On 21 November, VVOB Rwanda presented a webinar on how professional learning communities of head teachers impact teacher intrinsic motivation, based on the findings of this study. If you missed the webinar for the Teacher Motivation Working Group, you can find a blog post on its contents on their website, or read a short recap here:
How professional learning communities of head teachers drive teacher intrinsic motivation in Rwanda
Motivated and competent teachers are fundamental for learning to take place. Head teachers play a powerful part in this. International research shows that, by applying core leadership practices, they create an enabling working environment. They support and motivate teachers, who, in turn, improve teaching and learning outcomes.
But how do head teachers acquire these practices and become effective teacher motivators? In Rwanda, professional learning communities (PLCs) of head teachers are proving to be a successful tool.
How are Rwanda’s teachers motivated?
In 2007 the government of Rwanda agreed on a Teacher Development and Management Policy that articulates the need to “develop and install a framework for motivation that will enhance the socio-economic and professional status of teachers”. Important reforms were implemented in the last decade, such as improved teacher management, better working and living conditions, etc.
But it has not been easy to address the fact that Rwandan teachers earn considerably less than other similarly qualified civil servants. The introduction of a teaching profession career structure also met some delays.
Research shows that Rwandan head teachers play a crucial role in bringing about improvements in teacher motivation and performance: 68% of the teachers surveyed by Muvunyi (2016) report that the quality of school leadership was an important work environment motivating factor.
Why a study?
VVOB Rwanda has been a strong supporter of school leadership development, which is why we wanted to know more about how head teachers make their influence felt. We were also curious to find out whether participation in the professional learning communities of head teachers that we had piloted and rolled out had a positive effect on teacher motivation.
As Rwandan head teachers have little authority over typical “carrots and sticks” (salaries, promotion, etc.), our attention quickly turned to teacher intrinsic motivation.
What difference do professional learning communities of head teachers make?
Professional learning communities provide head teachers with an environment where they can share and create knowledge with trusted colleagues. In Rwanda, these PLCs are facilitated by sector education officers (SEO). The SEOs’ role is to stimulate professional inquiry and growth in an atmosphere of collaboration, keep the discussions focused around improving student learning outcomes, hold the PLC members accountable and distribute leadership.
Our study adopted a qualitative approach using focus group discussions in which a total of 39 head teachers and 64 teachers participated. Six sectors were purposively selected – the sampling criterion being that the last PLC session took place less than 100 days prior (‘active PLC’). The research opted for open ended questions. This allowed the relevance of the self-determination theory to be tested without projecting the theory onto participants.
Interestingly, head teachers’ own improved intrinsic motivation emanated as an important conduit for improving teacher motivation. Because they themselves received support from colleagues and engaged in more collaborative relations with their supervisors, head teachers felt encouraged to make positive changes in their behavior that, in turn, have a positive effect on teacher intrinsic motivation.
Head teachers as teacher motivators: What are the key drivers?
Six key drivers emerged from the analysis:
- Encouraging head teachers to foster caring working environments.
- Changing dynamics and focus of relationships between head teachers, schools, staff and communities to make these more professionally targeted, less hierarchical, more open to challenge and support.
- Fostering collaborative environments for head teachers and teachers to work in and the opportunities for learning that this provided.
- Head teachers giving teachers more responsibility and subject ownership through devolving more powers to departments, creating departments where there previously weren’t any, and allocating heads of departments.
- Greater distribution of workload within and between schools, for example through shared responsibility of examinations. This allowed teachers to learn from other schools through working together.
- Head teachers taking more responsibility for developing teachers, through increased observation and effective feedback.