research Base. Key questions include: (1) What, if any, is the impact of the diploma course and/or PLCs on (deputy) school leaders’ competencies in leading their schools effectively? (2) What, if any, is the impact of the course on SEOs’ competencies in coaching school leaders in PLCs? (3) What are the challenges for implementation? How can they be addressed?
By mid-2019, a baseline study will have been conducted and analysed among a sample of approximately 265 schools, including 168 schools of which the school leader is currently enrolled in the diploma course and 97 unexposed schools. Throughout the course of the programme, this sample will be followed over time, and a mid- and end-line study conducted.