Teacher Observations Help Promote Quality Instruction

February 27, 2009


In an education system that has traditionally embraced rote memorization, long-established hierarchies, and a punitive approach to discipline, it is not surprising that many teachers in Afghanistan initially dread the idea of being observed while instructing.

But recognizing this, the Building Education Support Systems for Teachers (BESST) project designed an In-School Teacher Support Activities (ITSA) training curriculum in order to enable its trainers to carry out formative observation of teachers, provide constructive feedback and engender an open dialogue on practical ways to improve methodology.

Last summer, all 1,525 of BESST’s district-based trainers were trained in performing classroom observations, facilitating Teacher-Learning Circles (TLCs), and supporting the school community in the establishment of School Improvement Plans (SIPs), or school shuras (councils). In early August, BESST trainers began asking teachers to volunteer to be observed and quickly learned how few teachers had ever been observed by a non-supervisor.

One BESST trainer, Najeeba Quraishi, at Eid Mahala High School in Shiberghan, Jawzjan province said: “I knew I was going to have to work hard to convince teachers that I wasn’t there to criticize or punish them. I had heard rumors that some teachers thought they would be fired if they performed poorly in front of me,” Najeeba continued, “I must encourage my team of trainers to focus on providing the teachers with concrete suggestions for improving their methodology.”

Made possible with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by Creative Associates International, Inc., the five-year BESST project is training and supporting all teachers and school managers employed by the Ministry of Education in 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

“Observing teachers in the classroom and providing constructive opinions and suggestions about their teaching styles and techniques, is a natural follow up of the formal training they have already received and it is an excellent way to help them to put in practice what they have learned” said BESST Project Chief of Party, Julio Ramirez-de-Arellano. “One of the main challenges to do this activity has been to overcome the natural fear of teachers of being evaluated. After an initial resistance, now teachers are confident that this activity is not a threat to them, but a useful support to their jobs.”

Since the start of the project in early 2006, BESST has completed training 50,600 educators in teaching methodology and over 3,000 principals in effective school management strategies. These face-to-face trainings, implemented by BESST’s six partner organizations, are supplemented by educational radio and video programs broadcast on 28 district-based radio stations, Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA), and seven provincial TV stations. In addition, to supplement and reinforce the key skills from the training curricula, BESST’s district-based trainers regularly facilitate ITSA activities for teachers, principals, and community members.

Taniya, a math teacher in Shiberghan, said she initially agreed to be observed, but then asked another teacher to substitute for her class on the day Najeeba was scheduled to visit. The following day, Taniya admitted, “I was afraid it was a test and that the trainer would say bad things about me to the principal.”

Najeeba reassured her, “I am here only to help you become a better teacher. I’m here only to help reinforce the skills and give you the confidence you need to be a great teacher.” Taniya agreed and, after the observation of her third grade math class, Taniya told BESST, “It was not a scary experience after all. Najeeba asked me questions. I was able to share with her the most difficult problems I have and she gave me some advice about techniques to use, to involve my students more.” BESST will continue ITSA activities until the close of project activities. By the beginning of 2009 over 55,000 teacher observations have been conducted in the eleven provinces where the project is being implemented.

“Teachers who have had supportive feedback on their methodology are more confident in the classroom and more willing to let students participate,” said Suzanne Griffin, BESST project manager in Sar-e Pul. BESST trainers’ regular and repeated classroom visits, she added, “are helping to fundamentally change the practices of teachers, as well as teachers’ relationships and interactions with students.”

— Alison Long, BESST External Relations Manager in Afghanistan.

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