Chapter 11. Knowledge-based teaching and the evolution of a profession

Sonia Guerriero
Nóra Révai

This chapter brings together the theoretical and empirical evidence presented in this volume to draw conclusions on how teacher quality can be measured. First we look at the main elements of the teaching profession as the context for investigating teachers’ knowledge. Second, we provide a brief overview of the evidence of the impact of teachers’ knowledge and motivation and conclude with future directions for research. Next, we present a new conceptual framework of teachers’ professional competence that builds on the evidence gathered in this volume and is developed to feed into an international comparative study. Last, we conclude with implications on governing teachers’ knowledge and formulate three main challenges teacher policies should address in the future.


The purpose of this book has been to review theoretical and empirical research on what constitutes quality teaching thus contributing to the conceptual development of the Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning (ITEL) project of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation of the OECD. This chapter draws on the research presented in this volume and proposes a new conceptual framework of teachers’ professional competence that can be the basis for further investigations.

Understanding what exactly characterises a profession and how teaching is seen among professions provides a rationale for investigating teachers’ knowledge. The first part of this volume looked at some key characteristics of this knowledge and how it manifests in teachers’ professional standards. The second part explained how teachers’ competence can be modelled by bringing together components of knowledge as well as affective and motivational characteristics, and reviewed empirical evidence on how these models are applied to measure the quality of teaching. The third part considered how emerging evidence can potentially be incorporated in teachers’ knowledge to facilitate 21st century teaching and learning.

The context of teacher knowledge: the teaching profession

Evidence of the key role teachers play in the success of school systems is growing (e.g. Barber and Mourshed, 2007; Darling-Hammond, 2000; OECD, 2005, 2015a), while at the same time expectations regarding teachers are becoming increasingly more complex. Teachers are no longer merely expected to transmit information, rather they need to facilitate that all students acquire the knowledge and skills and adopt the attitudes that enable them to become citizens who live a life they value and who can effectively contribute to the 21st century society (Hargreaves, 2000; OECD 2015b; Lumby, 2013). As education needs to adapt to an environment characterised by changes in society, the labour market, technology etc., teachers are required to revisit and update their skills continuously (Eurydice, 2015). New requirements and challenges formulated in various policy documents and reports (e.g. OECD, 2010; Eurydice, 2003, 2015; Education and Training 2020 Schools Policy, 2015) include:

  • adapting to technological development and using information and communication technologies

  • meeting the individual needs of increasingly heterogeneous groups of students

  • stimulating and managing student learning processes

  • promoting human rights and civic education

  • developing transversal competencies, or 21st century skills

  • helping students to become lifelong learners

  • collaborating with colleagues and other professionals

  • being involved in administrative and school management tasks

  • developing and maintaining an approach towards education based on reflection, inquiry etc.

A review of how teachers’ competences are described in standards in Chapter 3 revealed some common characteristics and requirements of the profession. These standards understand competence as a broad concept referring to the capacity to use and adapt knowledge. Teacher competences involve encouraging diversity in practice and addressing innovation in teaching. Being able to adapt to different students and environments, engaging students, using various forms of evaluation and classroom management are shared elements of teachers’ competence across the professional standards. Standards that distinguish different professional stages describe increasingly more complex requirements as teachers progress in their careers.

The nature and variety of these demands imply that teachers must now become lifelong learners to be able to make professional judgements in their daily practice based on knowledge that is updated and robust, in order to facilitate student learning. This depiction of teaching corresponds to how Brante (2010) describes a profession, based on a Foucauldian approach as a triangle of three elements. Teaching would thus be described as the ensemble of educational and learning sciences that constitute the “scientific discourse” shaped by scientists; teaching practice, that is, the “treatment” applied by professionals; and students, i.e. the “object” or “client”. Relations among these elements refer to the process whereby educational and learning sciences study student learning through observation, manipulation and discussions, and teachers apply this science so as to induce learning. The professional triangle of teaching is depicted in Figure 11.1.

Figure 11.1. The professional triangle of teaching

Source: Based on Brante, T. (2010), “Professional Fields and Truth Regimes: In Search of Alternative Approaches”.

Building and grounding practice in a coherent and integrated knowledge base is a fundamental characteristic of professions and, as the review of the first two chapters suggests, teaching still lacks such a knowledge base. Going beyond the trait approaches to defining a profession, reviewed in Chapter 1, Brante (2010) attempts to describe the type of scientific knowledge that distinguishes professions from other occupations. He argues that science and professional practice are linked by a common “ontological model”, i.e. basic assumptions about the elements of the system and their relations that constitute the foundational theoretical concepts shared by science and practice. Translated for teaching, this would comprise pedagogical mechanisms that are accounted for by educational and learning sciences and applied by teachers. Following Brante’s argument, teachers therefore possess knowledge of mechanisms of teaching and learning but have to make judgements about which ones and how they should use in a given context, or how to alter the context to make the right mechanisms work. This implies that teachers also refer to their tacit knowledge in a professional situation.

