I’ve just come back from a speaking at a panel at UNESCO’s World Teachers’ Day celebration. Chaired by EI’s Deputy General Secretary David Edwards, its speakers ranged from Ron Thorpe, Chair of the US’ National Board for Professional Teaching Standards through to Sofialaetica Morales, Senior adviser on the Millenium Development Goals, and Aniceto Sobrepena, President of the MetroBank Foundation in the Philippines. The messages from the panel were very clear- nothing matters more than developing the teaching profession –in partnership with profession itself. Indeed not only does the Philippines support World Teachers’ Day, it now actively organises an annual World Teachers’ month!
The speakers represented what hopefully is a developing global awareness that the route to achieving an outstanding education system cannot be through the structural nostrums of privatisation, pupil selection, heavy duty accountability and cheap alternatives to teachers so beloved of the Great Education Reform Movement. As Professor Ben Levin of Ontario’s Institute of Education says, the impact on standards of such reforms are disappointing to say the least and represent a dead end.
In essence, all speakers, including me, pressed for governments to take a systemic approach towards the teaching profession. I argued that the main goal was to ensure teachers have a high level of self-efficacy- that is that teachers should feel that they can make a positive difference to children’s lives. For this to happen, teachers need to feel that their professional judgements and views count and that they are at the centre of decisions on pedagogy, the curriculum and assessment.
There was consensus in the Celebration on the importance of having a system wide approach to teacher learning and professional development, and on the view that supporting teacher learning is as important as student learning. In fact both have a symbiotic relationship!
I came away, realising yet again, that the collective and individual leadership of confident teachers is vital to the success of education systems. The strength and importance of a highly trained and confident teaching profession is the best possible argument for a properly funded education system- not the flawed proposals of those who believe that teachers can be ignored and simply seen as a passive and disposable component in structural reforms.