What does it mean to think of teachers as professionals?

By Pablo Fraser

Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

On 19 June, we will release the most recent results of our Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). For over a decade now, TALIS has served as a platform for teachers and school leaders to voice their opinions on the quality of their school and classroom environments. In its third iteration, TALIS collected indicators and developed policy guidelines that focus on professionalising the work of teachers and school leaders.

What does it mean to understand that our teachers and school leaders are recognised as professionals? Most people have spent a significant amount of their lives inside a school, and many probably think they are able to identify what makes a “good” teacher or principal. But being a professional encompasses much more than being “good” at work.

For TALIS, a “professional” is someone who is able to make autonomous and expertise-based actions and decisions about their work. Their actions and decisions are grounded in a specialised set of knowledge and skills stemming from both quality training and constant collaboration and dialogue with peers and other stakeholders.

For educational communities, understanding that teachers and school leaders are recognised as “professionals” means having high expectations of them. It means they should not only conduct their work in an effective manner, but work to improve their skills, collaborate with colleagues and parents, and think creatively about the challenges they face. But, if we expect teachers and schools leaders to behave as professionals, we should treat them as such. This means that educational stakeholders must have an open and direct dialogue with the teaching profession in order to design the guidelines and allocate the resources needed to help teachers and school leaders further develop as professionals.

To provide empirical evidence in support of these actions, TALIS organises its indicators and policy messages under five pillars: the knowledge and skills required to teach; the perceived prestige of the profession; career opportunities; the collaborative culture among teachers; and the level of professional responsibility and autonomy of teachers and school leaders.

Teachers and school leaders need the support of educational communities in order to succeed at their work.

The first volume of TALIS, Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, focuses on the first pillar of teachers’ and school leaders’ professionalism: the knowledge and skills dimension of their work. Every profession needs a specialised set of knowledge and skills that distinguishes it, and from which practitioners draw their legitimacy and prestige. As such, the indicators for this volume will focus on how teachers continuously change their practices and support students to develop cognitive and social emotional skills in a changing world.

But, as previously mentioned, teachers and school leaders need the support of educational communities in order to succeed at their work. To this end, the report will also describe mechanisms that enhance the knowledge and skills base of teachers and principals in both initial preparation and continuous professional development.

Our report will answer the following questions, among others: what practices are teachers using in the classroom, and how have they changed over time? What practices are implemented in schools in relation to student diversity? Why do teachers join the profession and how are they prepared in their early years on the job? At what kind of schools do teachers start their career? What kind of professional development do teachers and principals participate in, and how do they feel about it?

The answers to these questions will come from teachers and school leaders across all regions of the world. Indeed, the new TALIS reflects data from 260,000 teachers over 15,000 schools across 48 countries and economies. Together, this represents an estimated population of 8 million teachers. This kind of feedback has never been as widely collected as it is in TALIS – which is what makes this study so important. When the results are released later this month, they will provide a unique (and invaluable) window into how the roles of teachers and school leaders are being professionalised across the world.

Join us on 19 June for the release of the new Teaching and Learning International Survey.

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