2. Educators need new skills and new knowledge to capitalise on new education priorities and means of delivery

Resilient education systems require resilient educators who can react confidently to everyday challenges, and adapt positively to longer-term evolutions (Beltman, Mansfield and Price, 2011[1]; Gu and Day, 2007[2]; Kangas-Dick and O’Shaughnessy, 2020[3]) Today’s educators must find innovative solutions to new and older challenges, and respond flexibly in the face of great change. Today’s policy makers must therefore create the necessary conditions to ensure that at the heart of every educational institution, across all levels and sectors of the system, is a professional body of educators who are thriving and not just surviving.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, education systems have relied on educators to be the guarantors of children and young people’s education. As schools closed across the world, teachers remained central to the delivery of alternative learning: two-thirds of respondents in a recent OECD-Harvard survey of 59 countries indicated that students were accessing the curriculum directly from their usual classroom teachers (Reimers and Schleicher, 2020[4]). This occurred predominantly online but also via telephone, radio and postal networks, demanding that educators rapidly develop new skills and knowledge.

In the second half of 2020, as education systems entered a recovery phase and many returned to full or partial on-site delivery, the role of educators changed once again. New health regulations put in place meant that educators started operating in changed environments following new routines; many started simultaneously teaching learners in the classroom and learners at home. They became more likely to be called upon to provide emotional support to students and families negatively impacted by health or economic crises, and to participate in strategic planning and decision making (OECD, 2020[5]). Often, these new tasks were placed upon educators with only the same resources as were available to them in the old normal and while trying to protect their own health and well-being.

Yet pre-crisis demands on the profession have also endured. The rapid societal and technological change of the 21st century requires educators to develop an ever broader and more complex set of skills in their students while continuously updating their own competencies (Révai, 2020[6]; Viac and Fraser, 2020[7]; Boeskens, Nusche and Yurita, 2020[8]). In parallel, increasingly diverse student bodies, more advanced technological tools and growing resource constraints in many systems have meant that, pandemic or no pandemic, educators’ working environments have become increasingly challenging (OECD, 2018[9]).

These competing demands can negatively affect educators’ motivation and many education systems were experiencing teacher shortages prior to the pandemic (Viac and Fraser, 2020[7]). The challenge has become particularly pronounced in higher education: a growing reliance on temporary contracts for academic staff introduced new instability, with digitalisation looking increasingly likely to transform the organisation of academic work and relationships between learners and educators (OECD, 2020[10]).

Lesson one of this handbook explored the opportunity for education systems to nurture a mind-set for learning that values people and processes over places and devices. Approaching education in this way can enhance overall resilience. However, this entails providing greater support to educators in the current context of change and building their capacity to shift to practices where learning can occur in a wider variety of forms. This requires continuing and strengthening ongoing efforts to enhance digital skills, but also providing professional learning around more personalised and flexible learning approaches, assessment practices and collaboration with a range of partners.

Lesson two also explores how policy makers can design and implement policy efforts that address these two challenges simultaneously, effectively building capacity among educators while also strengthening the resilience of the profession. What do we already know about professional learning and building educators’ resilience? What related policy efforts are education systems implementing in the second half of 2020 and how can they be strengthened?

To support the development of the skills and knowledge that can help educators better cope with current challenges, this section offers highlights of relevant international evidence about educator resilience and professional learning. Based on evidence of evaluations from policies already in place before the pandemic, it also offers insights for policy makers into policy levers and approaches that can promote resilience and responsiveness in educators, as well as some ongoing challenges. The section also looks into a selection of relevant policies implemented in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Complementing what we already knew about keeping teachers in the role with what we have learned in 2020 about supporting teachers to thrive in a crisis, four policy levers for educator resilience emerge as part of the OECD Framework for Responsiveness and Resilience in Education, currently under development (see Introduction). Educator well-being (self-efficacy, job satisfaction, working conditions and relationships) directly influences motivation to either to stay in the profession or leave, while informal and formal opportunities for collaboration can foster personal and professional development and strengthen support mechanisms (OECD, 2020[11]; Viac and Fraser, 2020[7]). Framing all educators as leaders of learning by offering them a certain level of professional autonomy and capacity for innovation empowers them to become agents of change (OECD, 2020[11]). Finally, effective professional learning promotes continuous positive development, simultaneously strengthening both a sense of self-efficacy and actual effectiveness (Beltman, Mansfield and Price, 2011[1]; Boeskens, Nusche and Yurita, 2020[8]).

