January 07, 2008

3/3: The best school systems in the world: best students come from best teachers

This is the final of three posts in a series paraphrasing the 2007 McKinsey report (pdf), which analysed what made the best education systems in the world, well, the best.

It's the way you tell 'em
It was a Northern Irish comedian who explained comedy like that, but the same might be said of teaching. The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction, the way teachers teach.

In the top performing school systems learning occurs when students and teachers interact, so the quality of interaction is vital. But it follows naturally that for teachers to learn to be better teachers they need coaching practice, teacher training in the classroom, the development of stronger school leaders and, importantly, more teachers learning from each other.

Canada's Alberta defines instruction with a set of 30 variables: very messy, very complex, in the same way that a year's worth of blogged reflections can be very messy until you review them.

Curriculum development is one way to improve teaching - political, controversial, difficult, but easy from system management: give a space to debate.

Providing teachers with the capacity and knowledge on how to deliver is more important and more difficult to gain an oversight of. Teachers need:

  • high expectations
  • shared sense of purpose
  • collective belief in their ability to make a difference

These three things need to happen at the same time or risk having no impact.

Satisfying every teacher's needs... and a blog will do it

  1. Building practical skills during initial training (providing ongoing support beyond the first 24 months, and making better connections between university lecture and classroom. There's no point in learning technology skills, for example, only to fail in updating them - this wastes £800m per year in the UK in unused new technologies).
  2. Placing coaches in schools to support teachers - good teachers with good teachers
  3. School leaders as 'instructional leaders'. The best teachers become principals (and, I presume, Principals or Head Teachers lead on pedagogy, not accounts).
  4. Teachers are enabled to learn from each other, all the time.

With these satisfying conditions, there are also skills or attitudes on the part of the teacher if (s)he is to take advantage of them, which include:

  1. Becoming aware of the weaknesses in their own practice
  2. Gaining an understanding of best practice, which is precise enough to use in their own practice, immediately, ideally in their own classroom (think doctors and lawyers)...
  3. Holding a shared purpose and a collective belief that they can make a difference: both required to make this happen (salary is not enough).
  4. Knowing how to carry out frequent lesson observation and being open to being observed regularly, significant time to plan jointly (one afternoon per week), timetabled well so that teachers of same subjects can cooperate and collaborate, with systems in place to disseminate excellent practice throughout the school as quickly as possible.

Alberta benchmarks itself against international tests such as PISA and TIMSS to know when standards need to be raised. Finland "does well because [we] ave high standards". As systems get better, the system relaxes. Where things are not going so well the curriculum is highly unflexible.

Do you have an increasingly flexible system or an increasingly relaxed one? Are teachers therefore being empowered or held back? Are teachers, Principals and Head Teachers then taking advantage of the flexibility to improve, swiftly and in a connected way, as they best systems already do, or are they ready to help build a system which affords greater skill in the workforce?


Related posts:
1/3: It's not (all) about the money
2/3: Finding the best teachers


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Another great blog posting Ewan - I've been wondering whether teaching staff should be encouraged to develop an 'e-portfolio' during their teacher training.

An e-portfolio could not only be used to 'showcase' the work they've developed during their training to share with potential employers ... but as a means of developing their own 'personal learning plan'.

I feel teachers also need to learn how to develop their own learning plan. Just because they are teachers, doesn't mean they know how to learn.

Current teachers could be encouraged to develop an e-portfolio by their 'performance managers'or by mentors who are already doing this well.

Once our teaching staff have developed their own personal learning skills - they will be so much better suited to teaching others these same skills.

Allison Miller, Adelaide

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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