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Benchmarking in Teaching Practice (TP) is the process of identifying "best practice" in relation to quality of teachers produced, and the processes by which the teachers are trained and posted to various institutions for attachment service. The objective of benchmarking in TP is to understand and evaluate the current position of the organization of teacher education process in relation to "best practice", and to identify areas and possible means of performance improvement.
The purpose of this study is to assess how Kenyan teacher education institutions in general and university of Nairobi in particular could position themselves compared to teacher education institutions globally, in the professional management of TP. The paper proposes a benchmarking methodology which the authors believe will be appropriate for professional teaching attachment and to which the various teacher education institutions in Kenya could adhere.
Benchmarking, professionalism, Cooperating Teachers, supervision, placement
The belief that teacher training has to be learning-institution-based to deliver content and professional theory, as well as school-based for practicum or internship is widely accepted (Lam & Yan Fung [ï€ ] , 2001). Teaching is a complex activity and teacher education has to, not only foster teaching capacities through theoretical understanding, but also offer practical experience through teaching attachment. Elliott (1991) observes that teacher education is largely a matter of developing a teacher's capacities for situational understandings as a basis for wise judgment and intelligent decision making in complex, ambiguous and dynamic educational settings. The student teacher has to learn and exercise his capacity to handle and interpret unique situations through exploratory action in the classroom and reflection-in-action within an actual teaching practice set up.
In TP, the ability to apply professional knowledge to practice is coupled with the ability to theorize in and from practice so as to develop a deeper understanding of underlying principles and causal processes (McLaughlin [ï€ ] , 1994; Moore [ï€ ] , 1994) that actualize learning in an organized environment. Frost [ï€ ] (1993: p. 140) delineates what student teachers are to reflect on to become professional teachers:Â
Evaluate various teaching strategies and materials in terms of their appropriateness to particular teaching situations
Question the values embedded in teaching practices and challenge the aims and goals of education. Student teachers grow through reflection; critical outlook and the need to form defensible theoretical perspectives that direct and sustain meaningful practical teaching that enhance high performance and growth. Reflection requires the ability to analyze, articulate thoughts, look for further alternatives, synthesize, theorize, and critically justify the embedded educational values.
Examine and clarify personal values and beliefs about society and pedagogy.
What is benchmarking
Benchmarking is a tool that organizations use to measure themselves against the best industry practice (Besterfield,et al [ï€ ] , 2006). It provides a framework for continuous improvement. The essence of benchmarking is the process of borrowing ideas and adapting them to gain competitive advantage. Business Today (1994) defines benchmarking as " the practice of being humble enough to admit that someone else is better at something and wise enough to learn how to match and even surpass them at it".
Benchmarking is the process of comparing the business processes and performance metrics including cost, cycle time, productivity, or quality to another that is widely considered to be an industry standard benchmark or best practice. Essentially, benchmarking provides a snapshot of the performance of the business and helps to understand where an organization is in relation to a particular standard. The result is often a business case and "Burning Platform" for making changes in order to make improvements". (Wikipedia [ï€ ] , 2009)
Benchmarking is the process of determining who is the very best, who sets the standard, and what that standard is (Trimble [ï€ ] , 2003). It provides the external references and the best practices on which to base programme evaluations and to design improved work processes. It is the process of finding, adapting and implementing outstanding practice to improve performance (UNISA Learning and Teaching Unit [ï€ ] , 2009).
In the context of program evaluation, benchmarking involves making considered comparisons of key aspects of program performance to inform improvement activity or affirm excellence. "The crux of benchmarking is learning by sharing information between businesses. By comparing work processes, inputs and outputs, you can gain valuable information that can help you improve your own process" (Six Sigma [ï€ ] , 2009). Benchmarking therefore involves measuring an organization's internal processes then identifying, understanding, and adapting outstanding practices from other organizations considered to be best-in-class (The Benchmarking Exchange [ï€ ] , 2009). It is intended to help institutions evaluate their practice against that of others.