Based on these four policy levers, OECD data offers some insight into aspects of teacher resilience in the pre-crisis period (see Figure 2.1). This can serve as a useful starting point for policy makers considering how best to strengthen teacher resilience now and for the longer term. For example, while a large share of lower-secondary teachers across the OECD report engaging in impactful professional learning, there is an opportunity to strengthen certain aspects of well-being and collaboration. Teachers’ views varied largely when reporting that they participated in networks of teachers specifically for their professional development, or regarding the value of the teaching profession in society. In the current context, where educators require new skills and knowledge in order to capitalise on opportunities offered by the crisis, building on the stronger areas of resilience to address weaker areas can help education systems secure quick wins. Specifically, this requires mobilising professional learning initiatives based on what we already know about successful professional learning and transforming them into opportunities to strengthen educator well-being, collaboration or leadership of learning.

How can educators benefit from high-quality professional learning that can effectively nurture the other levers of educator resilience? The OECD’s TALIS project identifies 12 components of effective professional learning from the specialist literature (OECD, 2019[13]). These are further grouped into four key policy components:

  • Content focus: Effective professional learning has strong subject and curriculum-based components that help teachers strengthen their classroom practice (Darling-Hammond, Hyler and Gardner, 2017[14]). It is also coherent with teachers’ prior skills, knowledge and experience and their professional needs and goals.

  • Active learning and collaboration: Active learning enables teachers to design and try out teaching strategies, generally in a classroom setting, providing a more authentic learning opportunity that is highly contextualised to their students (Darling-Hammond, Hyler and Gardner, 2017[14]). Collaborative approaches encourage participants to share ideas and co-operate on shared challenges. In this way, it incentivises the peer learning and coaching approaches deemed to be a more flexible and efficient way of providing professional learning (OECD, 2019[13]).

  • A school-embedded approach: School-embedded professional development grounds learning in the teacher’s everyday working context and is therefore more likely to shape teaching practice.

  • A sustained duration: Although teachers usually receive professional learning as one-off activities or short programmes (e.g. courses and seminars), evidence suggests that activities with a sustained duration are more effective, affording participants the time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies (Darling-Hammond, Hyler and Gardner, 2017[14]; OECD, 2019[13]).

While international evidence indicates key characteristics of resilience-focused professional learning initiatives, policy analysis can help illustrate how such initiatives can be planned and implemented. According to previous analysis undertaken by the Education Policy Outlook between 2008 and 2019, ensuring a cohort of high-quality teachers was the second-highest area of policy activity among participating countries, with over 80 related policies collected in 31 education systems. A further 15 policies collected by the OECD focused on supporting school leaders. Initial analysis of the progress and impact of these policies indicated that the most successful or promising policy efforts focused on collaboration, mentoring and dialogue (OECD, 2019[15]).

In 2020, the Education Policy Outlook has undertaken further analysis of these policies in order to identify successful examples of resilience-focused professional learning initiatives Table 2.1 lists the main policies selected for this analysis. These policies all aim to strengthen educators’ professional skills and knowledge and also benefit from key policy components aligned with international evidence, policy levers for resilience and responsiveness, and policy evaluation outcomes that indicate positive progress towards policy objectives.

