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‘On World Teachers’ Day, we need to remember the demoralised’

‘On World Teachers’ Day, we need to remember the demoralised’

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Tes’ World Teachers’ Day event on wellbeing is perfectly timed. For far too long, the obvious connections between teachers’ wellbeing and high-quality education has been ignored by policymakers. This has been an enormous source of frustration for teacher unions.

There are exceptions. In the UK, for example, significant union gains have been made in securing government recognition that teacher stress and excessive workload undermine teachers’ self-confidence, retention and, ultimately, the quality of education. Despite major conflicts on teachers’ pay, school organisation and funding, unions have come to agreements with ministers on limiting workload.

There is, however, much, much more to do particularly in the areas of practical policy and research. There’s also a lot to learn from what is happening internationally.  My role for the global teacher union confederation, Education International (EI), is to liaise with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

World Teachers’ Day in context

The OECD is responsible for the only global survey of teachers’ views about their professional lives: the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). Two reports have been published, the latest in 2014. Work is taking place on the 2018 edition. One strong thread running through the reports is the concept of teacher self-efficacy. Teachers with high levels of self-efficacy know in their bones that they can, and do, make a positive difference to children’s learning and lives. Efficacy defines what it means to be a self-starting teacher.

With the publication of the 2014 report, it became clear to the OECD that there were strong links between teacher self-efficacy, the status of the profession and student results. Since 2011, teacher union leaders and governments in the OECD annually get together on an equal basis to discuss policies on the teaching profession. A unique and practical event, topics range from sorting out serious industrial disputes to agreeing on national professional development centres.

These International Summits on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) are both unique and woefully underreported. Nevertheless, they take policies forward in ways that no other international event does. Every ISTP is provided with a background report from OECD.

The 2015 report contained the following conclusions drawn from TALIS:  “There is evidence that teachers’ sense of self-efficacy – their belief in their ability to teach, engage students and manage a classroom – has an impact on student achievement and motivation, as well as on teachers’ own practices, enthusiasm, commitment, job satisfaction and student behaviour in the classroom.”

This was the first time that the OECD had put itself on the line and said that student achievement depended on how positive teachers felt about themselves. It was also probably a first for research in general.

Coupled with this conclusion, the summits have explored the idea of teacher leadership.

Self-efficacy and leadership

In 2012 Education International commissioned research from Cambridge University on the relationship between teacher self-efficacy and leadership, and based this on focus groups of classroom teachers.

It concluded that teachers’ sense of efficacy was massively enhanced by feeling that they could influence policies and practice in their schools. Two years later TALIS came to the same conclusion and called for teachers to be empowered to play a role in decision-making in schools and for policymakers to consider providing guidance on distributed leadership and decision-making at a system level.

Now the OECD is considering a special project on teachers’ wellbeing and teaching effectiveness. It is still in its planning stage. Certainly, EI supports such a project. If it took place it would significantly boost the teaching profession and enhance teaching. Rightly there has been an increasing focus by the UN as well as many governments on students’ wellbeing and its links to student achievement. Bullied and demoralised students do not do well. Neither do teachers. Student and teacher wellbeing are two sides of the same coin.

The OECD’s special project needs supporting by governments. The UK government is in a good position to do this given its work with unions on stress and workload.

One practical outcome of World Teachers’ Day would be for governments to give teacher well-being the highest priority, work with teacher unions on strategies to enhance it and support the OECD’s project. Student wellbeing and achievements depend on it.

John Bangs is senior consultant for Education International.

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You can watch Tes’ #WorldTeachersDay debate live on Facebook here. Make your voice heard and comment with your questions below the live stream.  

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