Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Empowering teachers with high-quality professional development

by Fabian Barrera-Pedemonte
UCL Institute of Education and Thomas J. Alexander Fellow

Today marks World Teacher’s Day, which aims to address the challenge of mobilising a roadmap for teachers towards 2030. UNESCO acknowledges that a considerable intensification of effort is needed to provide sufficiently qualified, motivated and supported teachers. To underline the task ahead according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, countries will need to recruit a total of 12.6 million primary teachers by 2020. However, the question remains for policy makers is how can they provide for the demand and development of teachers while maintaining quality education? Teacher policies are complex and interdependent, and well-performing countries do not necessarily converge in this regard.

A new OECD working paper “High-Quality Teacher Professional Development and Classroom Teaching Practices: Evidence from TALIS 2013” advocates for more sensitive measures to capture the actual support experienced by teachers in the light of their professional development opportunities. It examines the association between crucial features of professional development and effective teaching practices across 35 countries and economies that participated in TALIS 2013.

Discussions between experts and stakeholders have looked at teachers’ annual participation in activities of professional development which, gives an indication of how much guidance and support they receive in their careers. However, research has shown that availability of in-service training is not the problem - it is the quality of training received that makes all of the difference. The challenge for policy makers is to identify and select the features of professional development that are more likely to modify and improve teaching practices.

The paper suggests that a global monitoring of the support given to teachers could measure the quality of teacher professional development as a key indicator of progress.

Certain features of teacher professional development are more important than others for the adoption of quality teaching practices. Curriculum focused development is clearly more related to the adoption of classroom practices than pedagogy and subject matter focused training. By stimulating collaboration between teachers, where they share and support their learning process, shows a systematically positive association with all reported teaching methods.

However, the findings also show that is not so much that one particular feature that makes a quality TPD programme, but rather a combination of characteristics. TPD that has an active learning approach, incorporates teacher from the same school, promotes collaboration between teachers, is carried out over the long term, and is curriculum focused was positively associated with the strategies carried out by teachers to improve students’ learning in practically all of the 35 countries and economies that participated in TALIS 2013. In general, these results suggest that the higher the exposure of teachers to high-quality TPD, the greater the chance they report using a wide variety of teaching methods in the classroom. Furthermore, this dimension is cross-culturally comparable, making it highly relevant when it comes to looking at contrasting countries with diverse historical and social development. 

This paper suggests the following policies for consideration for teacher professional development:

  • encouraging teachers’ engagement in curriculum-focused and collaborative learning activities or research with other teachers
  • developing strategies to monitor its quality  whilst ensuring national standards and assurance procedures
  • removing barriers due to gender or other factors  identified at the national or local level (e.g. ethnicity, types of schools, etc.)
  • ensuring that teachers who have not completed initial training are also exposed to high-quality support in this area.
Exposure to high quality teacher professional development varies greatly both between and within countries, which broadens the scope of work for policy makers. The global education agenda is undeniably ambitious and the teaching profession will be a key to fulfilling these goals for the benefit of societies worldwide.

OECD Education Working Paper No. 141: High-Quality Teacher Professional Development and Classroom Teaching Practices: Evidence from TALIS 2013

TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning
Photo credit: Vector illustration of poster to the World teacher's day on the gradient green background @Fotolia

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