What do these policies have in common, according to the outcomes of their evaluation studies? Firstly, a recurring strength is that participants reported a positive impact on building confidence and a sense of being valued. This is the case in policies implemented in Ontario (Canada) and Wales (United Kingdom), for example. This in turn appears to have helped further motivate and engage educators in their professional practice (Ministry of Education, Ontario, 2019[16]; Arad Research and ICF Consulting, 2018[17]). Indeed, an evaluation of Sweden’s Boost programme in mathematics found that the positive impact on participants was less related to the way in which the programme was implemented; the most important factor started with the programme having been implemented at all. This positive impact is most apparent in professional learning policies that target specific training initiatives at specific audiences, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.

Another benefit evidenced in several evaluations was the opportunity to develop more reflective practitioners. Many of the educators involved in piloting Ireland’s National Professional Development Framework for Higher Education, regardless of role, specifically valued the Framework as a tool for supporting reflection. Similarly, school leaders receiving coaching through Ireland’s Centre for School Leadership described the positive impact of the coaching experience as “learning the discipline of reflection”. Indeed, across numerous selected policies, including in Denmark, Ireland and Ontario (Canada) a commonly cited implementation challenge was the lack of time for educators to fully engage with the material or programme – a lack of time for reflection.

Building strong relationships was both an important part of implementing many of these policies, and a positive outcome. In the New Teacher Induction programme in Ontario (Canada), the opportunities created for informal mentorship or support from colleagues were seen as particularly helpful, and relationships were key in successful implementation, not just between mentors and mentees but also between the mentors themselves. France’s network of Digital Education Advisors were a key asset during the COVID-19 crisis because their strong relationships with all major stakeholders in the field enabled quick negotiations with partners, rapid communication and an understanding of the specificities of different local contexts.

Finally, a clear feature of these selected policies relates to addressing needs at a local level. All the selected policies have aimed to be well-aligned either to individual teachers’ needs in the classroom (content focus) or to schools’ needs (school-embedded). The key strength of Portugal’s School Association Professional Development Centres, for example, was identified as being their ability to respond to the authentic challenges faced by educators in schools in different areas across the country. However, a more localised or personalised focus also requires ensuring consistency across localities and coherence with system goals. For policies that establish new support roles for educators’ professional learning, such as Denmark’s Learning Consultants or Finland’s Digital Tutor-Teachers, professionalising and standardising the practice of those in support roles, while ensuring they respond to individual needs, is also an aspect to be enhanced.

Challenges regarding the high diversification of the teaching profession can also be identified. Evaluations of policies implemented in Denmark, Ireland and Sweden for example, noted that impact was not as positive among upper secondary practitioners as among their primary counterparts. This suggests that, in view of the very different roles these educators have, rather than trying to cover teachers at all levels, it may be more impactful to design professional learning programmes with staff from a specific education level in mind. Indeed, teaching is a highly differentiated profession. In light of this, and the fact that only one policy targeting higher education was collected for this report, the higher levels of education may require more policy attention. Furthermore, as the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis begins to materialise and resource constraints risk becoming tighter in the future, establishing ways of targeting professional learning to areas of highest need for the medium and longer term will be important.

There are further challenges related to strategic approaches in education policy: several of the policies selected here, such as those in Norway and Portugal, began as small-scale and/or operate on a voluntary basis, and have found it difficult to reach the staff most in need of professional learning. Scaling up delivery to achieve a wider reach across the education system has also been challenging, with many systems questioning the long-term sustainability and durability of these programmes. Despite this, there is a clear sense across many of these initiatives, including those in Denmark, Ireland and New Zealand, that the longer the programme is in place, the better. A longer duration allows the programme to be adapted and perfected in light of feedback and evaluation results.

These challenges were raised and discussed at the Education Policy Reform Dialogues 2020. Delegates emphasised the need to properly identify professional learning needs before developing appropriate tools and suggested developing self-assessment instruments for teachers, in digital competence for example, or working with teacher networks to undertake peer assessment of needs. Another suggested solution was to systematise efforts to detect teacher training needs by listening to teachers themselves, through a large-scale symposium, for example. In terms of scaling up delivery, delegates suggested establishing mechanisms to enable more proficient teachers to share insights with the wider community, as well as engaging in qualitative research to better identify and understand best practice.