In order to achieve world class standards, the management will typically have a number of questions on the minds: How do we compare with the rest of industry? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What improvements need to be made? What are our priorities given the resources that we have available? (Crow [ï€ ] , 1999). The institution must assess its strengths and weaknesses and by focusing on the "gap" between where the institution is and where it needs to be, priorities can be set for making improvements. Benchmarking therefore involves measuring an organizations performance against that of the best- in- class organizations, determining how the best in class achieve those performance levels and using the information as the basis for adaptive creativity and breakthrough performance as shown in Figure 1 below.
What is our performance level?
How do we do it?
What are others' performance levels?
How did they get there?
Breakthrough performance (Quality)
Figure 1: Benchmarking Concept
(Adapted from the Institute of Industrial Engineers,2009)
There are two key elements implicit in the definition of benchmarking. First, measuring performance requires some sort of units of measure. These are called metrics and are usually expressed numerically. The numbers achieved by the best-in-class benchmark are the target. For example, in teaching practice, the metrics could be the number of complaints received from interns, the number of unsupervised interns, etc. An organization seeking improvement then plots its own performance against the target.
Secondly, benchmarking requires that managers (teaching practice coordinators) understand why their performances differ. This requires the managers to develop a thorough and in-depth knowledge of both their own processes and the processes of the best-in-class organizations. This means that the teaching practice coordinators must understand the TP process, that is, the set of interrelated and interacting activities which transform the TP inputs into outputs. Teaching practice inputs may include the necessary resources needed to accomplish the TP exercise. For example, the staff to be involved, the time duration for the exercise, the materials and the finances. The outputs include the number of completed supervisions by an assessor or the number of supervised interns. It is important to know the various activities that are necessary to accomplish teaching practice. For example, some of the activities may include dispatching application forms to interested applicants; processing of the applications, assignment of duties to supervisors and cooperating teachers, communicating to successful applicants, placement of interns in practicing schools etc. It is equally important for the TP managers to understand the start and finish dates of the identified activities, as well as the constraints of time, cost, resource and the responsibilities of supervisors. In this regard application of benchmarking involves four key steps (Tutor2u [ï€ ] , 2009), namely, understanding the existing business processes, analysing the business processes of others, comparing one's own business performance with that of others and implementing the steps necessary to close the performance gap.
Types of Benchmarking
Organizations are normally in a dilemma of how to search for the best practices so as to compare their level with the best processes available. Although several types of benchmarking practice exist, the selection of one several types to adopt depend mainly on the need created by efforts aimed at being alive to fulfilling the mission and vision of the organization.
The process of benchmarking of TP may be broken down into seven steps:
Evaluate and measure your own TP operations or specific processes to identify weaknesses and strengths.
Determine which functional areas within the TP operation that needs to be benchmarked; those that will benefit most from the benchmarking process based upon cost, importance and potential of change following the study.
Identify the key factors and variables with which to measure those functions-usually in the general form of financial resources and professional strategy.
Initiate a benchmarking study and document processes that are more productive or efficient than yours.
Select the best-in-class institutions for benchmarking TP. Those institutions that perform TP function at the lowest cost, with the highest degree of teacher and student satisfaction and measure the performance of the best-in-class institution for each.
Measure your own performance for each variable and begin comparing the results to determine the gap between your institution and the best-in-class examples.
Determine how to adapt successful processes and procedures from those who may be doing it better than you.
The Benchmarking methodology
The following is an example of a typical benchmarking methodology adopted from (Wikipedia [ï€ ] , 2009) and which is applicable for benchmarking TP:
Identify your problem areas - Benchmarking in TP can employ a range of research techniques which include: informal conversations with stakeholders, teaching institutions, professional educators; process mapping, quality control variance reports, Before embarking on comparison with other institutions, it is essential that you know your own institutions TP functions and processes
Identify other teacher education institutions that have similar processes
Identify institutions that are leaders in TP attachment
Visit the "best practice" institutions to identify leading edge TP practices
Implement new and improved process practices in TP
Cost of benchmarking
Every business process for improvement has cost implications. There are three main types of costs in benchmarking (Wikipedia [ï€ ] , 2009):
Visit Costs - This includes hotel rooms, travel costs, meals, a token gift, and lost labor time.
