It is never too late to invest in teachers’ professionalism

By Markus Schwabe

Statistician, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Initial education and induction programmes are the first important steps in teachers’ professional development. These phases equip teachers with basic knowledge and skills, as well as practical experience. But this is just the starting point on a continuum of lifelong professional development that can help teachers to grow in the profession and improve their practice.

When it comes to the content and pedagogy of the subjects they teach, lower secondary teachers generally feel well prepared, according to results from our latest Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). But less than half feel well prepared in areas of growing importance, such as using technology in teaching, teaching cross-curricular skills, or teaching in multicultural or multilingual environments. This could be attributed to teachers’ education and training in many countries, which traditionally focus on subject-based instruction, rather than new cross-curricular, problem-solving or project-based forms of teaching.

Results from TALIS further underscore this trend. Most teachers say they often use practices related to the clarity of instruction, like explaining what they expect students to learn or drawing connections between new and old topics. But they do not often use practices that require students to evaluate, integrate and apply knowledge within the context of problem solving. No more than half of teachers use practices that require students to work in small groups, for instance, or that present challenges for which there is no obvious solution.

Participating in induction and mentoring programmes… triggers a virtuous cycle for teachers’ continuous learning.

Participating in induction and mentoring programmes has a positive impact on teaching quality and student learning, and triggers a virtuous cycle for teachers’ continuous learning. According to TALIS, however, only about one out of three teachers participated in formal or informal induction activities during their first year of employment.

It is far more common for teachers to participate in professional development. In most countries, more than nine out of ten teachers attended training activities in the past year, according to TALIS. Participating in such activities not only allows teachers to update their knowledge and skills, but also positively affects their self-efficacy and job-satisfaction, resulting in an overall positive impact on teaching quality and learning outcomes.

There are three main areas in which countries can improve their professional development programmes:

  • Promoting collaborative professional development activities. According to TALIS, lower secondary teachers most frequently participate in traditional types of professional development activities – such as attending courses or seminars and reading professional literature – while less than half of teachers pursue collaborative professional development activities like peer-to-peer learning or participating in professional networks. Previous TALIS findings have shown that if teachers frequently participate in activities like collaborative professional learning, classroom observations, exchanging materials with colleagues and jointly teaching classes, they are more likely to have greater confidence about their work. Furthermore, participating in professional development that teachers consider to have an impact on their practices is correlated with higher job satisfaction and confidence at work. Promoting collaborative forms of professional development could therefore help teachers to become more efficacious and satisfied, resulting in higher-quality teaching.
  • Better aligning professional development programs with teachers’ needs. Detailed data on the offer of and demand for professional development activities are largely lacking in most countries, but TALIS provides some insights. Teachers reported a high need for training in new (and often challenging) areas such as teaching students with special needs, teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings and technological skills for teaching; but in general, two out of five teachers report that there is no relevant professional development offered at their school. A systematic analysis of teachers’ needs for professional development activities could help countries meet their demands more effectively.
  • Reducing barriers to participation. Time limitations, financial constraints and a lack of incentives often hinder participation in professional development activities. According to TALIS, this is the case for one out of two teachers. Allowing time to participate in professional development, reducing costs for participants or creating incentives for participation could help to lift these barriers.

Most teachers are highly motivated, having joined the profession to influence the development of children and young people, or to contribute to society more broadly. Effective teacher training can help tap their hidden potential, delivering benefits to both teachers and students alike.

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