Better classrooms, better education - 7 sustainable ways to improve teacher management
The classroom teacher remains central to quality education, including improved classroom practices and student achievement. While this is widely recognized, education ministries and development partners must strive harder to improve and sustain the entire process of teacher management and development. In the quest to improve overall classroom practice, Early Childhood Education Specialist Sheldon Shaeffer explores seven sustainable ways to improve this process.
The process of teacher management and development is often taken too lightly, is missing or neglects important stages, or is dominated by factors other than performance and merit. Often, it does not become a mechanism for achieving the goals of the education system.
Different entities are also often responsible for different stages of the process: e.g., one department estimates future teacher needs, but another manages the institutions which churn out new teachers, with little attention to workforce needs. Schools in general have very few processes to support new teachers and ensure their continuing development. So what can be done to ensure a greater degree of consistency and sustainability in this lengthy and complex process?
1. Become more selective about recruitment into the profession
Education systems must work harder at trying to ensure that its best students both want to become teachers and are then able to enter good quality pre-service education institutions.
In the past, teachers were often held in high regard by their communities. With the rapid expansion of schooling, many teachers with lower qualifications and less commitment to teaching have now been recruited. This cultural change is exacerbated when teachers, hired as civil servants, begin to feel more accountable up the system rather than out to the community and when administrative responsibilities and concerns over promotion become more important than teaching.
In response to this trend, some countries are attempting to “re-professionalise” teaching by adopting the practices of highly ranked education systems such as Finland and Singapore which select only top-ranked applicants into teacher education, and apply additional criteria such as motivation and suitability. Other countries, including Indonesia , recruit both undergraduate students from science and mathematics faculties and mid-career professionals, providing pedagogical training to qualify them as teachers. The promise of official certification, the guarantee of a job with decent working conditions, and the likelihood of career progression and higher salaries comparable to other professions can also attract better recruits.
2. Ensure high-quality pre-service teacher education
Ministries should periodically review the results of pre-service education and, when necessary, reform its governance, content and methods.
In improving pre-service education systems, Ministries can:
- align pre-service curriculum with actual school curriculum;
- ensure that teacher education lecturers have relevant subject and grade level experience;
- schedule teaching practice early in the training program and ensure frequent exposure to a variety of schools, not just well-resourced university “lab schools”;
- ensure teacher education institutions are responsive to the Ministry’s workforce requirements.
3. Implement rigorous accreditation, certification, and/or qualification processes
Having clearly defined and rigorous standards for becoming a teacher is an important aspect of promoting and sustaining improvement at the classroom level.
The usual process is that aspiring teachers should graduate from or be accredited by a teacher education program and subsequently gain certification or qualification by the Ministry of Education verifying that they are competent and eligible to be hired. However, different teacher education institutions may have different graduation criteria, official certification processes may be too easy and/or their standards too low, and teachers may be hired based on factors other than merit.
Ministries of education therefore need to clarify the stages and criteria used for obtaining a teaching post: developing a standardised assessment of pre-service education performance across institutions, establishing an equitable and rigorous process of official certification to be a teacher, and creating procedures and norms which support the hiring of teachers based on both their merit and the needs of a particular school.
4. Provide induction, mentoring, and probation
New teachers should experience a systematic process of orientation and induction into their profession and school with the support of experienced mentors.
This should be followed by a probation period – a process common in professions such as law and medicine. In developing countries few schools have these processes in place. Without such processes the risk is great that new teachers will not gain the skills, attitudes, and values needed for successful teaching throughout their careers.
An effective induction program should include:
- orientation to the school and its context;
- mentoring by the principal and/or senior teacher;
- a gradual introduction into full-time teaching;
- early and frequent informal assessments of teaching practice;
- formal evaluations, both internal and external, leading to decisions about passing a probationary period.
5. Continuing professional assessment and development
Education systems should have a comprehensive, systematic, and continuing professional assessment and development process for personnel. There should also be clear procedures for both formal and informal assessment of performance linked to individually-tailored professional development plans.
Performance assessment for teachers needs to be both informal (e.g., through principal, supervisor, and peer observation and self-reflection) and formal. Formal assessment should be regular, based on set criteria and indicators, and well documented and result in an individual professional development plan which might include self-study, local technical support (e.g., from supervisors and school cluster activities), and targeted in-service training.
In some education systems, such as Vietnam and Singapore, a set number of in-service training hours are mandated per year and this can be a criterion for re-certification. Indonesia is currently implementing national competency testing for teachers to identify weaknesses, leading to the design of individualised development plans.
6. A clear and motivating career path
To help maintain the motivation of teachers, ministries should lay out a clear range of career advancement pathways based on merit, which can lead to further education, higher status, desired deployment, and better remuneration.
This would enable teachers to understand the options and criteria for advancement within the profession and plan their development towards a goal, ideally in teaching rather than into more administrative roles. Of course, their motivation for advancement will be increased if this is clearly based on merit rather than political affiliation, ethnic or religious identity, personal connections, or corruption.
7. A supportive environment for teacher management and development
Building and sustaining a logical, comprehensive, and fair system of teacher management and development should be a major goal of any ministry of education.
This includes clear and consistent policies from the central ministry and the collaboration of all the relevant actors at local government, school and community levels as well as teacher associations and teacher unions, to build a supportive environment for teachers. Teachers working in supportive environments will more likely want to remain in their profession, continue their development and ultimately feel more accountable for the quality of their teaching and the level and nature of their students’ outcomes.
As has been found in many countries, simply recruiting more teachers and paying them better may have a negligible impact on the quality of student learning. We need to pay attention and invest effort and resources along the whole continuum of teacher recruitment, education, appointment, assessment and continuing development if we are to make a real difference.
Did you miss the first education specialist blog in this series by Sheldon? Catch up here!
Sheldon Shaeffer was Director of UNESCO's Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok for over seven years. He worked previously as a research fellow at the International Institute for Education Planning (UNESCO) and as Chief of the Education Section of UNICEF in New York. His professional focus for over 30 years has been on education systems and reforms in Southeast Asia, including in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Timor Leste, and Myanmar. Sheldon is currently an Early Childhood Education Specialist with Palladium.