This post is based on the submission to the Independent Inquiry on Valuing the Teaching Profession in NSW that was released on 20 February 2021. My full submission to the inquiry panel is here.
The teaching profession is facing considerable challenges from more directions than one. Public school teachers in NSW and other parts of Australia work longer hours than before. They are teaching more diverse students in their schools who have different values, expectations and needs from one another. Teachers also teach students who come to school every day with a wide range of social, behavioural, psychological and cognitive challenges that often make productive teaching and learning possible. As a consequence, teachers are tired and even burnout to the point that many want to leave the profession to avoid further personal harm.
It is paramount to find out fast and effective ways to improve the status of teachers and the teaching profession. Any suite of possible solutions must contain short-term interventions that are about to have immediate impact on teachers and teaching. Then there should be actions that are directed more towards improving the education system and its sustainability. The following five recommendations are about to give this important process a strong start.
- Comprehensive public policy reform to address current and emerging inequalities in education
International evidence suggests that good overall learning outcomes are often achieved in more equitable education systems. Schools can’t change these socio-economic inequalities and make education more equitable without targeted support and investments by Governments. It is important that education policies, including school funding principles, systematically address current inequalities in NSW public school sector. Greater equity in NSW schools would have immediate and direct positive effects on the teaching profession and teaching in schools.
- Strengthen the engagement and voice of the teaching profession in policy development and implementation
A key feature of any world class education system is public recognition of teacher professionalism, in other words, that teachers and school principals are skilled professionals akin to medical doctors, lawyers, architects and engineers. There is a strong positive relationship between successful systems performance and the level of professionalism of teachers. All successful education systems currently have adopted ways in which teachers and principals can actively engage in developing education policies and reforms, and they also provide teachers opportunities to use their voice and experience in public conversations. One effective way to improve the status of teachers is to strengthen their engagement in policy development and implementation by enhancing teacher and principal agency in matters that concern their work at school.
- Restructure daily schedules in schools to make more time for teacher collaboration and learning
In high performing teaching cultures teachers are expected to perform beyond the traditional role of teacher as ‘deliverer’ of curriculum towards active co-creator of alternative solutions and productive learning environments. In these school cultures teachers are empowered by giving them time to work with one another regularly during school days. It is very unlikely that teachers can become more effective and, as a consequence, schools would get significantly better unless they have time collaborate more. The status of teachers as real professionals can be improved by reducing teachers’ and principals’ administrative duties and by transferring that time to teacher collaboration and learning.
- Invest in pedagogy before technology
Technology can only be as good as the people who use it. All world class education systems have understood this and accepted that investing in teachers’ knowledge and skills about teaching and learning, or pedagogical thinking, has much greater returns than spending funds in equipment and software that teachers don’t know what to do with or don’t want to use in the first place. Contemporary research on improving quality of teaching and teacher efficacy in schools suggests that the best investments in pedagogy happen by investing in people through social capital, in other words by providing schools and teachers new opportunities network, share ideas and collaborate.
- Build public confidence in public schools and trust in teachers
Teachers today are responsible for teaching solid basic knowledge in literacy and numeracy and at the same time provide all students with ”21st century skills” to better navigate in uncertain world. Teachers are also supposed to take care of students’ individual differences and needs. Whenever these expectations fall short, the blame is most of the times on teachers. No wonder that more than three out of five teachers in Australia feel that the teaching profession is not valued in society. High performing education systems, such as Ontario, Alberta, Singapore and Finland, have made systematic efforts to raise the status of and trust in the teaching profession and thereby to strengthen it. Strong public education system is the best guarantee for the future where teaching is seen as dream job for more young people than before.