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Teachers innovating for education transformation

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To mark the 2022 International Day of Education, Linda Darling-Hammond* reflects on the challenges and opportunities for teachers brought about by the global pandemic.

The education systems of today are too often inherited from decades-old structures and procedures, born in the industrial era, which have not evolved to meet the educational needs of the 21st century. However, the disruptions caused by the global pandemic have created a wide range of opportunities to reinvent education by opening up new roles for teachers to recreate schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has also made clear the urgency of capitalizing on innovations that have emerged for creating child-centred approaches to foster 21st century education systems.

In many countries, schools are being reinvented under the leadership of teachers. During the pandemic, teachers joined hands to innovate and support each other during school closures - by exchanging technical assistance in using new technologies, curating resources, using digital platforms, and developing innovative pedagogies, including those that build independence and resilience in learning. Novel approaches to education are appearing in teaching, teacher preparation and development, and school design.

During the crisis, teachers around the world led the efforts to connect students and their families to schools digitally (and in other ways) by ensuring access, sharing ideas with other teachers and with parents, and by creating partnerships. Many teachers demonstrated resourcefulness during the crisis leading content design, facilitating capacity building as peer leaders, mentoring and readily adopting and catalysing change within their schools. 

Ashok Pandy wrote that “teacher leadership has been redefined, reflecting a shift from conventional positional roles – coordinators, faculty heads, headmistresses, or vice-principals – ascribing power and authority to the holder. Teacher leadership is now determined by the proactive roles that teachers play, initiatives they undertake, and the support they render to leadership, students, and parents.”

Countries are urged to support teachers to develop and share their innovations for the future of education, advancing the necessary change to build back better education systems.


Learning and development: a whole child approach to education

During this time there has also been a growing awareness of new discoveries in the science of learning and child development, including the ways in which relationships and contexts determine brain development and learning.  These insights emphasize the need for a whole child approach to education that takes into consideration each student's academic, social, and emotional development in learner-centred and culturally relevant ways.

When this occurs, students thrive, as innovative schools in the United States have demonstrated.  Educators in cities from New York to Los Angeles have created personalized school models that rethink the factory model we inherited, which produces large anonymous schools with high dropout rates. These schools, which are run democratically and organized around teaching teams and advisory systems, allow teams of teachers to plan interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum for a shared group of students, while supporting them emotionally as well as academically.  

Many of these sites that rely on teacher leadership are community schools which help make education more relevant to students’ lives through an aligned curriculum that provides experiential education rooted in community concerns.  Such schools engage in strong partnerships with families, along with connections to local organizations that partner on afterschool activities and a wide range of health and social service supports.  As schools have built their capacity to more fully meet student needs, their students – especially those in low-income communities -- have experienced stronger academic success, graduation rates, and access to college.

Teacher leadership: reinventing teaching as an innovative and collaborative profession

A key aspect of building this capacity is developing environments that foster teacher collaboration, leadership, and decision-making as core elements of the school design, while involving teachers themselves in the process. In countries participating in the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), teachers who reported opportunities to participate in decision-making at the school level had higher levels of job satisfaction and were more likely to see teaching as a valued profession in their countries. However, only 42% of principals reported that their teachers have significant responsibility over a large share of tasks related to school policies, curriculum, and instruction, and just 56% reported that teachers have a role in the school management team.

Professional and collaborative working environments proved to be vital building blocks for developing collective teacher efficacy, which research suggests is one of the most crucial factors influencing student achievement.  The TALIS survey data show that, around the world, opportunities for teacher collaboration are strongly associated with their sense of efficacy and effectiveness.  Such opportunities are also associated with teachers’ willingness and ability to implement innovative practices like project-based learning, the use of new technologies, and the higher order skills needed for 21st century economies and societies.

Preparing the next generation of teachers to support student learning

A growing body of research has established that effective professional development, which produces gains in student achievement, is intensive, collaborative, job-embedded and classroom focused. In the TALIS study, while three quarters of teachers globally reported that their teaching practice was positively influenced by collaborative forms of professional development, only 44% reported participating in such professional learning.

Successful education systems prioritise time and other resources for teachers to collaborate, share knowledge and practices, and engage in collective decision-making to enable innovation, improve effectiveness, and build shared knowledge and collective efficacy in their teaching. This requires change in how we conceptualise and invest in teacher preparation, working conditions, professional learning, career pathways, remuneration and evaluation systems.

Preparing the next generation of teachers, with the best knowledge and support that our systems can offer, is ultimately the most powerful approach to enable student learning and directly contribute to transforming education. This is particularly true when those teachers adopt whole-child education strategies and pedagogies. To ensure teachers can innovate and that these can be scaled up effectively based on a whole-child paradigm, education systems need to listen to teachers and provide them with the tools they need - including effective training and various means of support. This includes integrating the family, community, and societal dimensions into curriculum, pedagogy, and organizational design.  Systems will also benefit by enabling teachers to innovate and lead in schools organized for professional collaboration, with opportunities to connect across schools and communities to share what they have invented and learned.  It is only by building on and expanding the creativity and capacity of teachers that we can design 21st century schools that truly meet students’ and societies’ needs.


*Linda Darling Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University and founding president of the Learning Policy Institute. You can access her full presentation at the following link: See ‘36:21.  

References

Pandey, A. K. (2021). Teacher leadership during COVID-19. Teacher India, 15(1): 10-12. https://research.acer.edu.au/teacher_india/39/

OECD (2020), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II): Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/19cf08df-en

OECD Education and Skills Today. (2020, January 22). Reflections on the Forum for World Education. OECD Education and Skills Today. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://oecdedutoday.com/reflections-forum-for-world-education/