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October 1, 2009
Vol. 67
No. 2

Lessons from the World

In OECD's newly released Teaching and Learning International Survey, educators in 23 countries shed light on teaching, learning, and leadership in their schools.

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Since 2000, through the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has tracked the performance of education systems of industrialized nations throughout the world. Results from PISA show that some countries succeed in securing high and equitable learning outcomes as well as rapid school improvements.
Such comparisons can inform national efforts to improve teaching and learning by providing information on the results achieved by national, state, and district evaluation policies. We know much less, however, about how school principals and teachers actually implement specific policies and practices.
To find out, the OECD surveyed more than 70,000 middle school teachers and their principals in 23 countries, representing a workforce of more than 2 million teachers, to provide comparative insights on the conditions of teaching and learning, leadership, preparation and professional development, and feedback and appraisal in their schools. The teachers' perspective is crucial because even the best policies and practices will only yield results if effectively implemented. The bottom line is that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and their work.

The Challenges

The results from this first Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) reveal the magnitude of the challenges that schools face around the world. Across the 23 countries, more than one in three teachers works in a school whose principal thinks the school suffers from a shortage of qualified teachers. Lack of adequate equipment and instructional support are other barriers that hinder effective instruction.
Many teachers also reported severe disciplinary problems. For example, 47 percent of principals in Mexico reported that intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers hinders learning in their school. Physical injury of students, theft, and the possession of alcohol or drugs were other problems frequently cited in many nations as obstacles to learning. Moreover, on average, 26 percent of school principals in each nation cited teacher absenteeism, and 24 percent cited the lack of teacher preparation for their classes as hindering learning.
Teachers' reports of unmet demands for professional development signal that teachers often do not feel sufficiently prepared to meet the challenges they face. This is underscored by the fact that, on average across countries, one in four teachers reported losing at least 30 percent of learning time, and some teachers reported losing more than 50 percent, because of disruptive student behavior or because of bureaucratic tasks.

The Opportunities

The responses from teachers and school principals also provide encouraging insights. Not only do positive outcomes in some countries signal that schools can successfully address these challenges, but patterns of responses also suggest that teachers in many countries embrace the challenges and actively seek to advance their profession.
In most countries, the large majority of teachers reported that they are satisfied with their jobs, believe they make a significant difference in education, and believe they achieve progress with their students. Teachers also make significant investments in their professional development, in terms of both time and money. Finally, most teachers value feedback from school principals and colleagues and believe it improves their classroom practices.

Four Target Areas

Comparative results from the Teaching and Learning International Survey can help promote policies in four areas to make teaching more attractive and effective.

Professional Development

  • The proportion of teachers participating in professional development in different countries. For example, in Denmark, the Slovak Republic, and Turkey, one in four teachers reported having had no professional development at all, not even informal opportunities provided by the school.
  • The intensity of participation. In some countries, teachers participate in a handful of days each year, whereas Korea offers 30 days of professional development annually.
  • Equity issues raised by the participation of various groups within countries. For example, older teachers tend to be underrepresented, and within-country variation in participation rates between younger and older teachers is large, most notably in Korea, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Mexico.
  • The type of professional development activities.
Survey data show that teachers' participation in professional development goes hand in hand with their mastery of a wider array of pedagogical methods. However, school systems need to do a better job of matching the costs and benefits of programs as well as responding to teachers' specific professional development needs. Relatively few teachers participate in two kinds of programs they find most beneficial— namely, qualification programs and individual and collaborative research. Conversely, the types of activities teachers consider less effective—such as one-time education conferences and seminars—show comparatively high participation rates (see fig. 1).

Figure 1. Valued Professional Development vs. Actual Participation

Nearly one-half of respondents reported that the most common obstacle to engaging in professional development is conflict with their work schedule. Almost as many cite the lack of suitable professional development, which is the main obstacle noted in the three countries in which participation in professional development is lowest—Denmark, the Slovak Republic, and Turkey.
Quite consistently across countries, teachers reported the greatest need for professional development in three areas: dealing with differences in student learning styles and backgrounds, effectively using information and communication technologies, and improving student behavior. This finding provides clear directions on where future professional development efforts should focus.
That a sizeable proportion of teachers underwrite the cost for their professional development is evidence that many teachers are willing to contribute their share to advancing their careers. In fact, teachers who paid for their own professional development tended to do more of it: Those who paid the full cost undertook more than twice as much training as those who received it free, although this partly reflects the fact that courses requiring a fee tend to lead to professional qualifications. This finding suggests providing professional development at no cost is not necessarily the only way to stimulate participation.
Teachers reported relatively infrequent teacher collaboration in their schools, signaling an area that school leaders and policies need to more aggressively promote. Teacher collaboration still predominantly takes the form of exchanging and coordinating ideas rather than engaging in the kinds of collaboration that research has shown can enhance student learning, such as joint lesson planning or team teaching. Although in many other fields people enter their professional lives expecting that evidence and research will transform their practice, results from the survey indicate that this expectation is not yet widespread in education.