See Annex 7. Selected current policy efforts to support professional learning

Professional learning has been a focus of education systems’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. In an OECD-Harvard survey, 80% of senior government officials and education administrators identified providing professional support and advice to teachers as the focus of education continuity strategies in the initial phase of disruption; among teachers and school administrators, the share was 73% (Reimers and Schleicher, 2020[4]). The most common support measure reported was providing access to resources; around 90% of respondents reported implementing such measures. This often involved the collation of digital resources online. In recent work with countries to explore initial educational responses to the COVID-19 crisis, the Education Policy Outlook identified several practices of this type. The Czech Republic, for example, established a website to centralise advice, guidelines and tools for educators, parents and students from primary to tertiary level, and published a set of best practices for distance learning. The Czech National Pedagogical Institute also ran regular webinars, published blogs and established a Facebook group offering technical support to educators (OECD, 2020[18]).

In the same OECD-Harvard survey, a similar share of respondents (87%) reported participation in peer networks within schools as a common support measure for educators. Participation in networks across schools was less common, with only half (50%) of school staff reporting such provision (Reimers and Schleicher, 2020[4]). However, the Education Policy Outlook’s previous work has identified interesting examples of cross-school peer collaboration and collective action. To complement digital provision, Latvia launched Your Class, daily educational programmes broadcast on national television and online. As part of this initiative, a group of over 70 teachers from across the country developed the educational content, with support from a voluntary parents’ group (OECD, 2020[19]). Portugal also established a brigade of over 100 educators from the regional teams of the Autonomy and Curricular Flexibility project and other pre-existing national projects to support educators in adapting teaching and collecting and disseminating best practice (OECD, 2020[20]).

As many education systems move to reopen educational institutions, measures for professional learning remains a point of focus. In the same OECD-Harvard survey, when asked about reopening plans, 63% of senior government officials and education administrators identified training for teachers as a feature, compared to 74% of teachers and school administrators. The most common measures were counselling for teachers and training for teachers or school leaders either before or after reopening schools (Reimers and Schleicher, 2020[4]).

The Education Policy Outlook conducted desk-based research to identify other promising initiatives for professional learning planned for implementation in the second half of 2020. The policies focused on building capacity among educators to support the effective reopening of institutions and reorganisation of teaching and learning. The policies also appear to have at least one of the four key policy components of effective professional learning (content focus, active learning and collaboration, sustained school-embedded approach). They address at least two policy levers for educator responsiveness and resilience, as identified by the EPO Framework for Responsiveness and Resilience in education (professional learning and well-being, collaboration and/or leadership of learning), currently under development. In total, nine policies were selected: most focused on schools, with two aimed at higher education and one specifically targeting staff in vocational institutions (see Table 2.2).

As in the pre-crisis period, the majority of the policies selected here are content-focused, generally supporting educators in shifting to online education, or developing capacity so they can perform news sets of tasks. In this way, they help respond to an urgent need for specific skills. In Chile, the Online Learning for Teachers portal supports educators in delivering the new Prioritised School Curriculum, which was developed by the ministry after the suspension of in-person classes. In other cases, the programmes focus on building capacity to implement regulatory and practical changes to the way courses and institutions are run. All school teachers in Ireland will undertake COVID-19 Induction Training before the start of the new school year to ensure that staff have full knowledge of the latest public health advice and guidance and an outline of the COVID-19 response plan.

Others are able to combine a content focus with opportunity for reflection, which, as explained in the previous section, may encourage deeper engagement. For example, Colombia has adapted the Let’s all Learn programme, redirecting tutors to accompany teachers of mathematics, language and early years education to adapt their practice for distance education. In Australia, as well as publishing guidance online, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) offers targeted advice to individual providers moving to online delivery, and plans to conduct a strategic review of online learning in the VET sector by engaging key stakeholders.

