We can all recall a favourite teacher – the one who really influenced us positively, or who had a powerful impact on us as we progressed through the grade levels. But how can we define what made this teacher better than others? Is it possible to replicate the skills, attitudes or personal qualities of great teachers?
As education systems around the world strive for continuous improvement, the impact of teachers on student success is widely agreed: students lucky enough to have high quality teachers are more likely to achieve academic success. The quality of teaching in the classroom, along with teacher leadership, is often identified as playing a critical role in the results of international benchmarking tests like PISA and TIMMS.
In order to improve student outcomes, we therefore must look to improve teaching standards. But before we can do this we must first determine what great teaching looks like.
Enhancing the quality of the teaching profession – in the Middle East or any other region around the globe – depends on many factors: initial teacher training, the recruitment process, teacher compensation, ongoing teacher rewards, professionalising the profession, retaining talent and using talent to build capacity (to name just a few!).
One critical aspect of developing high quality teachers is that we must ensure teachers have access to high quality ongoing professional development. Some disagree with this argument, pointing to more ‘mature’ education systems, which have invested heavily in teacher professional development, without necessarily seeing the desired improvement. I agree that we need to consider what lessons can be learned from these experiences, and look to past mistakes in order to inform future policy implementations. However, the role of professional development for teachers always has been – and will continue to be – vital to improving teacher effectiveness.
In order to make real gains in teacher effectiveness through professional development we must first address some critical questions. To begin with, I believe we need a clear definition of what progress means for teachers. Until we can largely agree on what good teaching looks like, we cannot make real gains in teacher improvements. First we must ask – what outcomes are we looking for? What does a clearly defined teacher career pathway look like? What are the most important traits a teacher must possess? How important is subject matter knowledge in comparison to pedagogical skills?
In my role as Director of Professional Development, I have come to realise that there are some key issues we must address to ensure optimal professional development (and therefore teaching) takes place in our schools. Traditional approaches to professional development for teachers need to be reviewed to ensure such approaches are still relevant in this region, and still fit the purpose and context for which they were originally designed. Regulatory frameworks and licensing models must be adapted to facilitate and support continued progression for teachers. Much also needs to be done to create working environments that place importance on teacher development and that not only allow for, put also promote, personal growth. We also need to take a better look at the teacher evaluation system and how that process supports teachers in clearly identifying information about their strengths and weaknesses, always remembering that teacher development can be highly individualised. Those responsible for evaluating teachers must understand the evaluation process and have a deep knowledge of the Professional Development theory on which the process is based. It sounds obvious, but teachers must also be aware of the objectives they are working towards and their school leaders must be on the same page. Lastly, teachers who do thrive in their roles and who dedicate time and energy into improving their craft must also be adequately recognised.
There is no doubt that teachers and educational leaders need continued support when it comes to career development, whether this is keeping abreast of subject matter expertise or forming a better understanding of the latest digital teaching aids. Re-evaluating existing approaches and celebrating best practice will be at the heart of successful teacher effectiveness reforms, and play a critical role in securing a robust teacher supply in the region going forward.