Appraisal and Feedback

The survey shows that strong school-level evaluation tends to feed into better teacher appraisal and feedback, which, in turn, can feed into improvements in the classroom. Most teachers report that the feedback they receive from principals is fair and helpful and that it increases their job satisfaction, their development as teachers, and, to some extent, their job security. Survey results indicate that schools can likely overcome concerns about such practices if their evaluation culture is constructive and formative.
Equally important, the data show that the more feedback teachers receive on specific aspects of their work, the more they trust in their abilities to address the respective teaching challenges. Teachers report that the appraisal and feedback they receive not only improves their teaching skills, but also leads to changes in specific aspects of their teaching. In a number of countries (Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, and Spain), teachers reported higher levels of self-efficacy when they received public recognition for improvements and innovations in connection with the appraisal.
But the survey also shows that, across countries, 13 percent of teachers receive no appraisal and feedback. This is particularly apparent in Ireland and Portugal, where one-quarter of teachers received no appraisal and feedback, and in Italy and Spain, where the same was true of approximately one-half of teachers. Further, just under one-third of teachers across countries worked in schools that had not had an external evaluation in the last five years, and one-fifth worked in schools that had not even conducted a self-evaluation. In Korea, for example, a teacher in a school that has not been evaluated is more than twice as likely not to receive appraisal or feedback. The survey results suggest that schools in which schoolwide evaluation takes place also encourage appraisal and feedback for individual teachers.
Just one-half of the teachers reported that their school principal uses effective methods to determine teachers' performance. This is clearly an area in need of improvement; analyses on the effects of evaluation, appraisal, and feedback suggest that such an investment can pay high dividends.
It is worrying that, on average across countries, three-quarters of teachers reported they would receive no recognition for improving the quality of their work; a similar proportion reported they would receive no recognition for being more innovative in their teaching. In fact, three-quarters of teachers said that in their schools, the most effective teachers do not receive the most recognition and that their principal does not take steps to alter the monetary rewards of a persistently underperforming teacher.
Similarly, school evaluations and teacher appraisal and feedback also have little financial impact. On average across countries, only about 20 percent of teachers report that their appraisal and feedback links to any kind of monetary reward; only 16 percent say it links to career advancement. In addition, school evaluations are linked to the remuneration of only one-quarter of teachers; fewer than 4 in 10 teachers work in schools in which school evaluations are linked to the school budget. These results suggest that we need to improve incentive structures and systems of evaluation so that better work on the part of teachers makes a difference for teachers and their work.

Teaching Practice

Survey responses suggest that teachers know, in general, what counts and share similar beliefs about how to teach. However, actual teaching practices often do not match intentions. Teachers in most countries report using traditional practices aimed at transmitting knowledge in structured settings more often than student-oriented practices, such as adapting teaching to individual needs. They also engage in even fewer higher-order learning activities that require deeper and sustained cognitive action on the part of students.
To improve teaching practice, teachers need to become aware not only of what to improve but also of the mind-set underlying their current teaching practices. They need to learn specific best practices by observing these practices in authentic settings.
Finally, to make the necessary improvements, teachers need to be motivated. An effective work environment and material incentives are part of the solution. But this also requires a deeper change that can only come about when teachers have high expectations, a shared sense of purpose, and, above all, a collective belief in their common ability to make a difference in the education of the students they serve. Achieving this requires strong instructional leaders.

School Leadership

  • Supporting, evaluating, and developing teacher quality as the core of effective leadership. Leadership responsibilities associated with improved teacher quality include coordinating the curriculum and teaching program, monitoring and evaluating teacher practice, promoting teacher professional development, and supporting collaborative work cultures.
  • Setting specific learning objectives and implementing thoughtful assessments to help students develop their full potential. Aligning instruction with standards, setting school goals for student performance, measuring progress against those goals, and making adjustments in the school program to improve individual and overall performance are the dynamic aspects of managing curriculum and instruction. School leaders' purposeful use of data is essential to ensure a focus on the progress of every student.
  • Strategically using resources and aligning them with instructional purposesto focus all operational activities within the school on improving teaching and learning.
  • Cultivating leadership in partnership with other schools, communities, social agencies, and universities to foster greater cohesion among parties concerning the achievement and well-being of every student.
These leadership responsibilities hinge on the capacities of school principals to play a dynamic role and become far more than administrators of rules and regulations. The data in the survey show that school leadership in many countries has changed in recent years. It has moved from a largely bureaucratic administration of schools, focused on managing accountability and administrative procedures, to a model of leadership for learning with the school principal as an instructional leader who seeks to support and improve teachers' instruction and set the school's goals and curriculum development.
The findings also challenge two common assumptions. First, instructional leadership is not necessarily an alternative to administrative leadership; many principals display elements of both styles. Second, simply devolving responsibilities to schools does not necessarily trigger a change in leadership style. These findings point to the need for active interventions to develop individual principals' skills and practices.
More important, the results underline the role that instructional leadership can play: More than one-half of the countries surveyed indicated that teacher appraisals were far more likely to recognize participation in professional development activities in schools with strong instructional leadership. In most countries, school principals in such schools are also more likely to use professional development to address teachers' weaknesses. Finally, in a number of countries in which school leaders adopt a stronger instructional leadership role, there is more collaboration among teachers, better student-teacher relations, greater recognition given to teachers for innovative teaching practices, and more emphasis on developmental outcomes of teacher appraisals.

The Best Supports

The Teaching and Learning International Survey reveals close associations among factors such as a positive school climate, teaching beliefs, cooperation among teachers, teacher job satisfaction, professional development, and effective instruction. At the same time, much of the variation in these relationships lies in differences among individual teachers rather than among schools or countries. This underlines the need for individualized and targeted interventions for teachers rather than the uniform interventions that have traditionally dominated education policy.
Education systems can best support teachers by shifting public and governmental concern away from mere control over the resources and content of education toward a focus on outcomes, by moving from hit-and-miss policies to targeted interventions, and by moving from a bureaucratic approach to education to effective school leadership that supports teachers through targeted professional development, appraisal, and feedback.
End Notes

1 The following 23 countries participated in the survey: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, and Turkey.

2 A full version of the report is available at www.oecd.org/dataoecd/17/51/43023606.pdf.

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