Improving the quality of teacher professional development
The fact that teaching is a serious profession is not given much weight—even by those of us who work with teachers. Within the international education community, there is often a tacit belief that anyone can help teachers teach. This perception hurts the teaching profession; it damages the work we are trying to do as a community; and it is insulting to teachers.
On World Teachers Day, those of us in the international education community might do teachers no better service than to reflect on our own work with them—do we consistently give teachers the professional respect and quality learning opportunities they deserve? We could then focus on the professional development we do and think about how we might do it better.
- Develop standards for high-quality teacher professional development
Standards—for professional development and professional development providers—are the foundation of any professional learning system. As a community, we need to establish a set of quality professional development standards to which donors and those receiving donor funding adhere.
Standards commit us to quality practice; they hold us accountable for professional learning based on excellence, not expedience; and they signal to teachers the kind of professional development they can expect to receive.
- Ensure the professional qualifications of teacher educators
If the most important school-related factor in a child’s learning is the quality of his or her teacher, it stands to reason that an important factor in successful teacher learning is the quality of the professional development provider.
At the very least, those “teaching” or “coaching” teachers must have substantial experience as teachers and coaches themselves. Like the teachers they teach, teacher educators need deep understanding of content, the skills to use reform-oriented strategies, actual experience teaching children or adolescents, and knowledge of how children and adolescents learn. Additionally, they should understand principles of adult learning and have the sensibilities to nurture and celebrate the iterative process of learning that all teachers go through.
Organizations that provide professional development to teachers must above all draw on educators with a strong background in teaching. Where this is not possible, organizations have a professional duty to prepare staff to be effective and supportive teacher educators. For example, aspiring teacher educators could work under the supervision of a master teacher who assesses their teaching practice and decides on their fitness as a teacher educator.
- Focus on “reform-based” types of professional development
Donor-funded teacher professional development often embodies the most sub-optimal practices in professional learning. It “cascades” learning. It is based on “seat-time”—completion of a certain number of workshop days; it is focused on program implementation requirements versus competency-based learning; it is episodic, and it typically involves one professional learning format—the workshop.
This must change. Professional development should model for teachers the kinds of learning experiences they are expected to facilitate in their own classrooms. It should help teachers demonstrate a set of evidence-based competencies.
And it should provide teachers with the time, support, and professional learning formats (coaching, professional learning communities, mentoring, clinical supervision) so they can integrate professional learning with applied practice and develop a wide repertoire of teaching strategies to meet the needs of diverse groups of learners (Darling-Hammond, et al., 2019).
True respect lies in actions, not just words
Teaching is not simply a technocratic profession. Teaching has a profoundly civic and moral dimension; teachers change the world by leading the complex charge of nurturing and educating the world’s citizens.
As Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan note, “Good teachers love, care, serve and empower.” As an international education community, in our own work with teachers, we should strive to do the same.
Darling-Hammond, L., Oakes, J., Wojcikiewicz, S., Hyler, M., Guha, R., Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Cook-Harvey, C., Jackson Mercer, C., Harrell, A. (2019). Preparing teachers for deeper learning. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute