Improving Schooling Outcomes: Teacher Capacity and School Improvement

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The HEAD Foundation held its fourth workshop of our workshop series in 2015 with a team of professional development experts – Adjunct Professor Peter Taylor, Professor Christine Goh and Associate Professor Christine Lee – in a conversation about the issues and possible initiatives for developing teacher capacity towards school improvement.

One of the key ideas developed from the workshop is the issue of how teachers can be more reflexive in their pedagogical learning, embracing strategies such as Lesson Study (LS) or a video-mentorship programme in order to improve instructional quality. While these Professional Development (PD) efforts may be resource intensive, they have the potential to push teachers into reflexively shifting lesson plans from a teaching-focus to one of student-learning. Current models which emphasize Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCL), for instance, are limited as it does not take into account reflection and planning, leading Prof Taylor to propose a new dimension of Pedagogical Reflection Planning and Learning (PRPL).

Prof Christine Goh outlined some key challenges for both education researchers and policymakers in implementing PD programmes across countries. She noted that though conventional wisdom may demand that personal mentorship programmes between Master teachers and new teachers are useful for improving instructional practices, issues around scalability will present significant challenges. In that perspective, one then needs to ask how professional learning can continue once teachers leave their training institutes. Singapore’s National Institute of Education’s (NIE) continuum model has been successful in this regard.

A/P Christine Lee spoke of Lesson Studies as one avenue in which stronger and more effective PD can take place. She argued that its effective implementation in schools is contingent on how LS is received and sustained by the school leaders. In this light, Prof Lee suggested that LS should not be seen as principal dependent, and that an LS culture must be built in schools to sustain such initiatives. Although strong leadership is important in jumpstarting efforts, the institutionalization of LS would then allow a continued LS presence even if leadership were to change.

Before concluding, Prof Gopi highlighted that though schemes for continuous professional development is an important facet in developing teacher capacity, it is a privilege that not all education systems can afford. Countries with schools in both urban and rural areas will require different strategies towards teacher development, and priorities may shift then towards pre-service teacher training instead of longer term teacher development. For developing countries, how do we then think of integrating the relevant strategies that can meet the community’s immediate demands? In systems that do not have a strong education centre, what will a policy-research recommendation be like that takes into account the country’s context?

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