Earlier this week, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) released its report, Empowered Educators, which examined international research on teacher professional development and preparation. Lead by renowned education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond, the research team reviewed systems in Finland, Singapore, New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, Alberta and Ontario in Canada, and Shanghai as guides for exceptional examples for empowering teachers. After reviewing all the systems, there were four common elements:
1. Solid Base in Technical and Pedagogical Knowledge
In Finland, teacher candidates are required to complete a degree in at least one academic subject. Then they continue onto a graduate level program where they learn pedagogic methods to teach their subject to K-12 aged students. Darling-Hammond also noted that in some of these systems that were studied, the number of teacher certification programs is significantly lower than the U.S. model, emphasizing quality over quantity. In Finland, there are only 8 programs that are housed in research universities and in Singapore there is just one.
2. Teachers are Researchers
Teachers in Singapore are required to conduct research every year in their schools. Teachers work in groups on a research projects that are then presented to the universities. Many of the research projects are published in academic journals and top teacher researchers receive awards for their work. In Shanghai, classroom teachers are also required to do research in their schools which often gets published. In both systems teachers are given ample time in their school day to work on their projects, resulting in less time devoted to classroom instruction compared to the average American teacher.
In Finland, teacher candidates spend a large part of their university teacher preparation programs in model schools. These schools are tied to the university and are staffed with very skilled master teachers that coach and model research based teaching practices. In some cases, mentoring programs are extended to the first and second year teachers to continue to help them better their teaching practice.
4. Career Ladders
Shanghai and Singapore have created formal career ladders for teacher to advance through the profession. Teachers each have an individual plan based on their long-term aspirations of continuing in the classroom, becoming an administrator or a becoming a policy leader. These systems recognize that relevant professional development looks different for each level of teacher on the career ladder, and can tailor the sessions so that they have the biggest impact. The formal labels recognize excellent teachers by labeling the top level as master teachers, and give classroom teachers a title to aspire towards.
All the systems studied implemented these four basic principles in some form. They took research based ideas and manipulated them to fit within their local context. The policies may not be able to be explicitly copied from one country or state to another due to the vast cultural and contextual differences, but the sharing of successful ideas can create a generally more informed policy. Now the question is, how can the United States use these ideas to take our teachers to the next level?