Monday 20th of February 2017

An invitation for dialogue about teachers and public education

Consider this a personal invitation to you, the reader of these pages. It is an invitation to read a short document, so you can take action.

We live in times of great possibilities to improve human well being on every corner of our planet. Our times are also fraught with peril. We may collectively act to eliminate poverty, to support social and economic progress, to repair the damage we have already caused to the earth. Or we may use our resources to cause more harm to each other and to the environment. What choice we make rests on how the third of humanity today in schools is educated. This is the hope we place on the world’s teachers, that they will teach their students well to make the choices that give us peace. Ours is the choice to support our teachers in this important work. I describe here a short document designed to support essential dialogue about how to do to this.

The document, titled Connecting the dots to build the future teaching and learning, is an invitation to see the big picture of teacher support and to take action connecting the dots in ways that can produce systemic change. This document was produced collectively by a team of educators from multiple countries and continents. As we set out to produce a guide that would have practical value to creating essential and adequate support for teaching we decided that we would craft a simple tool that would invite a process of policy dialogue and support the professional development of teachers. We hope your response to this invitation will contribute to close the gap between what is known about how to increase teacher quality and policy and practice.

What a joy and privilege it has been to work, over the last year, producing this document along with an extraordinarily wise group of colleagues from many different countries, united in our desire to support teachers around the world in the important work they do. I was thrilled when Vikas Pota, CEO of the Varkey Education Foundation, invited me to join Esteban Bullrich, Beatriz Cardozo, David Edwards, Stefania Giannini, Vandana Goyal, Jacqueline Kahura, Jari Lavonen, Vikas Pota, Linda Rush, Oon Seng Tan, Ramya Venkataraman, Oley Dibba-Wadda, Brett Wigdortz in the Teachers Alliance of the Varkey Education Foundation. Each from their unique vantage point and position, all of them have much knowledge and experience relevant to how to support the development of teachers so all students have the opportunity to develop the competencies that are necessary for life and work in our times.

There are many recent reports that summarize good research and practice in teacher professional development and we thought there would be little to add in producing another. Instead, we sought to create a synthesis that invited dialogue among all key stakeholders in each education system to enable collective action in creating conditions that produced meaningful change in support of teacher education and professional development. The operative words in our intent are dialogue, system and collective action. Dialogue because we see the current gap between what is known about how to improve teacher education and policy and practice as one that calls not for more research, but for learning. Learning within organizations, within the institutions of education. Such learning requires dialogue, the exchange of views and knowledge that each actor derives from their particular perspective and role in the educational process. System because the architecture of teacher support requires coordinated actions among various institutions. Collective action because no single individual, or organization, has the authority or the power to produce the changes which are necessary to provide continuous support to teacher quality. It is our hope that this short document we have crafted will invite such dialogue across the world, in cities and towns, in states and countries, in teacher education centers and universities. We would be delighted if this document is translated into multiple languages, debated, challenged.

Our invitation takes the form of a seven point strategy to create a system of continuous improvement of teacher quality, on behalf of providing all students an excellent education. This strategy is within reach of those with the political will to make teacher quality a priority. We invite educational and political leaders to publicly commit to preparing high quality teachers, to making this a national priority. A first step to act on this commitment is to create a high level blue ribbon commission to develop a strategy specific for the jurisdiction. This commission will audit the existing policies and programs which currently influence teacher quality, those that undergird the current system of teacher preparation and support. The mapping of such policies and programs, and the assessment of their alignment and coherence, will allow this group to identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness of such a system. These opportunities can then become an appropriate strategy.

This strategy will seek to make teaching a respected and attractive profession, ensuring adequate supplied of qualified candidates into the profession. Will outline clear professional teaching standards and career trajectories for teachers, that will provide a pathway to teacher professionalism. Such professionalism will begin with an excellent initial teacher preparation, extending into effective programs of professional development, school based, aligned with the needs of teachers, and involving teachers in their social and professional contexts, programs which transform organizations and systems rather than just support individual development.

I hope you accept the invitation, to read this document and participate and lead in its discussion. I hope these discussions lead to support for our teachers in their important work, so they can teach students to make the choices that give us peace.

Fernando Reimers is Chair of Varkey Foundation Teachers Alliance and Ford Foundation Professor of the Practice in International Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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