Enhancing Teacher Development: Peer Mentoring Initiative by TaRL Africa

In Ikara, Nigeria, Mr Mohammed, a Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) Teacher, helps a bustling class of learners to quickly acquire the basics of reading and maths through the TaRL approach. “I really like the TaRL programme,” he said, “but sometimes I am not sure how to manage my classroom and I would like more guidance.” To strengthen existing support for teachers, a peer mentoring initiative, Mentor-Teacher Innovation, was piloted in the Ikara Local Government Area of Kaduna State. This pilot, conducted by government partners in collaboration with TaRL Africa, ran from June 2023 to February 2024.

Typically, in TaRL programmes, ongoing and onsite support for teachers is provided through mentoring — an essential element of the approach. Mentors are Leaders of Practice, having undergone training and conducted TaRL practice classes themselves. This experience makes them valuable resources for teachers and facilitators implementing the programme in classrooms. In Kaduna state, several strategies have been used to ensure that TaRL facilitators receive robust support from mentors. These include training of mentors by Master Trainers and designing a mentoring framework in collaboration with government partners. 

In Ikara, initially, 213 staff were trained to provide mentoring support to teachers. The Kaduna state government supported by the TaRL Africa team set clear targets regarding monitoring and mentoring visits to be conducted. The target encouraged School-based mentors, primarily head teachers to observe TaRL classes daily, ideally four times a week. Cluster-based mentors and Master Trainers, on the other hand, are expected to observe at least three TaRL classes weekly. To streamline this process,  the program model proposed the use of Kobo Collect, an online classroom observation tool, for mentors to record and submit their observations. This system allows the government and TaRL Africa team in Kaduna to monitor and support the effectiveness of the TaRL program more efficiently.

However, a review of the submitted data from September to December 2023 highlighted a gap between targets and actual observations. While the aim was for a total of 802 mentoring visits monthly by both school-based and cluster mentors, the data indicated only 830 visits were recorded over three months. This is significantly below the expected 2,406 visits for the period.

Building on experience from field visits, and recommendations pulled from a literature review put forward by experts, TaRL Africa’s team in Kaduna developed a mentoring Innovation to address this issue. The Mentor Teacher Innovation uses the expertise of teachers already proficient in the TaRL methodology to provide support to their peers. There are several benefits of leveraging peer mentorship. First, the peer mentors are not just hand-holders or tour guides but skilled TaRL practitioners and educators who can share their knowledge through informal conversation and everyday modelling. Second, peer mentors are especially crucial in schools, as they are often more accessible and approachable to their colleagues. Third, teachers tend to feel more comfortable admitting their areas of struggle to peers rather than to their superiors who usually serve as mentors. 

The mentoring initiative in Ikara seeks to bridge the gap between mentors and teachers by linking mentee teachers with mentor teachers at the school level. During the innovation, pre-class mentoring sessions were held, through which mentor teachers supported their peers by reviewing session plans and clarifying questions or concerns related to TaRL activities. Over a period of six months, 22 mentor teachers and 30 mentee teachers from 12 schools participated in the pilot. 

The results were remarkable. At the end of the pilot, both mentee and mentor teachers showed significant improvements in their capacity and understanding of the TaRL approach. The pilot area also recorded significantly improved learning outcomes for children. For instance, in numeracy, baseline assessments revealed that only about 4% of learners in the treatment cluster could perform a two-digit subtraction. However, by the end of the pilot, over 50% of these learners could solve two-digit subtraction problems. Likewise, in the local language (Hausa), only 1% of learners could read a story at baseline, but this figure increased to 62% by the endline. 

Teachers’ perceptions of peer mentoring were positive as well. Data collected during the study revealed that 92% of the mentee teachers attended mentoring sessions with their mentor teachers. Moreover, 88% of those who attended rated the mentoring sessions at 8 or higher on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). “I am eagerly looking forward to receiving more support from my peers,” said Mrs Yusuf, a TaRL facilitator. She believes that strengthened mentoring through the peer mentoring initiative is helpful since it helps teachers build stronger teaching-learning skills for TaRL programming. 

Encouraged by these findings and feedback, efforts are underway to scale the innovation across all the implementing LGAs in the state. To do so, the Kaduna state government is collaborating with the TaRL Africa team to integrate the mentor-teacher approach into the TaRL programme design, for rollout in the coming months.

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