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Five Lessons from the International Summit on the Teaching Profession

With the 2012 International Summit on the Teaching Profession about to get underway next week, it's a good time to look back on the lessons that emerged from last year's Summit. My colleague Vivien Stewart summarized it this way:

Countries around the globe are reforming national and regional education policies to increase access and raise student achievement, but no policies will succeed unless there is stronger capacity at the school level to raise the efficacy of teachers and to enhance teaching and learning.

How to achieve consistency in teaching quality has now become central to the agenda of every education system, and the central focus of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

Five lessons emerged:

First: Significant change is possible. Contrary to what is often assumed, a high-quality teaching force is not due simply to a traditional cultural respect for teachers; it is a result of deliberate policy choices that are carefully implemented over time. Don't get me wrong: Cultural context clearly matters. Different cultures have different ideas about the role of teachers and the teaching profession. Nevertheless, there are many success stories to share. The highest-performing countries show that thoughtfully designed and purposefully executed systemic efforts can build a high-quality teacher workforce. This was one very hopeful message that resulted from the Summit.

Second: To succeed, reform efforts cannot tackle just one small piece of the puzzle but must instead be part of a comprehensive approach. Teacher policy needs to be linked to curriculum and school-management reform. New kinds of school leadership, for example, are central to creating and sustaining the conditions that make professional practice possible. High-quality education is the result of a system, not just of the work of individual teachers. If you put a high-quality teacher recruit into a dysfunctional school environment, the "system wins every time." The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers—but neither will the quality of teaching exceed the quality of the systems in place to recruit, train, develop, and advance teachers.

Third: High-performing systems build their human resource systems by putting the energy up front in attracting, training, and supporting good teachers rather than on the back end of reducing attrition and firing weak teachers. Trust, cooperation, and a common ethical commitment to equality through education are required of all the institutions involved, including the colleges and universities that educate our future teachers.

Fourth: Making teaching an attractive profession requires more than recruitment campaigns. It means supporting continuous learning; developing career structures to give new roles to master teachers; and engaging strong teachers as active agents in school reform, not just as implementers of plans designed by others. Teachers need to be respected as skillful professionals and active masters of educational advancement. This will require strengthening the knowledge base of education and developing a culture of research and reflection in schools, so that teaching and learning can be based on the best available knowledge.

Fifth: The area of sharpest discussion and disagreement was certainly the design and implementation of fair and effective teacher-evaluation systems. On this issue, a host of questions and issues were raised: 1) the balance between teacher and school evaluations; 2) the definition of quality, and which criteria to use; 3) the need for evaluator training; 4) ways to protect teachers from discrimination; 5) whether and how evaluations should be tied to compensation; 6) the dangers of distorting an education system by relying on narrow measures of effectiveness; and finally, 7) the importance of seeing teacher evaluation within the broader context of what makes a successful education system. All of these are issues and questions that must be addressed in future work on this subject.

In order to make progress on any of these fronts, it will be essential for governments and teachers' organizations to work together to invent a new vision for the teaching profession. The 2012 Summit is a good step toward this.

There is no quick formula for raising the status and quality of teaching. It requires a long-term commitment—one that transcends government terms. It will also be necessary to move from a conversation among elites to engage a broader dialogue with other stakeholders in the system. How could the dialogue that took place at this Summit be extended so that it reached parents, students, employers, and taxpayers in every school district? Several participants suggested that information and social-media technologies could be used to give broader voice to teachers, parents, students, and others who have a stake in the success of the education system.

To that end, this year the opening and closing of the Summit will be webcast.

The opening session will be broadcast at 1:00 PM ET/10:00 AM PT on March 14. The closing session webcast is at 3:30 PM ET /12:30 PM PT on March 15.

Read the full report of the 2011 International Summit and accompanying background reports.

Asia Society isa co-sponsor of the Summit together with the U.S. Department of Education, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Education International (EI), National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), and WNET New York Public Media.

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