Newsletter 165 - NEEDU - Schools That Work II - What Makes Schools That Work "TICK"



This report has documented best practices that are exhibited by high-performing schools. They are intended to assist school improvement planning by focusing on essential ‘supports’ for learning. School managers and teachers may not endorse all best practices presented here, but they could help them to sharpen and focus their own vision of school improvement.


During my years as a Circuit Manager I was a participant in a workshop where a teacher shared with us his successes with implanting OBE in his classroom. The teacher informed us that peer teaching and peer support is at the heart of his success; however this must be done through constructive group-work. What the teacher did was to teach his learners how effective groups work – this took him the greater part of the first term BUT thereafter learning and teaching took off in leaps and bounds.


These are the stories of teachers, learners and managers;


  1. Teachers go in and out of each other’s classrooms without offending anyone and without making teachers feeling as though they are being violated.
  2. [looping] provides a second chance for teachers to reach individual learners who need support beyond one year of teaching them.
  3. We group learners by their performance. The weaker ones get special attention. We also have a programme for the high performers. We do this so that we don’t lose either of the group.
  4. Learners in higher grades mentor learners in lower grades in different subjects. We target those subjects which are problematic
  5. As members of the RCL (Representative Council for Learners), we come up with innovative ways to reach out to learners. In our school, you have to perform well in order to be a member of the RCL.
  6. Our teachers have hands-on approach. Instead of only teaching the theory straight from the book, they are very good at making us see the real world application of what they teach.
  7. We have a WhatsApp group in Accounting. Say, something is giving me a problem, I send it to the group. Other learners and the teacher help me to solve it.
  8. WhatsApp gives us space as learners not to gossip or use our cell phones for the wrong reasons. When I get confused or stuck, I don’t have to struggle in isolation.
  9. Many learners don't write homework. They copy from each other. That defeats the purpose of doing homework. So, in our school we don’t give homework. Learners do the work here at school.
  10. You need to find effective ways to make learners see the importance of doing homework and don’t see it as a burdensome task or some form of punishment.
  11. Learner participation in the WhatsApp group encourages even those learners who are lazy to study to participate in the group. They feel pressured to get involved and, in that way, they learn.
  12. If learners in another teacher’s class performed well but not in my class, then it’s obvious— the problem is with me.
  13. After every [formal] assessment, there are accounting sessions where teachers, learners and parents are required to account for the quality of the results.
  14. As much as academic excellence is emphasised, we still have time for social events and sports. Our teachers say we can’t be academic giants and stay social dwarfs. We must have a correct balance.
  15. I know that if I am away for a week or longer, angeke kube kwampunzi idl’emini [the hell will not break loose]. Quality teaching and learning will continue without my presence—as if I’m here.
  16. There is a wealth of expertise among teachers within our school. The capacity to empower teachers must be built within individual schools—and that’s what we’ve done in our school.
  17. Learner performance in any tests that I administer to my learners, is like a mirror. I see myself in that mirror. If learners perform badly, it reflects my image of failure.
  18. You just can’t hold anybody accountable when you have not given them any support. Since there is no effective support anywhere, our best bet is the school-based support.
  19. As Mathematics and Physics teachers, we align our lessons so that Physics concepts that are dependent on Maths concepts, are introduced to learners first in maths lessons.
  20. We have learnt to swallow our pride and acknowledged that as professionals, we can learn from other teachers. This has helped us to achieve our set targets.
  21. Networking is not restricted to working with other high schools but we also engage with our feeder primary schools. We can’t keep blaming primary schools for ‘feeding’ us with bad product.
  22. We have strong internal controls and accountability. For example, period registers are controlled by learners themselves. They check if the teachers come to class and on time.
  23. I am planning to take two SMT members [from KwaZulu- Natal] to visit [a school] in Limpopo. We are going to observe what they do and learn from them.
  24. In extra classes, we teach learners in three groups: those who are performing at levels 1 and 2 together; levels 3, 4 and 5; and levels 6 and 7. This allows us to pitch support at the correct level.
  25. If learners are already three to four years behind when they get here from primary schools, we extend our school day to allow teachers to provide more support.
  26. Pupils must be at the school until the very last day. On the last day, we still teach four periods–so there’s nothing like us missing time at the end or they are playing in the field. We teach up to the end.
  27. Friday afternoon is our planning day. We plan for the week ahead: What we are going to teach, decide on which activities we are going to give to all our learners for classwork and homework.
