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Developing and Supporting Teachers Around the World

This post is by Ann Lieberman.

School reformers across the globe are thinking about what it means to be a teacher and how education policies connect to the supports that teachers need in their daily practice.

In China, there are subtle messages to move from rote learning to embrace more project based learning. A recent Beijing conference on education began to unpack this shift among elementary school teachers. Four schools in the U.S. that do project based learning were mated with a group of elementary schools in Beijing and several other cities. Two American teachers from each of the four schools went to a conference that consisted of teachers, principals, and policy makers. The conference videotaped American teachers from the four schools teaching students in Chinese elementary schools. The teachers then appeared in the conference setting to answer questions. The conference participants were excited to see different practices inside their classrooms and to rethink the role of the teacher and the participation of the students. The Chinese-American collaboration on project based learning continues, but one wonders how can these complex ideas take root in both policy and practice, given a vastly different culture?

In the U.S. we are moving toward the Common Core national standards based on our shared acceptance that our assessment system needs to change. States like California are embracing the Common Core, while still emphasizing standardized tests. The state of California is preparing the teachers to use the Common Core in their instruction and to use performance assessments. How can the policies support teacher involvement so that they will have opportunities to learn and teach these new standards?

In Toronto, Teacher Learning and Leadership program began in 2008 invites teachers to write a short proposal to do professional development in their own school and beyond. Early evidence shows that teachers find this kind of trust and respect extraordinary and that they learn leadership by their actual involvement in this program. Since this is a collaboration between the Ministry and the Ontario Teachers Federation, policies support this form of professional development. Will the next election of new policymakers continue to support this successful program that has now involved over 3,000 teachers?

Even in Finland, a new type of mentoring of beginning teachers has been introduced, despite the fact that all their teachers must earn a masters degree with research being an important part of their learning. Can such an addition to their already outstanding results on international tests be continued? Can these kinds of investments be made to an already strong teacher preparation program?

Singapore is one of the few countries that has actually created a career ladder for teachers. Their teachers' attrition rate is very low due to their good salary, opportunities for teachers, and their continuing respect and trust in teachers. What are they doing to create this culture of opportunity? What can we learn from countries like this about a path toward teacher professionalism supported by national policies?

We are in an extraordinary period of history where rapid change, caused in part by the growth of technology, is enveloping many areas of our life, including education. The demands for teachers to engage in continuous learning throughout their careers has never been stronger. Both pre-service programs and professional development programs are slowly changing to involve teachers not just in learning someone else's ideas but in participating in the development of those ideas. Learning from other countries is giving us some innovative and important ways that this is happening. Will teachers be given the time and support to create schools whose policies will enhance the commitment of teachers to be full partners in the changing practices?


Ann Lieberman is a senior scholar at Stanford University.
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