Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from around the world

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Mar 2011


Teachers and school leaders are being challenged to transform educational outcomes, often under difficult conditions. They are being asked to equip students with the competencies they need to become active citizens and workers in the 21st century. They need to personalize learning experiences to ensure that every student has a chance to succeed and to deal with increasing cultural diversity in their classrooms and differences in learning styles. They also need to keep up with innovations in curricula, pedagogy and the development of digital resources.

The challenge is to equip all teachers, and not just some, for effective learning in the 21st century. This will require rethinking of many aspects, including: how to optimize the pool of individuals from which teacher candidates are drawn; recruiting systems and the ways in which staff are selected; the kind of initial education recruits obtain before they start their job and how they are monitored and inducted into their service and the continuing education and support they get; how their compensation is structured; and how the performance of struggling teachers is improved and the best performing teachers are given opportunities to acquire more status and responsibility.

In many high-performing education systems teachers do not only have a central role to play in improving educational outcomes, they are also at the centre of the improvement efforts themselves. In these systems it is not that top-down reforms are ordering teachers to change, but that teachers embrace and lead reform, taking responsibility as professionals. Also, in almost every country surveyed by OECD ’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS ), the large majority of teachers report that they are satisfied with their jobs and consider that they make a real difference in education. T hey also make significant investments in their professional development, both in terms of their time and often also in terms of money, an investment that goes hand-in-hand with teachers’ reporting that they use a wider repertoire of pedagogic strategies in the classroom.

The International Summit on the Teaching Profession brings together education ministers, union leaders and other teacher leaders from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems to review how best to improve teacher quality and the quality of teaching and learning. This background report, taking up the four themes of the summit in turn, presents available evidence about what can make teacher-oriented reforms effective, and highlights selected examples of reforms that have produced specific results, show promise or illustrate imaginative ways of implementing change. Of the four themes of the summit, the first three look at system features that shape particular aspects of teachers’ professional careers. The fourth theme looks at process, and considers what can make reform effective. Specifically, the report considers:

  • How teachers are recruited into the profession and trained initially. In face of widespread shortages that, in many countries, will soon grow as large cohorts retire, intelligent incentive structures are needed to attract qualified graduates into the teaching force. Pay levels can be part of this equation. However, countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just deliverers of the curriculum.
  • How teachers are developed in service and supported. Surveys show large variations across and within countries in the extent of professional development. Not only the quantity but also the nature of this activity is critical. O ften, the professional development of teachers is disjointed in one-off courses, while teachers in TALIS reported that the most effective development is through longer programs that upgrade their qualifications or involve collaborative research into improving teaching effectiveness. TALIS also shows that in expanding opportunities, teachers have often played a significant role in sharing the cost of development: those who did have tended to get more out of it, as did those who make development a collaborative activity, working together with colleagues to improve practices. A further issue related to supporting teachers in service is the extent to which their conditions of employment and their career prospects can be adapted to meet their needs and aspirations.
  • How teachers are evaluated and compensated. Results from TALIS show that, at its best, appraisal and feedback is supportive in a way that is welcomed by teachers. It can also help lead to self-improvement and be part of efforts to involve teachers in improving schools. At present, most teachers do not feel that school leaders use appraisal to recognize good performance, which suggests that a key component of appraisal is appropriate training for those conducting the appraisals. A connected issue, which also requires sensitive handling, is the criteria used to link rewards with performance. Whatever system is used must be fair, based on multiple measures, and transparently applied in ways that involve the teaching profession.
  • How teachers are engaged in reform. Fundamental changes to the status quo can cause uncertainties that trigger resistance from stakeholders; and without the active and willing engagement of teachers, most educational reforms fail. The chances for success in reform can improve through effective consultation, a willingness to compromise and, above all, through the involvement of teachers in the planning and implementation of reform. I n moving beyond consultation to involvement, the reform process becomes oriented towards transforming schools into learning organizations, with teaching professionals in the lead.

While it is meaningful for the Summit to structure the discussion into the above four themes, the chapters in this background report should not be considered in isolation. In fact, their interdependence is key to understanding the nature of the policy and implementation challenges. For example, simply raising entrance standards for teachers will choke off the supply of teachers unless compensation and working conditions are aligned. Raising pay and changing working conditions alone will not automatically translate into improvements in teacher quality unless standards are raised. Teacher evaluation systems will have limited impact if they only relate to compensation but not professional development and career advancement. Giving teachers more autonomy can be counterproductive if the quality and education of the teachers are inadequate.

The background report was drafted by Andreas Schleicher, in consultation with the Summit co-sponsors, based on reports of the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS ); OECD ’s comparative policy review Teachers Matter; the reports of the ILO /UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations concerning Teaching Personnel; OECD ’s annual data collection Education at a Glance; OECD ’s report Strong Performers and Successful Reformers; OECD ’s review of Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes; OECD ’s study Evaluating and Rewarding the Quality of Teachers - International Practices; OECD’s report Making Reform Happen and the outcomes from the recent meeting of OECD Education Ministers in November 2010.

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