Time Costs - Members of the benchmarking team will be investing time in researching problems, finding exceptional institutions to study, visits, and implementation. This will take them away from their regular tasks and so additional staff might be required.
Benchmarking Database Costs - Organizations that institutionalize benchmarking into their daily procedures find it useful to create and maintain a database of best practices and the institutions associated with each best practice for purposes of procedural reference.
Components of the Teaching Practice Model
Stages of Teaching Progression: Professional preparation for teaching involves learning the following: teaching subjects' content, methodology of teaching specific subjects, socialization process in the school environment, general and child psychology, foundations of education, educational planning, educational administration, educational communications (instructional methodology and resources) and technology, curriculum development and economics of education.
Placement of the student teacher in the teaching practice institution: The student teacher must be settled in the new station. It is expected that the intern fits into the school community and feel like a member of the teaching staff with responsibilities that are aligned to the new role and authority that he/she acquires.
Mentoring and supervision by the Cooperating Teachers (CT): Mentoring is a complex, interactive process occurring between individuals of differing levels of experience and expertise and which incorporates interpersonal or psychosocial development, career and/or educational development, and socialization functions into the relationship. Instead of having teaching advisers doing most of the supervision job, it is important to emphasize the functions of mentoring in facilitating student teachers' learning and development by cooperating teachers. The latter are required to provide close support to student teachers in lesson preparation, understanding of student learning needs, abilities diagnoses, and classroom instructional processes, formative and summative evaluation. They are also to induct student teachers into the school community and to enable the student teacher to take up responsibilities as a normal school teacher.
Formative Assessment: Each student teacher is mentored by the same cooperating teachers in ways that are prescribed by the training institution. The formative assessment conducted by the cooperating teachers would include regular meetings and post-class-observation conferences. The cooperating teachers, through their long-term mentoring and understanding of their student teachers, have much reliable data to assess the various aspects of student teachers' performance.
Summative assessment: Summative assessment of student teachers' teaching performance is exclusively the power of the training institution's supervisors. In the University of Nairobi, for instance, supervisors normally conduct a minimum of three supervisions per subject, that is, a minimum of six visits to assess student teachers' in-class teaching performance for the two teaching subjects that are normally examined. This procedure promotes the belief that there is the right to assessment by different parties - no one tutor should assess a student teacher twice in the same subject.
Student Teachers' Self-Assessment: It important to engage student teachers to assess their own learning since student teachers' teaching is contextual as well as personal. Cooperating teachers' and supervisors assessments cannot capture the judgment and reflection of student teachers in pro-acting and reacting to their personal style of teaching in context. Personal Development Portfolio (PDP) is an appropriate tool for self-assessment because compiling a portfolio serves both as a learning process and an expression of knowledge gained over time (Larkin [ï€ ] , 1999). Student teachers are to evaluate and develop their teaching against criteria formulated by themselves (McIntyre [ï€ ] , 1990). Through undertaking the role of professional judgment on their own professional capabilities, student teachers reconnect process and product of teaching as they confirm that the end of teaching is intentional learning (Lyons [ï€ ] , 1998). Development of PDP involves the learning of what and why of teaching, as Shulman [ï€ ] (1987) remarks, "the teacher is not only a master of procedure, but of content and rationale, capable of explaining why something is done to himself and to others â€¦ capable of reflection leading to self-knowledge" (p. 43). The portfolio tells the story of the student teacher's learning and includes the student teacher's engagement in the process of making meaning in the teaching profession.
Benchmarking teaching practice
As we have observed earlier, benchmarking involves looking outward to examine how others achieve their performance levels and to understand the processes they use. In this way it helps explain the processes behind excellent performance (Tutor2u [ï€ ] , 2009). Benchmarking should be an ongoing improvement process with the goal of keeping abreast of ever-dynamic-improving best practice. When the lessons learnt from a benchmarking exercise are applied appropriately, they facilitate improved performance in critical functions within an institution in key areas of teacher education professional development.