Some measures are school-based. Unlike similar initiatives in other countries, where a standardised programme of professional development for school reopening is delivered through national webinars, Ireland’s COVID-19 Induction Training is delivered at school level. This aims to help to contextualise national regulations and guidance against the school’s specific needs and recovery plans. Another school-embedded approach is Turkey’s expansion and strengthening of the Distance Education Centres, which sees additional staff and research assistants placed within higher education institutions to support staff in capitalising on new regulations promoting the digitalisation of higher education. In France, an online platform centralises and disseminates initiatives put in place by higher education establishments during the pandemic. Representatives from the institutions submit practices that can then be accessed, adapted and implemented by peers in other institutions.

Several of the selected policies promote collaborative approaches. For some, this is sought through comprehensive stakeholder engagement to inform content. Some examples are the guidance for moving towards distance learning in higher education published by Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and, Australia’s new Regulatory Strategy for VET 2020-22. In Korea, a national online teacher community of 10 000 teachers, one from every school in the country, aims to promote the sharing of best practice in online education and provides a real-time, interactive communications channel among government and school-based staff. As revealed in the analysis of pre-crisis policies, initiatives that promote collaboration by building strong relationships between different actors within the system can have a positive impact on professional learning while relationship building of this nature can also support policy implementation.

Policies that promote active learning are less common, however. Chile’s distance mentoring for management teams is the only example identified here. This initiative includes three video sessions: first, a needs diagnosis; then introduction of targeted support; and finally, an opportunity for reflection.

In terms of building educator resilience, several of the selected policies aim to balance professional learning with well-being measures. For example, Ireland’s COVID-19 Induction Training and Colombia’s Let’s all Learn programme specifically support staff in implementing new policy measures in an effort to relieve some of the implementation burden placed on those on the front line. Furthermore, Ireland is also providing funding to allow school leaders to have one release day from teaching per week during the next academic year in recognition of the increased workload derived from adapting to new measures implemented as a result of the pandemic.

Other policies have the potential to foster resilience through promoting the leadership of learning. While Chile’s mentoring for school management teams aims to directly strengthen school leadership, other initiatives promote all educators to becoming leaders by positioning them as the drivers of their own learning. This is the case in France’s All Mobilised in Higher Education platform and Korea’s online community of teachers and the Knowledge Spring, where educators determine the content of their professional learning and design learning opportunities for their colleagues. In this way, these policies also encourage collaboration between professionals across the system. The guidance for moving towards distance learning in higher education published by Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education directly gives voice to the educators delivering online learning. This is also an effective way of valuing institutional actors and their professional knowledge, which, as seen in the pre-crisis policies selected for this paper, can help professional learning initiatives succeed by further motivating and engaging educators in their professional practice.

Online delivery may be helping to scale up initiatives. Several policy evaluations from the pre-crisis period highlight the challenge of scaling up policies to have a wider reach. The specific context of the crisis, which has driven a greater use of online delivery, may have helped to overcome this. For example, the online guidance and training programmes delivered through Colombia’s Let’s all Learn programme will reach 4 500 institutions across the country, Korea’s teacher community involves almost every school in the country, and France’s online platform already collates over 700 initiatives. At the same time, however, lessons from the pre-crisis period also indicate a need to design policies that address needs at a local level and that are responsive to demand. In this way, Chile’s video mentoring programme strikes a good balance: the learning opportunity is tailored to the needs of each participating team, but by being delivered remotely, it can reach a much greater number of participants than in-person visits would allow. In addition, as well as scaling up provision, efforts to ensure accessibility will be key and require careful monitoring of participation and experiences.

