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Improving Teaching and School Leadership for the 21st Century: Lessons From Around the World Part 2

A number of key, overarching lessons emerged from the 2012 International Summit on the Teaching Profession, held in March in New York City. On Friday, Vivien Stewart, Senior Advisor for Education, Asia Society, shared the first two. Today she continues.

By Vivien Stewart

Third: The issue of matching teacher supply and demand is one with which many countries are struggling. In fact, some countries reveal a worrying downward spiral. Teacher shortages lead to lower standards for entry, producing lowered confidence in the profession, resulting in more prescriptions to teachers, which in turn tend to drive the most talented teachers out of the profession. By contrast to this vicious cycle, the highest performing countries have found ways to maintain or continually raise the quality of teachers, producing a virtuous cycle of improvement.

Improving the balance between teacher supply and demand is complex and multidimensional, since it involves expanding the overall supply of high-quality teachers, addressing shortages in specific subjects, recruiting teachers to the neediest areas, and retaining teachers over time. Policy responses are needed at two levels: improving the overall attractiveness of the teaching profession, as has been done successfully by a number of countries at the Summit, and more targeted approaches to getting teachers into high-need areas. In many high-performing countries, there is a professional expectation that teachers will work in schools serving lower-income students as part of their career path. Some countries also 'grow their own' teachers in rural areas where there are shortages. However, in places where these practices do not yet exist, more innovation and research is needed on how to get high-quality teachers into difficult areas. This could include compensation incentives. But it will also be critical to link teacher distribution policies with other strong support measures for disadvantaged schools, including social supports and effective school leadership.

Fourth: As countries devolve more authority to the school level for meeting the complex educational goals of the 21st century, the difference between effective and ineffective leadership becomes very clear. A consistent thread throughout the Summit discussions was that high-performing systems rely on effective leadership at the school level, and are implementing new standards and policies to ensure professionalized recruitment, systematic and high-quality training experiences, and ongoing support and appraisal of principals. In these systems, school leaders do not focus on "bells, buildings, and buses" but on what matters most: supporting the development of effective teaching, setting school goals, measuring performance, strategically allocating resources for teaching and learning, and partnering with community institutions to support the development of the whole child.

Since a single person cannot carry out all of the leadership functions of a school, distributed or collaborative teacher leadership models are necessary, both to strengthen leadership and to create career paths for talented teachers. There is considerable innovation around the world in creating new standards for principals and new models of leadership development but relatively little research so far on their effectiveness. There also needs to be more attention to building the leadership capacity of school teams, not just of individual leaders, and to developing succession plans to ensure a supply of future leaders.

Fifth: Summit participants agreed on the need to think and act systemically for reforms to have a powerful impact. The necessary improvements reach further than one or two quick fixes; they involve a number of elements that all need attention and need to be aligned. High-quality education for all students is the result of a system, not just the work of individual highly effective teachers, or of school leaders who create pockets of excellence. High-performing countries take a systems approach to improving the teaching profession, from recruitment through initial training and induction, to ongoing professional development, assessment, and career paths. They also make teacher policy part of a more comprehensive approach, linked to curriculum change, school management reform, and attention to equity.


Accomplishing changes of this magnitude will require the partnership of all the stakeholders in education—not just the ministers, teacher union leaders, and teacher leaders who were at the Summit, but also employers, schools of education, university professors, the media, parents, and students, who will be increasingly responsible for their own learning in the 21st century. In the United States, as a result of the 2011 and 2012 International Summits on the Teaching Profession, Secretary Duncan, the presidents of AFT and NEA, the director of CCSSO, and the heads of four other education associations signed a shared vision, "Transforming the Teaching Profession" to begin to address these issues. Bringing about large-scale change in tough economic times will require trade-offs and fresh thinking by all institutions. But with teaching morale low, and with the need to recruit about one million new teachers into the profession over the next four to six years, now is the time to make transformational change. The world's highest-performing countries have shown that it can be done.

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