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TPD in Crisis Series, Week 3: TPD and School Leadership (Part 2)

Effective Cambodian Teacher Development Requires Effective Leadership by School Directors

by John Morefield, consultant on leadership and organizational development to schools, school districts and other organizations throughout the United States and Asia

I want to preface this blog by saying that I have worked in Cambodia, off and on, for the past 12 years. I have traveled the country and visited hundreds of classrooms. I have spoken with countless teachers and school directors.  As I make these observations below I want to be clear that these are generalizations, not absolutes.  There are numerous exceptions of remarkable teachers and school directors.

The life of a public school teacher in Cambodia today is not easy.  The pay is not enough to live on.  Corruption is endemic.  And school leadership is, for the most part, poor and is a major de-motivator for teachers (Jago, 2008; Morefield, 2010).  This reality is supported not only by my own observations but also by research studies done over the past five years (CITU 2010-2012; Jago, 2008).  Despite these realities, there are more than enough applicants to the Ministry of Education run teacher preparation programs every year.  A significant number of young people want to be teachers despite the difficulties.

Recovery from the tragic legacy of the Khmer Rouge has been and remains to be a steep climb.  In their preparation programs, most teachers learn how to teach in a teacher centric model. Despite Ministerial policies and guidelines (like Child Friendly Schools, Inclusive Education etc.) rote memory and repetition are the major strategies used with students.  Reading the relatively poor quality textbooks and answering the questions from those books are everyday experiences

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports provides little in the way of professional development for teachers once they are assigned to a school.  However, there are many local and international NGOs and other organizations that offer numerous opportunities for expanding teachers’ knowledge and skills (e.g. World Education, VSO, Teachers Across Borders, World Bank etc.).  And herein lies a significant problem.

Teachers often attend workshops (usually without school colleagues or the school director) and are inspired and motivated to apply their new learning and skills.  Upon returning to school they find no support, no motivation, and no encouragement from the school director, so, in too many cases the teachers revert back to doing what they have done before.

Ineffective school leadership is a huge problem in Cambodia (Morefield, 2010). School directors are political appointees from the leading political party in the country. The vast majority were teachers in the same school they were appointed as school director. Most did not seek the position.  They get paid the same salary as teachers but work whole days instead of half as teachers do.  There is no school director preparation program in the country and the expectation from the District and Provincial Education Offices is that they will simply follow the directives of their superiors.  There is a 20 day management training program for school directors that consists of how to fill out forms properly, how to submit school plans properly etc.  There is only one small section devoted to “leadership”.  So, unless a new school director is a natural born leader or had the opportunity to be mentored by a natural born leader when they were teaching, most will manage just as they were managed – poorly. And this is not good news for Cambodian schools.

Between 2005 and 2010, with support from the World Bank, a Cambodian colleague (Iv Sarik) and I developed a leadership curriculum, trained 70 trainers (with ongoing support, DVDs and modeling) and offered leadership development workshops for hundreds of school directors, deputy directors and district and provincial directors. The workshops were four days in length, using interactive teaching practices (with opportunities for application) and covered a range of topics as basic as “what is leadership” to some rather sophisticated instructional leadership practices. Because authentic data collection is so difficult (e.g. attendance, academic achievement, drop out rates) the research done by the World Bank was qualitative in nature and offered very encouraging conclusions. The curriculum has been adopted by several NGOs to use with school directors with whom they work; is used in at least one province by the Provincial Office with all of its school directors; and will be used by the Asian Development Bank in several provinces in later 2013.  But all of this is just a drop in the bucket.  So much more systemic work is needed.

Because teacher development and student learning are so closely linked with school director leadership improvement (Leithwood et al, 2004), several initiatives need to take place. Among those include:

  1. The Ministry of Education Youth and Sports (MoEYS) should develop and adopt Professional School Director Leadership Standards (based on international input and adapted to the Cambodian reality). These standards should complement the new Curriculum Standards and Teacher Standards, which have already been developed but are not yet implemented.
  2. Money from donor sources and the MoEYS should be used to create a one-year School Director Preparation Program built upon the Leadership Standards.  This program should teach the requisite knowledge, skills and competencies in both effective Management and Leadership. This would enable school directors to have preparation before they become directors.  
  3. A continuous leadership/management professional development in-service program, with funds from MoEYS and donor sources, should be provided for school directors throughout their careers and offered through the national and provincial offices of professional development.
  4. The development of a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership actually is now being offered at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) and is expanding to some for-profit universities. Unfortunately, most master’s degree students are from private P-12 schools or are mid-level Ministerial managers.  For the most part, these graduate degrees are not yet serving public school directors.

“Step by step” is a phrase used often in Cambodia to describe its journey to a new and better society. School leadership professional development is one essential step on that journey.


• Jago, S. et al (2008) Valuing Teachers: Teaching Matters in Cambodia. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
• Leithwood, K. et al (2004) How Leadership Influences Student Learning. Wallace Foundation, USA
• Morefield, J (2010) CESSP Final Report: Leadership Professional Development Program. World Bank, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
• Cambodia Independent Teachers Union (2011) First Report on the CITA National Report 2011. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
• Cambodia Independent Teachers Association (2010-2012) Teachers Salaries and Terms and Conditions: Position Paper. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
• United Nations Country Team (2009) Situation Analysis of Youth in Cambodia. Phnom Penh, Cambodia


John Morefield is a consultant on leadership and organizational development to schools, school districts and other organizations throughout the United States and Asia.  During his more than 35 years in education, he has served as teacher, counselor, principal (for 24 years), and education director, all within multicultural communities in Seattle, Washington. He was principal of 4 schools in Seattle Public Schools.  He deals extensively with educational leadership issues, especially as they apply to principals and superintendents working to bring about educational justice for all students, particularly those living in poverty and students of color.

He also was on the faculty of the Danforth Leadership Preparation Program at the Univ. of Washington for 24 years.  Since 2001 he and his wife, Kathy, have been volunteering in Cambodia where he has co-created a leadership development program for public school Cambodian principals.  They stay 3 to 4 months a year in Cambodia.

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