Why teacher professionalism matters

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

If you were to search for the term teacher professionalism on the Internet, you may come across websites recommending professional dress code or “look” for teachers. Although this may be of some use to a new teacher, appearance is not what most policy makers, school leaders and teachers have in mind when they insist on the need for a quality professional teacher force.
So what exactly do we mean when we talk about teacher professionalism? The new Teaching in Focus brief: Teacher professionalism uses results from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) to show that teacher professionalism is about a teacher’s knowledge, their autonomy and their membership of peer networks. These are the key elements that lead to more effective teaching.
Based on the new OECD report: Supporting teacher professionalism: Evidence from TALIS 2013, the brief shows that different countries focus on different aspects of teacher professionalism. For example, some systems put more emphasis on supporting the teacher knowledge base through activities such as incentivising teacher professional development, some focus on autonomy through giving more decision making to teachers (e.g. over the course offerings or teaching content), and some focus on peer networks through cultivating strong networks of teachers.
These different practices are an important basis for a quality teaching force and they also impact on how teachers feel about their work. Teachers are more satisfied and confident, and have a higher perception of the value of the teaching profession in society, when there is more support for peer networks and development of knowledge base.
Practices that support strong teacher professionalism are particularly beneficial in schools with a high population of socio-economically disadvantaged students, second-learners or students with special needs (high needs schools). Teachers in such schools can face many challenges that are unfamiliar to teachers in well-performing, low needs schools. Unfortunately, practices to support teacher professionalism are, in many countries, less frequent in high than in low needs schools. This is a missed opportunity to provide a boost to teachers in challenging situations, particularly because the positive relationship between teacher professionalism and job satisfaction is amplified in high needs schools.
The OECD report provides clear recommendations to systems wanting to cultivate teaching, and in particular teacher professionalism. To increase teacher professionalism, systems should provide induction and mentoring programmes, create incentives for participating in professional development, and boost teacher collaboration. By supporting these practices, stakeholders can build a teaching force that is more professional, happier and more confident. The results will might not be seen in a teacher’s appearance, but definitely in the quality of the teaching and learning.

Supporting teacher professionalism: Evidence from TALIS 2013
TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning 
A Teachers’ Guide to TALIS 2013: Teaching and Learning International Survey
New Insights from TALIS 2013: Teaching and Learning in Primary and Upper Secondary Education 
Teaching in Focus No. 14: Teacher professionalism
L’enseignement á la Loupe No. 14: Professionnalisme des enseignants
For more on the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS): http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/talis.htm
Photo credit: © Andersen Ross/Inmagine LTD

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