Generally, across the policies selected here, very few will have a sustained duration beyond the crisis recovery period, with several being one-off training opportunities. As previously discussed, this is not always the most effective approach to professional learning and is less likely to shift practice in the long term. Nevertheless, there are some examples of how policy makers can build more longevity into professional learning initiatives. By establishing new formal institutional structures, Turkey hopes to ensure that any positive impact or new learning derived from the experience of emergency distance education is incorporated into future institutional development for the longer term. Based on successful outcomes of Korea’s online teacher community, the Ministry of Education will continue the support for a cohort of educational innovators, who will become the driving force behind artificial intelligence and future-driven education post-crisis. Finally, Australia’s two-year regulatory strategy provides a focus and a vision for the support offered to providers of VET over the coming years, helping to establish some continuity in support for the transition to increased online learning.

Delegates at the Education Policy Reform Dialogues 2020 noted that there exists alongside sustaining the duration of professional learning opportunities the ongoing challenge posed by the need for teachers to keep up with rapidly evolving skills demands, as well as an ever-expanding multitude of available learning resources and tools. Possible solutions included putting central guidance in place to help teachers navigate resources and building professional communities of practice to foster horizontal collaboration that can be a constant source of support, adapting to the needs of the changing context.

This section has explored the ways in which policy efforts in the second half of 2020 may best support educators to develop the new skills and methods required to strengthen educator resilience for the longer term. Taking into account the specific needs of the current context, as well as the lessons learned from pre-crisis policy efforts and recently implemented initiatives for professional learning, three policy pointers for action emerge:

International evidence and policy analysis indicate that professional learning that is clearly aligned with the everyday professional practice of educators can be particularly effective. Creating opportunities for educators to determine or influence the content of their professional learning helps facilitate such alignment while also signalling a higher sense of value for the profession. Furthermore, approaches that position educators as the drivers of their own learning also develop a sense of leadership, which helps strengthen educator resilience. This does not mean leaving educators to their own devices, but rather creating the conditions in which they understand their own development goals, can select from a variety of quality relevant learning opportunities, and have access to the necessary resources and support mechanisms to take full advantage of them. Furthermore, continuously monitoring the effectiveness of professional learning approaches, and listening to educators’ needs and experiences will help ensure that opportunities remain relevant even as educators’ working contexts change.

Teaching is a highly differentiated profession: aspects such as education level, type of delivery, location, and sector play an important role in defining the specific needs of different educators. Considering education level only, international evidence suggests that, compared to school-level educators, professionals working in higher education and vocational settings may have less access to systematic, formal professional learning. Policy analysis further suggests that one-size-fits-all approaches to professional learning are not as effective as more targeted efforts. Therefore, given the specific challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis to pedagogical staff working in upper secondary and post-secondary general or vocational education, policy makers should consider implementing more tailored approaches, in active collaboration with education institutions. To develop tools that effectively address teachers’ diverse professional learning needs and contexts, governments could develop self-assessment instruments (e.g. in digital competence), teacher networks focusing on peer assessment of needs, or more systematised efforts to gain feedback from them on an ongoing basis.

International evidence indicates that professional learning opportunities designed around collaboration with other professionals can be particularly effective at enhancing skills. At the same time, analysis of policy efforts in the pre-crisis period reveals that strong relationships have been key to the effective implementation of successful professional learning policies. Furthermore, collaborative relationships are a powerful driver of educator resilience, promoting creative thinking and experimentation, as well as enhancing working conditions. Therefore, putting relationship building at the centre of policy efforts related to professional learning can simultaneously help to build educators’ capacities and strengthen their resilience.

Insights from this OECD work can also help support policy makers’ responses in the current context:

  • The OECD Teachers’ Professional Learning (TPL) Study combines country-specific diagnoses and international comparative research to identify policies that effectively support the professional growth of teachers. It is designed to provide policy makers with rapid feedback, improve the evidence base and facilitate international peer learning on both initial teacher preparation and continuing professional learning in its various forms. Insights from the TPL study can help countries build professional learning systems that are capable of preparing, supporting and equipping all teachers in the context of rapid change (see Annex 8).


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