Perspectives of Teaching around the world
Teacher effectiveness has rapidly raised to the top of the education policy agenda, as many nations have become convinced that teaching is one of the most important school-related factors in student achievement (OECD). And teacher preparation and development are key building blocks in developing effective teachers. This article describes teacher education in jurisdictions around the world that have well-developed systems for recruiting, preparing, inducting and supporting teachers. Examining their efforts is valuable for a number of reasons. First, they broaden the view of what is possible. Second, international comparisons show how ideas work in practice at the system level.
While the educator development systems of Finland, Canada, Australia and Singapore differ in significant ways, what they have in common is that they are just that – systems for teacher and leader development. In the small countries of Finland and Singapore, these systems operate at the national level; in the larger countries of Australia and Canada, they operate at the state or provincial level. In every case, these systems include multiple, coherent and complementary components associated with recruiting, developing, and retaining talented individuals to support the overall goal of ensuring that each school is populated by effective teachers. The systems in these nations encompass the full range of policies that affect the development and support for teachers and school leaders, including the recruitment of qualified individuals into the profession; their preparation; their induction; their professional development; their evaluation and career development; and their retention over time. Leaders in these jurisdictions recognize that all of these policies need to work in harmony or the systems will become unbalanced. For example, placing too strong an emphasis on recruitment without concomitant attention on development and retention could result in a continual churn within the teaching profession.
Developing a strong collaborative learning community requires daily work and commitment.
A collaborative learning community (CLC) is a purposefully structured and actively maintained classroom culture within which teachers and students take on full membership in support of the contributions of each individual member. The CLC is planned in advance with an eye toward sustainability, and it’s a key piece of the ongoing work of the students and teachers.
When most people think about building a learning community, they envision kids doing get-to-know-you games, tossing a ball across a circle, or stepping through hula hoops or over ropes. But building community is a process, not an event. It needs to be designed in the same way that you plan your lessons—building upon assessments, structuring the work so that students can be successful but challenged, and always looking for new ways to get the point across.
The CLC is a classroom culture. Classroom culture, just like school culture, is simply “the way we do things around here.” It’s the rituals, traditions, expectations, and experiences you and your students share together every day.
In the CLC, however, the culture is created intentionally to foster inclusivity, interdependence, and safety. It isn’t something that happens behind the scenes. It isn’t the responsibility of the teacher alone (at least, beyond the second or third day of school). It’s something in which teachers and students take on full membership, something that is assessed and discussed frequently and openly. It functions in support of the contributions of each individual member.
Each CLC will include rituals and traditions that combine unique elements of each class of students with long-standing experiences anticipated by incoming classes.
Class trips to a specific destination (e.g., the fifth grade always takes a trip to Washington, DC, in the spring, kindergarten always goes apple picking), grade-level projects (the Romanticism notebook in 11th-grade English, the egg drop competition in eighth-grade science), and annual events (spring picnic, fall pumpkin carving, the school carnival) can build common expectations and experiences that provide benchmarks for students, rites of passage that they can point to as evidence that they are part of a community and that they hold a specific place within that community.
Strategies for Reframing Observations
Few teachers get to choose when their observations occur. But when observations are done by invitation, teachers drive the narrative. They can choose lessons that highlight activities and moments of learning that they are excited to share, repositioning the entire paradigm around observations to make them joyful and less burdensome.
Teachers can also invite leaders when they are experiencing problems or challenges, positioning the visit as an opportunity to seek advice and collaborate on finding solutions. By showing up on a teacher’s terms, leaders build trust, affirming to the teacher that their success is among the leader’s highest priorities.
Regardless of what happened in the observation, thank the teacher. The goal is to make the observation process one that is welcoming. A short email with genuine praise does the trick. A handwritten note goes even further, especially if it includes specific details on what aspects of the lesson stood out.
Celebrate teachers who stepped up and volunteered to be seen, even if the lesson was less than outstanding. If we don’t respond favorably to their risk-taking, word will go out that the by-invitation technique is a gotcha, and no one will want to participate.
To put this concept into action, set up an online site where teachers can invite you to witness lessons. Coordinating schedules may necessitate some logistical maneuvering for leaders who juggle competing priorities. However, teachers will be more ready to find time to accommodate you if they believe their invites are valuable.
Leaders want teachers to feel at ease with the observation process, but do we follow through with a collaborative spirit? With this technique, the school leader and teacher meet for a planning session; then the school leader takes over the class while the teacher watches. While this technique is most successful with beginner instructors for modeling reasons, it is critical to involve all teachers to build trust and capacity. Otherwise, we transmit the impression that seasoned instructors do not require professional development, which is far from the case.
The follow-up to the leader’s teaching session is critical in terms of making significant changes to school culture around observation methods. While the instructor and leader have already met to prepare, everyone must process what they’ve learned. The teacher or leader can present data that is qualitative, quantitative, or a combination of both while providing feedback. If the teacher scripted what the leader said, the conversation may be a qualitative data point. A count of who raised their hands or the findings of a fast formative evaluation is examples of quantitative data.
The debrief is based on facts rather than opinions. This focus on information and not individuals not only will help the teacher form a closer bond with the leader but also can help both parties become more introspective and empathic.