Professional Collaboration and Effective Teaching Environments

The recently released OECD TALIS – Teaching and Learning International Survey – report provides a fascinating and provocative look at the work and working conditions of over 100,000 teachers and principals in 34 jurisdictions internationally. The findings raise important concerns and challenges for teachers and the teaching profession in some countries. Most interesting, the study provides a compelling view of the effectiveness of collaborative school environments in contributing to improved teaching quality.

Firstly, adequate resourcing for quality education is an issue in many countries. The study found that an average of 38% of teachers, and in some jurisdictions more than seven in ten teachers, work in schools in which the principal reported that a shortage of qualified or well-performing teachers hindered their school’s capacity to provide quality instruction, and one in four teachers work in schools facing shortages of instructional materials. Teachers with the competences to teach students with special needs and sufficient support personnel were in even greater demand.

Despite this, the study shows that most teachers enjoy their work. Around 90% of teachers reported that, all in all, they were satisfied with their job, and enjoyed working at their school. Of significant concern, however, is the finding that less than one-third of teachers believe that their profession is valued in society – and more startlingly, this was below 10% in several countries. This is of particular significance given that other OECD data show that the proportion of top math performers on PISA is greater in countries in which teachers feel valued.

TALIS confirms much of what we know from education research about effective teaching environments – that when teachers can participate in school decision-making, have opportunities to collaborate and learn from their colleagues, and receive feedback centered on teaching quality and student learning, it raises both their confidence in their abilities to teach and engage students in learning, and increases the enjoyment of their work. Activities such as induction and mentoring, team teaching, joint activities across classes, observing and providing feedback on a colleague’s class, and collaborative professional learning were all shown to be associated with teachers’ sense of self-efficacy. And the more frequent the opportunities for collaboration, the greater the level of job satisfaction!

Teacher self-efficacy is linked to student achievement, and collaborative professional learning seems to be part of a virtuous cycle of learning. TALIS shows that teachers who participated in collaborative learning were more likely to engage in collaborative activities. And in turn, teachers who participated in a professional development network, individual or collaborative research, or teacher mentoring were in many countries more likely to employ the more active teaching practices important in engaging students in deeper learning.

Yet many fewer teachers have access to these opportunities. Remarkably, over 40% of teachers reported never team teaching or never observing and providing feedback on another teacher’s class! These proportions were much higher in some jurisdictions, such as France and Spain, where very few teachers have the chance to work closely with their colleagues. Thus despite the strong potential for raising teaching quality offered by teacher collaboration, many teachers still appear to work alone, missing out on opportunities to learn from their peers. The biggest barrier to professional learning appears to be a lack of time due to conflicts with work schedules, reported by half of all teachers.

So what is to be done? The TALIS data are suggestive of a number of policy implications:

  • Communicate the value of teaching and recognize teachers’ professionalism
  • Ensure education systems are adequately and equitably resourced with qualified teachers, support personnel and instructional materials
  • Support induction and mentoring, and provide additional supports for early career teachers
  • Provide time for collaboration and professional learning so that teachers have opportunities to share practices and learn from their peers
  • Encourage high-quality and relevant professional development that supports collaborative school practices

Good teaching doesn’t happen in isolation. Effective teaching environments are those that provide the time, conditions and resources for teachers to interact, collaborate, learn from their colleagues, and play a role in school decision-making. Valuing teachers and teacher professionalism in this way can help to attract new talent into teaching, retain the most effective teachers in the classroom, and together contribute to raising the quality of teaching and learning.

Download the report - Burns D. & Darling-Hammond L. (2015), Teaching Around the World: What Can TALIS Tell Us? Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education

Read online the TALIS report  


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Dion Burns

Dion Burns is a research analyst at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). His work focuses on international education and policy. He has previously worked in education diplomacy with roles in Latin America and South Korea.

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