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Improving Teaching and Leadership for the 21st Century: Lessons from around the World

Asia Society was one of the co-sponsors of the 2012 International Summit on the Teaching Profession, which gathered together ministers of education and teacher union leaders from around the world. Vivien Stewart, Asia Society's Senior Advisor for Education and author of "A World-Class Education: Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation" wrote the Summit report which is now available. Here are the conclusions she gathered from the Summit. Part two will run on Monday.

By Vivien Stewart

Teachers are the single biggest in-school influence on student achievement and the quality of teachers is therefore critical to improving education systems around the world. While high-performing countries have a plentiful supply of high-quality teachers, many countries, like the U.S., struggle to compete with other sectors for teaching and leadership talent. This challenge brought ministers of education, teacher union leaders, outstanding teachers, and school leaders from 23 countries to New York City in March for the 2012 International Summit on the Teaching Profession. The Summit was convened by the United States Department of Education, Organisation for Economic Cooperation (OECD), and Education International in cooperation with U.S.,-based partners the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), Asia Society, and the public broadcaster, WNET. Its goal was to examine the world's best practices in improving teacher quality, with a particular focus on teacher preparation, matching teacher supply and demand, and developing effective school leaders.

A number of key, overarching lessons emerged from the 2012 Summit.

First: The world is changing at seemingly breakneck speed and there was a palpable sense of urgency that the aims and processes of education in the 21st century need to be fundamentally different than those in the 20th. No longer is providing basic literacy skills for the majority of students and higher order skills for a few an adequate goal. Instead, schooling needs to develop a broader range of skills and dispositions for every student including imagination, critical thinking, cross-cultural and global awareness, civic and political engagement, creativity, ingenuity, and inventiveness. To meet these new challenges will require significant strengthening of the teaching profession—in recruitment, preparation, and ongoing support.

The arc of education appears to be shifting from a 20th century knowledge transmission model to one organized around 21st century skills and learning environments. There seems to be a broad consensus across all the participating countries that this is the right direction, albeit with significant caveats about not trivializing subject matter knowledge or basic skills. However, we have a long way to go in understanding how to develop these new skills on a wide scale, how to ensure our teachers have the capacity to teach them, and how to actually create 21st century learning environments. Moreover, there is a fundamental mismatch between these new, more complex goals of schooling and how we currently measure them using large-scale, high-stakes assessments. The gap between the rhetoric of 21st century skills and the reality is very large. Bold steps will be needed to close the gap between what we measure and what we value or we risk driving education systems in the wrong direction.

Second: Significant steps need to be taken to substantially raise the quality and rigor of teacher preparation programs to produce consistently great teachers across the system and give teachers the skills and knowledge that enable them to feel prepared for these new environments. This should include redesigning programs with clear standards for what graduates should know and be able to do in each subject; accountability on the part of teacher preparation programs for ensuring that teachers have these competencies; more emphasis right from the start on guided practice in classroom settings; greater capacity by teachers to use inquiry and problem-solving methods and to incorporate information and communication technology; greater facility by teachers in using student assessment and data to guide instruction; experiences that promote understanding of local and global diversity; and research and diagnostic skills to solve classroom problems based on evidence.
Since even the best pre-service education cannot possibly prepare teachers for all of the challenges and changes they will meet in these rapidly changing times, teachers also need effective forms of professional development. Meaningful mentoring for every new teacher under supervision of a master teacher is particularly important in helping them to become effective practitioners and to reduce the wasteful high attrition rates among new teachers. And to retain experienced talented teachers in schools, it will be important to create career paths from novice to master teacher with consistent professional development, appraisal and feedback, and accompanying increasing responsibility for the instructional quality of the school.

The final three conclusions will be posted on Monday.

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The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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