What works for effective school- and cluster-based teacher professional development? Five key design decisions

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School-and-cluster based TPD approaches help scale localized, practical, and on-going support for teachers. Photo: Flickr/World Bank
School-and-cluster based TPD approaches help scale localized, practical, and on-going support for teachers. Photo: Flickr/World Bank

We know one-on-one coaching support can be highly effective in changing teacher behaviors and improving student learning outcomes. At the same time, it is expensive and may not always be feasible in in the short- to medium-term. As an alternative, well-designed school-and-cluster based teacher professional development (TPD) approaches can offer a practical solution for scaling localized, practical, and on-going support . 

School- and cluster-based programs are characterized by groups of teachers working together to improve their practice within a single school, across clusters of several schools, or in combinations of the two. School- and cluster-based training can be effective in enhancing teachers’ knowledge of content and pedagogy, and also offer significant “process benefits”, like increased collaboration, critical inquiry, and teacher leadership.

To guide the effective design and delivery of school- and cluster-based TPD, the World Bank’s Coach program has developed the Structuring and Supporting School- and Cluster-Based Continuous Teacher Professional Development Technical Guidance Note, which provide explicit recommendations on five key decision points in the design and delivery of these TPD modalities. Drawing from implementation experience around the world, here are the 5 key considerations on how to structure and implement effective school- and cluster-based TPD:


  1. How to group and arrange school-and-cluster based support?

School clusters should be groups of schools that are geographically close and accessible to one another, and practically-speaking, geographic location should be the first determinant in the formation of clusters.  Generally, each cluster consists of 3 to 7 schools – including 1 school in each group that serves as the “Cluster Center.” For example, in Namibia each cluster consisted of 4-8 schools and one of the schools was appointed as a cluster center. Within clusters and schools, groups of teachers typically are formed by grade level or subject area. Ideally, teachers are grouped with others who share common goals, use similar instructional strategies, and may experience similar challenges. While not a hard and fast rule, grade-level groupings are recommended for elementary school teachers, and subject area groupings for secondary school teachers.

  1. How often to meet?

Typically, TPD efforts yield best results when they are continuous and engage teachers in 30 to 100 hours of learning over 6 to 12 months. Within this time, interactions among teachers can occur through a combination of school- and cluster-based meetings.

  • School-level meetings should be organized weekly or bi-weekly to enable sustained purposeful reflection on a teacher’s classroom practices and enable the follow-up to happen soon after, usually within the next session.
  • Cluster-level meetings should be organized monthly (and/or held at least three times per term) to enable sufficient time for planning, strategizing, and evaluating different aspects of teaching at a cluster level (Jacobs 2015). In Kenya, for example, cluster-level meetings are planned fortnightly or once a month.

It is critical to ensure that time to attend school- and cluster-based training is formally included within teachers’ schedules.  As often as possible, school-based trainings should occur during school hours, such as during mutual planning periods.

  1. Who facilitates?

Proper selection of trained and qualified facilitators is critical to sustain the TPD program. Depending on the scale of the TPD program, multiple profiles of individuals can be appointed to support the school- and cluster-based TPD model.  Explicit roles and expectations for each profile of individuals help to formalize a transparent selection and appointment process. Here are some examples of the profiles of individuals/groups and their responsibilities in a school- and cluster-based model:

  • Individual school-based sessions will require facilitators. School-level facilitators can range from being peer teachers to school principals.
  • A cluster-level facilitator should be appointed to oversee activities at the cluster level. These facilitators can be a head teacher, a supervisor of the school (typically the cluster center), or an exemplary teacher.
  • Within each state/province, a zonal facilitator can be appointed to disseminate the content prepared at state/central level, organize trainings, and ensure that each cluster has the required resources.
  • At state- or province-level, a coordinator should be appointed to oversee all the zones within the state.

Depending on the context, the decision on the individual who supports these sessions can range from more organic to highly systematic. In Ethiopia, for example, cluster-level facilitators (known as “key teachers”) are appointed by each individual cluster. At times, the key teachers are selected by principals and, at other times, by other teachers. Throughout implementation, efforts to review and assess implementation fidelity of different actors is essential to ensure that practices are being executed as originally intended in the program design (for further reading: Coach M&E guide).

  1. How to support the facilitators?

Facilitators, like teachers, also need to be trained and supported at both cluster and school levels. For example, in Indonesia, two facilitators within each cluster are formally trained on how to run cluster sessions and on the session content . In addition, facilitators should be given structured materials such as that help to support high-quality, self-paced school-level meetings. Ensuring participation and parallel training of school leaders (including head teachers, administrators, and supervisors) can increase buy-in and improve school-based supports to teachers.

  1. How to decide content?

Training needs to be tightly aligned to the needs of the teachers.  Content that responds to local needs must be balanced with a clear vision of the training content and sequence. For example, in settings in which cluster- or school-based approaches are relatively new or local capacity is low, the government or central educational agency should consider designating specific guidelines for training content, supported by highly structured supplementary materials. However, as teachers’ skills gradually advance, the aim should be to introduce more reflective and organic opportunities for adaptation in TPD activities.

The authors of the School- and Cluster-Based Support Guidance Note incorporated a broad range of perspectives and voices on best practices for school- and cluster-based TPD around the world. We thank all who participated in our consultations process and shared their feedback on how to make the guidance note comprehensive, clear, and useful for users. Please continue to reach out to us at coach@worldbank.org to share your thoughts and engage with our work and stay tuned for more opportunities to engage with our work!

Further reading:


Elaine Ding

Analyst, Education Global Practice

Aishwarya Khurana

Consultant for Education Global Practice

Manal Quota

Senior Education Specialist

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