  28. In our school, we have a team teaching room, e.g., all the maths educators in the school will just choose specific topics, which learners find challenging and we team teach those topics.
  29. In English, there is a teacher responsible for each of the three papers in the exam: Paper 1, 2, and 3. We treat each paper as a subject. The same applies in other subjects.
  30. When I see how our teachers go beyond the call of duty to help us succeed, I always say to myself ‘I can’t let them down.’
  31. Our present circumstance cannot and will not dictate our future. We may be poor, but our minds are filthy rich and with that, the sky is the limit.
  32. The climate has to be right. If it’s not right, then forget it. No best teacher in the world can be effective in an environment where there is no order and discipline.
  33. Discipline is the mother of all. The beginning for success is discipline.
  34. Anything below 95% is just not good enough but 100% pass rate of certificate or diploma passes is 100% of nothing. It’s absolutely useless!
  35. It’s all in the mind. All you need when you work under such desperate conditions as ours is a right attitude—and lots of it. If you have a right attitude, the impossible will become possible.
  36. We don’t have the best of everything—few resources, large classes, poor and sometimes hungry children. All we have are committed teachers and the love they have for their learners.
  37.  Our teachers are dedicated because who would come to school early in the morning at 6 am just to teach us? Sometimes they leave as late as 8 pm. This means a lot to us—it means they do care.
  38. In other schools, the best teachers are earmarked for Grade 12 and if they are placed in the lower grades, it’s a demotion. In our school, it’s the opposite. We value laying a solid foundation here
  39. For our teachers, teaching is not just a job. They are our second parents. They spend time with us almost 24/7. I know they don’t get more money for doing this but they do it because they care.
  40.  At the end of the year I must get 100% pass rate in my subject. I must get distinctions—no excuses. I can’t blame learners’ poor background when learners fail
  41. You must appreciate that we teach learners who come from child-headed families. Some of these learners are heads of these families. They have become ‘parents’ to their younger siblings.
  42. Before teachers go to class, we make sure that they have lesson plans. The HODs first check the relevance of the lesson plan and its correlation vis-a-vis the ATP.
  43. Our target is 100% pass rate— which we have achieved for the past five years—100% bachelors, and we want to get 100% pass in all the subjects.
  44. We say to teachers, ‘the nonnegotiable is that you have to teach the whole syllabus. You don’t have a choice. How you do that, we leave it to you and your team.
  45. We have teachers who are here on Saturdays when they should be spending that time with their families but they trade all those important things for us. Just for us! We are blessed.
  46. We decided that were going to focus on maths and science. It wasn’t easy to convince parents to agree to this. We said ‘History and Geography are important but we can’t offer everything.’
  47. We create time and space for teachers to plan collectively in different departments and subject areas. We make sure that time for teachers to plan together is in the timetable.
  48. I do the class visits, classroom observation. These visits are unannounced—not to catch teachers out—but because we want to give them support that they need.
  49. Our own children attend or have attended this school. If you believe that the school where you teach is not good enough for your own children, you are saying other schools are doing a better job than yours.
  50. We have formed WhatsApp groups for teachers in different subjects. This is extremely helpful because you know that you are not alone. You have a family to go to when you need help.
  51. We simply could not offer the universe [all subjects] because the number of teachers allocated to our school remained the same. Each high school in the area specializes in one stream.
  52. Because in our school we have an open-door policy, any teacher can walk into your class and observe you. So, this means that you must always be on your toes and be prepared.
  53. If I were to drop dead the next day, I would rest in peace knowing that the school will not fall apart because leadership does not reside in one individual but is shared
  54. After each test, we conduct item analysis. We analyse every item in the question paper in every subject. This gives us extremely useful data, e.g., learners and educators who underperform.
  55. We don’t have scheduled afternoon, weekend and holiday classes because we strongly believe that if teachers use every minute of the seven hours each day to teach, they should be able to complete the curriculum.
  56. I meet all the HODs on a weekly basis to monitor curriculum coverage. I check what is in the ATP and check that against what is in the learners’ books. That’s key for me.
  57. There are weekly subject meetings with HODs. I expect HODs to give me minutes of their meetings so that I understand what it is that they discuss in their meetings.
  58. We monitor if teachers’ plans, the learners’ books and workbooks correlate. Every topic that appears in the Annual Teaching Plan must appear in the learners’ book.
  59. We use extra time to support learners who need it but, you can add as much extra teaching time as you like, if the quality of teaching is poor, extra time will not lead to achievement gains.

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