Education International
Education International

Listening to teachers

published 12 December 2014 updated 4 February 2016
written by:

What does all of this mean?

We know that education systems in many countries need to change in order to provide better opportunities for all students to receive a higher-quality education. And while many aspects of education systems need rethinking, research tells us that teachers are the most important within-school influence on student achievement. Thus improving teaching is crucial to improving an education system.

But what does this really mean? There are two sides to this story. The first involves ensuring that the best possible candidates enter the teaching in the first place – and stay. Countries need to think about how to make the teaching profession more attractive to university graduates and provide a path for career progression that will encourage teachers to continue teaching.

The second aspect is helping teachers already in the profession improve their practice. This entails providing teachers with regular appraisal and feedback on their teaching practice that are tied to professional development opportunities targeted toward their needs. Teachers should be given opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in an in-depth manner so that they are both developing interpersonal relationships and contributing to a culture of reflective practice in their schools.

But policy reforms aren’t all that are needed here. Teachers and school leaders must take responsibility and be active participants in the change process as well. The OECD also produced A Teachers’ Guide to TALIS which uses the TALIS findings and, backed by research literature and the large body of OECD work on education, offers insights and advice to teachers and school leaders on how they can improve teaching and learning in their schools.

Are teachers working together?

One source of feedback that many teachers do not have access to is feedback from other teachers in their own school. Only 42% of teachers on average across countries report receiving feedback on their teaching from other teachers as part of the appraisal process, while 45% of teachers across countries report never observing their colleagues teach and providing them with feedback. In many countries, peer feedback is commonplace, with teachers working together to develop lessons, review them and suggest areas for improvement of practice. Yet across countries, TALIS data show that teachers are far more likely to participate in surface-level exchange and co-ordination activities (such as exchanging teaching materials) than they are to collaborate on a deeper level in ways such as team teaching or participating in collaborative professional learning.

Teacher collaboration is important for many reasons. TALIS data indicate that teachers who engage in collaborative practices with other teachers also report higher levels of job satisfaction and higher levels of self-efficacy. In addition, activities such as team teaching or observing peers and providing feedback are great examples of effective professional development in that they can be sustained activities, they are provided within the teacher’s school context and they are performed with colleagues.

What feedback do teachers receive on their teaching?

We learned from TALIS that most teachers report the formal appraisal they receive on their teaching leads to positive changes in their teaching practices. Yet in many countries, teachers are still largely left alone, receiving little or no feedback on their teaching. Across TALIS countries, slightly more than half of teachers on average feel that the appraisal and feedback systems in their schools are only used to fulfil administrative requirements.

Teacher appraisal and feedback needs to be made more meaningful to teachers. Systems of appraisal and feedback should be about helping all teachers to improve, rather than about punishment for the underperformance of a few. Linking appraisal and feedback to professional development will also provide teachers with increased opportunities for growth. Teachers should receive feedback from multiple actors, using multiple measures, and one of the outcomes of this feedback should be a professional development plan that is based on the areas in which teachers need improvement.

Do teachers think their profession is valued?

One of the most surprising findings from TALIS 2013 is related to this notion of developing teaching as a profession, and shows us that there is a long way to go in this regard in many countries. TALIS data indicate that on average, less than a third of teachers around the world feel that teaching as a profession is valued by their societies. This number is quite a bit lower in some countries, with fewer than one in ten teachers in Croatia, France, the Slovak Republic, Spain and Sweden believing that teaching is a valued profession.

This is an important finding because of the implications it might have toward the recruitment and retention of high-quality candidates into the teaching profession in some countries. Developing teaching as a profession that is on par with other knowledge-worker professions (such as medicine, law and business) is necessary in order to be able to attract the best candidates into teaching. Interestingly, TALIS data also points towards approaches to increase teachers’ perceived value of the profession. Teachers who report being able to participate in decision-making at a school level are also more likely to report that their profession is valued by society. Empowering teachers by giving them decision-making responsibilities is also positively related to job satisfaction and teachers’ reported confidence in their own abilities (self-efficacy). Thus distributed leadership and decision-making at a school level might not only take some tasks off over-burdened principals’ plates (and enable them to spend more time on things like instructional leadership), but it also has an important impact on teachers as well.

More and more countries are looking beyond their own borders for evidence of the most successful and efficient policies and practices in order to improve the lives of their citizens. The findings from TALIS provide a wealth of information to education policy makers. At the Informal Ministerial Meeting launching the TALIS results in Tokyo, Ministers from 16 countries discussed the findings from TALIS and how they might impact teacher policy in their countries. Ministers recognised the importance of framing education as a knowledge-intensive profession in order to be better able to attract the highest-quality candidates into the profession.