A lesson in teaching from the grassroots

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General

I was in London last week to give a talk on “how to transform 10,000 classrooms” at the annual Teach First/Teach for All conference in London. Some 3,000 teachers and social entrepreneurs from around the world gathered there to discuss ways to re-invent and strengthen the teaching profession. The aspiration of the organisations under the Teach for All umbrella is to enlist promising future leaders from across academic disciplines and careers to teach at least two years in high-need schools and become lifelong promoters of educational quality and equity.

The enthusiasm, commitment and growing professionalism of these grassroots organisations was inspiring. I heard many stories of people who had left successful careers to join the teaching force in order to make a significant impact on the lives of disadvantaged children. In some countries, participation levels have reached the critical mass to have a transformative impact on student achievement, and have made the success of this work both scalable and sustainable. Wendy Kopp, who co-founded Teach for America 22 years ago, recounted the evolution of her organisation from a small group of friends to one that reaches more than 750,000 students. In New Orleans, 25% of teachers are now from Teach for America. In the UK, too, Teach First is now the third largest recruiter of graduates and reaches over 150,000 children.

Still more impressive were the stories told by the young participants who had designed and were delivering intensive training courses for 400 teachers per year in Nigeria – a country with an essentially non-existent teacher-training infrastructure; and a participant from China shared how she was collaborating with local governments to build urgently needed teaching capacity in remote rural areas.

Critics of these organisations maintain that there is just no alternative to the traditional route of undergraduate studies, teacher training and then a career in the classroom. But those critics may simply underestimate the potential for creativity in the field of education that this combination of talent, passion and experience represents. The fact that, in many countries, these programmes are now so attractive that they can recruit the most promising candidates, even where the general status of the teaching profession is in decline, speaks for itself. We should also not overlook the rapid professionalisation of these organisations, which combine intensive initial training, ongoing support, and a work environment in which teachers work together to create good practice. They also offer intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers, and support teachers in their efforts to find innovative ways of teaching.

What struck me most is the vision of social transformation behind all this work – extending from teacher leadership through school leadership, policy and political leadership, up to community organisation. The work of these organisations can complement the OECD’s efforts to design and implement policies by challenging the teaching profession and education systems from within. We should do what we can to engage with them.


Photo credit: Grass roots / Shutterstock


Elaine said…
Teach First is indeed highly visible and the rhetoric of the stories of success are very convincing. The organisation is indeed able to recruit outstanding new graduates. However, less than half of those joining the programme will stay beyond the mandatory two years. Furthermore there is no evidence to show that that they are doing a better job than other teachers who choose other routes into the profession.
What is clear is that Teach First receives much higher levels of government funding pro rata in the UK. They are also extremely expert at marketing their brand and obtaining funding from large multinational companies which helps them to spread their stories. At the same time funding into other routes into teaching is being cut and the current UK government regularly vilifies teachers and teacher education openly in the media.
It would be useful to hear more from you about why you feel the need to challenge the teaching profession? Are we not all trying to achieve the same goals?
‘The work of these organisations can complement the OECD’s efforts to design and implement policies by challenging the teaching profession and education systems from within. We should do what we can to engage with them’
Marilyn Leask said…
Many governments play around with structures in education whether of buildings, or of teacher training in a hope that student results will improve. Yet the knowledge base for educational practice, which provides the foundations for educational prctice is rarely if ever discussed.
Teachers, which ever way they are trained find it virtually impossible to access, at the time they need it and in a way that is useful, research based knowledge about effective teaching of threshold concepts.
Enthusiam and hope are not a substitute for deep knowledge. Students must grasp these threshold concepts before they can access the next stage of learning that is planned for them.
A group of teacher educators are working on these problems in response to the challenge laid down by the OECD in the 2009 Talis report.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD, 2009, p.3) called for the “creation of ‘knowledge-rich’,
evidence-based education systems,” because
“in many countries, education is still far from being a
knowledge industry in the sense that its own practices are not
yet being transformed by knowledge about the efficacy of
those practices.” Anyone wanting to address these issues is welcome to join us - go to www.educationcommunities.org and click Education Futures

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