GLOBAL: Train teachers as education researchers: OECD

The most successful countries educationally make teaching an attractive, high status profession, and provide training for teachers to become educational innovators and researchers who have responsibility for reform. These were among findings presented last week at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, the first of its kind, held to identify best practices for recruiting, training and supporting teachers.

The conference in New York City from 16-17 March was attended by education ministers, leaders of education unions and organisations, and teachers from countries with high-performing and rapidly improving education systems.

It was hosted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Education International, the US' National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Asia Society and the public broadcaster WNET.

Countries represented included Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China (Shanghai), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Discussions focused on four areas - teacher recruitment and preparation; development, support and retention of teachers; teacher evaluation and compensation; and teacher engagement in education reform.

The background report Building a High-quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from around the world set the scene.

Prepared by Andreas Schleicher, head of the Indicators and Analysis Division of the OECD's directorate for education, it is based on research from PISA, the organisation's Programme for International Student Assessment, TALIS, its Teaching and Learning International Survey, and other OECD reports, and also draws on outcomes from a meeting of OECD education ministers in November 2010.

To attract high-quality recruits to teaching, research shows the education systems that perform best often aim to recruit their teachers "from the same pool from which all their top professionals are recruited", says the report.

But such people may not be attracted to schools organised in "prescriptive work environments that use bureaucratic management to direct their work", so many successful education systems are those that have been reorganised to replace such bureaucracy with "professional norms providing the status, pay, professional autonomy and high-quality professional education and responsibility that go with professional work", it says.

They also "tend to provide effective systems of social dialogue, and attractive forms of employment that balance flexibility with job security and grant sufficient authority for schools to manage and deploy their human resources", says the report.

As successful examples of systems where "vigorous intervention" has increased the attractiveness of teaching, the report cites Singapore, where "teaching talent is identified and nurtured"; England, which reversed severe teacher shortages; and Finland, where teachers and schools take on responsibility for reform.

As initial teacher training varies significantly across countries, the report says it is beyond its scope to assess policies and practices in ensuring high-quality initial teacher education. But it does identify ways adopted by high-performing countries to educate teachers to become more effective and play an active role in reform.

First, it says education systems benefit from "clear and concise profiles of what teachers are expected to know and be able to do in specific subject areas". These profiles can guide initial teacher education, teacher certification, continuing evaluation, professional development and career advancement, and help assess how effective these elements are.

Second, many countries have moved initial teacher education programmes towards "a model based less on academic preparation and more on preparing professions in school settings, with an appropriate balance between theory and practice".

In these programmes "teachers get into classrooms earlier, spend more time there and get more and better support in the process. This can include extensive course work on how to teach - with strong emphasis on using research based on state-of-the-art practice - and more than a year teaching in a designated school associated with the university, during which time the teacher is expected to develop and pilot innovative practices and undertake research on learning and teaching".

Third, the report finds "more flexible structures of initial teacher education can be effective in opening up new routes into the teaching career without compromising the rigour of traditional routes". The stages of initial training, induction and professional development should be interconnected to create a lifelong learning framework for teachers, it says.

In addition to basic training in subject-matter, pedagogy related to subjects and general pedagogical knowledge, teacher training in many successful countries is also designed to develop skills for reflective practice and on-the-job research, and emphasise teachers' capacity to diagnose student problems and find appropriate solutions.

Shanghai, in the People's Republic of China, and Finland are among places where teachers are trained as action researchers "with the ability to work out ways of ensuring that any student starting to fall behind is helped effectively", says the report.

* The webcast of the closing session of the conference can be viewed here