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Teacher Professional Development: International Practices

(sunara/istockphoto)

(sunara/istockphoto)

There are great teachers the world over. Despite this, education systems in many countries struggle to retain and offer continuing education for their teaching force. As US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “Nothing is more important … than the quality and skill of the person standing in the front of the class.”

The teaching profession was once widely viewed as one of the most respected professions with a stable, long career path. Times change, and teaching is now facing challenges on many fronts.

Teachers are no longer highly respected in many countries by students, parents and the community. In many western countries, educators are seen as bureaucrats maintaining an old system that is not responsive to the needs of today’s students. The factory model of delivering lessons in an agrarian-based school-day and school-year schedule no longer appeals to urban students who are accustomed, despite their young age, to anytime, anywhere entertainment and learning that has come with the Internet age.

This isn’t the fault of any one individual, but rather a symptom of large education systems that are difficult to change. The first step to change is having a vision of what excellent education will produce, and a reform plan to make it happen.

Asia Society convened an international symposium on teacher quality in April 2010. One finding is high-performing countries put much more energy into recruiting, preparing, and supporting good teachers, rather than finding ways to work with or fire weak ones.

What follows are promising practices in teacher professional development.

Hiring

Highly centralized educational systems are starting to decentralize some authority and responsibilities to the local level. The best-performing nations have moved to school-based decision-making within a framework of centralized standards and equitable distribution of resources. In some countries, the hiring of teachers has moved from the Ministry to the prefecture or municipality and in others, from there to the school.

Induction Programs

Many countries face an attrition rate of teachers during their first five years of service that ranges up to fifty percent in some countries, like the United States.

Induction programs provide a transition from supportive teacher pre-service education to the formal teaching job by providing new teachers additional training, mentoring by an experienced teacher, and/or release time for observing exemplary teachers. Some countries have established formal induction programs for all new teachers, such as the one-year programs of England and Wales, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Northern Ireland and Switzerland. In other countries, induction programs are left to the discretion of individual states or local schools. In Israel, Japan, Northern Ireland and Switzerland, the induction program is carried out with the collaboration of the teacher preparation program and the school. In the other countries, it is the school that is responsible although the components may be established for them by the national government.

Korea and Switzerland provide good examples of different induction programs. Korea offers a two-week pre-employment training program that focuses on classroom management, counseling students, and teacher tasks through the use of case studies and practical tasks. For the first six months of teaching, the new teacher receives “instructional guidance and evaluation, classroom supervision and life guidance, student specialty and aptitude guidance, and supervision of clerical work.” The principal, assistant principal, and mentor teachers lead the work.

Switzerland offers a two-year induction program that is a required component of certification. There are three levels of support provided: Mentor/mentee learning; courses for new teachers through the teacher education program, some of which are required, while others are voluntary; and voluntary consultations with new teachers by the Department of Education in the area. These consultations are requested by new teachers who prefer the confidentiality of talking with someone external to the school. New teachers have the choice of teaching 50%, 80% or 100% of a normal teaching load, though their salaries are commensurate with the percentage. However, there is no evidence to date of the effectiveness of the induction program in Switzerland.

Teacher Professional Development

In most countries, teachers have access to professional development during their tenure in the teaching profession. There are three main strategies for encouraging participation in professional development: entitlement to a specific number of hours or courses as stipulated in a collective bargaining agreement or contract; incentive-based with participation in professional development tied to teacher evaluation results or related to salary increases or opportunities to take on new roles; and the third is school based, linking the school improvement plan to the professional development program of the whole school or certain segments of the faculty of the school.

The challenge with professional development is the lack of coherence in most programs. Teachers pick and choose from a menu of options that may be only tangentially connected to the needs of their students. The second and third strategies of connecting the professional development sessions to either the teacher’s individual needs or the students’ needs as described in the school improvement plan can help, but only if the providers of professional development have aligned their offerings to those needs. Singapore is one of the few countries that has achieved this level of coherence. Japan has developed a system for evaluating the performance of teachers after ten years on the job and identifying the specific development needs that will be part of each teacher’s individual training plan. The actual process must be developed and implemented in each prefecture.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) summarized international best practices in their publication, Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers. The conclusion was:

Effective professional development is ongoing, includes training, practice and feedback, and provides adequate time and follow-up support. Successful programmes involve teachers in learning activities that are similar to ones they will use with their students, and encourage the development of teachers’ learning communities. A key strategy involves finding ways for teachers to share their expertise and experience more systematically. There is growing interest in ways to build cumulative knowledge across the profession, for example by strengthening connections between research and practice and encouraging schools to develop as learning organizations.

This article was written by Dr. Susan F. Sclafani. It was edited for the web. To see the full article, including references, click here