Benchmarking teaching practice (TP) enables teacher education institutions to answer the following questions:
Which other institutions perform TP process very well and have process practices that are adaptable to our institution?
Which institutions are the most compatible for our institutions to benchmark with?
Benchmarking teaching practice could benefit the teaching profession in the following areas:
Professional competencies: Professional ethics, responsibility, accountability, problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills.
Teaching practice design: A design process can build a TP program's capacity through greater efficiency, effectiveness, and client satisfaction.
Supervision (delivery modes, length of the programme)
Personal development portfolio
Teaching practice consists of a set of interrelated or interacting activities that transform inputs into outputs. The quality of the inputs contributes to the quality of the final product (output) which is the student. The answer to the question "what to benchmark?" is highly critical in the teaching practice exercise since there are different metrics associated with the teaching practice process some of which are:
Number of students per supervisor: In the University of Nairobi, the number of students assigned to a supervisor is critical. An ideal ratio, notwithstanding the terrain of the TP regions is 5:1, that is, for every five students sent out on teaching practice, there should be one supervisor assigned to them, technically. This ensures two hours of supervisor availability to the student per day so that the necessary advice and consultations are done to the student and also to regulate the number of supervisions done by a supervisor to thirty during a supervision period.
Satisfaction index of students: The satisfaction index of the students are estimated by conducting feedback survey (Suganthi and Anand [ï€ ] , 2004) an aspect that is improved from time to time.
Expenditure per student: This refers to the amount of money that a supervisor is paid per student on teaching practice. Although funding may be difficult sometimes, the expenses incurred by a supervisor should be sufficient enough to ensure that the supervisor meets all the expected costs and is able to perform his/her tasks diligently.
Productivity of a supervisor: It is important that a supervisor completes all the assigned supervisions.
Time and timeliness: It is necessary to attempt the following questions: Does the supervisor complete the assigned task within the specified time period? How long does the supervisor take to complete his/her work?
Staff competence: The necessary competence in terms of education, training, skills and experience should be defined for the staff to participate in the teaching practice exercise (Kenya Bureau of Standards [ï€ ] , 2006).
Customer communication: The teaching practice office should state the following (Kenya Bureau of Standards [ï€ ] , 2005):
Who is responsible for customer communication in particular cases
The means to be used for customer communication
Where applicable, communication pathways and contact points for specific customers
The records to be kept of customer communication, and
The process to be followed when a customer complaint is received.
Staff attitude: What is the attitude of staff towards teaching practice? Do they see it a just another source of income or an exercise similar to the lectures?
Systemic improvement: The procedure followed in conducting teaching practice should be re-engineered and standardized after proper scrutiny (Suganthi and Anand, 2004) through benchmarking criteria.
An understanding of how others are doing yields the data on how to improve professional theory and practice. The most straight-forward way is to assess where there are gaps between one institutions performance and that of the benchmarking partners. These assessments may be used to identify best practices, in particular, the one your institution wish to adopt. When deciding on what to benchmark, it is best to begin by thinking about the mission and vision statements and the critical success factors. For example, take the case of teaching practice. The mission could be "to be the easiest exercise for those involved". The critical success factors in this case could therefore include a 24-hour service to the students and supervisors, fast payment of claims, reliable transportation, convenient access to interns, courteous supervisor etc.
The teaching practice coordinator can raise other questions to make a decision on high impact areas to benchmark such as:
Processes that often pose challenges
Processes which contribute most to customer satisfaction
Processes which are not performing up to expectations
Competitive pressures which impact the teaching practice the most
It is important to think about the metrics (measurements), namely, numerical measures which illustrate the effects of improvements and thereby aid in deciding where to direct benchmarking activities. For instance, one metric to use is the value added productivity such as the number of supervisions per supervisor or the number of complaints per intern is fundamental indicator of efficiency that strongly correlates with successful (quality) teaching practice.