However, scientific knowledge, or more generally cognitive competence, is only one aspect of a profession. As we have seen in the first three chapters, the professional triangle is embedded in a social field and its elements are influenced by a range of social processes (e.g. Brante, 2010; Freidson, 2001; Hoyle, 1995; Howsam et al., 1985). Teachers are socialised to professional values through both formal training and other forms of competence development. Teachers’ knowledge is dynamic and transforms as a result of various processes including mediation between research and practice, and interactions between actors of the socio-professional field. Moreover, a number of social technologies such as accountability systems, instruments like qualification and standard frameworks also influence teachers’ professionalism.

Many of these aforementioned social processes are connected to teacher learning and the different settings in which it takes place. Initial teacher education is usually situated in an institution where educational and learning researchers and teacher educators – these are often overlapping roles – meet, transfer and, in some cases, co-create knowledge with teacher candidates. These institutions can also accommodate professional development for in-service teachers and provide opportunities for facilitating interaction between research and practice. We have also seen in Chapter 2 that knowledge-to-action processes can take a variety of forms including teachers’ active involvement in research, professional collaboration or networking. Reviews in the first part of this volume clearly demonstrate that its social “embeddedness” is a determining factor of the profession.

The contextual overview suggests that the teaching profession would benefit both from more consciously governed social processes and from a strengthened knowledge base. To understand how these can be facilitated, the second part of this book “zoomed in” on the professional triangle that Figure 11.1 depicts, to investigate more deeply its different elements and the relationships between them. It looked at conceptualisations of teachers’ knowledge and, more broadly, their competence, what content exactly constitutes these concepts as well as how they relate to student learning. The following consists of a brief summary of the evidence presented in Part II of this volume and, proposes a conceptual framework of teachers’ professional competence.

Theoretical and empirical evidence on teachers’ competence

Much research has been devoted to exploring the impact of the teacher on student achievement. These studies explore the concept of “teacher quality” by hypothesising that improving teacher quality will by consequence improve student achievement. The research to date shows that teacher quality is an important factor in determining gains in student achievement, even after accounting for prior student learning and family background characteristics (e.g. Darling-Hammond, 2000; Hanushek, Kain and Rivkin, 1998; Muñoz, Prather and Stronge, 2011; Wright, Horn and Sanders, 1997). Predictors of teacher quality have included factors such as certification, type of qualification, degrees earned or years of experience.

Why investigate teachers’ pedagogical knowledge?

Research has however also investigated quality beyond measuring distal factors. These studies look more specifically at teachers’ competences directly. One way to do this is to measure the underlying knowledge of teachers. In his seminal work on the structure and content of teacher knowledge, Shulman (1986, 1987) categorised teachers’ knowledge base into seven categories, among which were the concepts of:

  1. general pedagogical knowledge (principles and strategies of classroom management and organisation that are cross-curricular)

  2. content knowledge (knowledge of subject matter and its organising structures)

  3. pedagogical content knowledge (the knowledge which integrates the content knowledge of a specific subject and the pedagogical knowledge for teaching that particular subject).

This latter was considered as the most fundamental element of teachers’ knowledge because it gave rise to the idea that teachers held a unique form of “technical” knowledge available only to the profession of teachers (Ball, Thames and Phelps, 2008; Depaepe, Verschaffel and Kelchtermans, 2013). As demonstrated in Chapter 4 by Guerriero, Shulman’s conceptual framework heavily influenced research conducted on teachers’ knowledge and it has been further developed in various ways. Much of the empirical studies built on some form of this framework focused on the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of mathematics or science teachers. In contrast, general pedagogical knowledge has not been the object of many research studies even though several studies indicate that it is essential for developing quality teachers.

Some of the most important implications of the few empirical studies are summarised in Table 11.1.

Table 11.1. The impact of teachers’ knowledge on student achievement and instruction

Main finding


A higher level of teachers’ content knowledge is related to higher student achievement.

While a significant relationship was evidenced between the quality of teachers’ content knowledge of mathematics and student achievement gains, teachers’ certification and mathematics courses taken were not significantly related to this letter nor to the mathematical content knowledge for teaching (Hill, Rowan and Ball, 2005).

A higher level of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge is related to higher student achievement (Baumert, Kunter, Blum, et al., 2010)

Teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge has more of an impact on student achievement than content knowledge alone (Baumert, Kunter, Blum, et al., 2010).

Only pedagogical content knowledge (in comparison to content knowledge) seems to have an impact on the quality of instruction.

PCK of mathematics was found to influence the

  • cognitive level

  • curricular level (being able to align the material with the curriculum) and

  • learning support (that teachers are able to provide when learning difficulties occur)

dimensions of instructional quality.

Content knowledge predicted the curricular level of tasks.

Higher levels of content knowledge had no direct impact on cognitive activation or on the individual learning support. (Baumert, Kunter, Blum, et al., 2010)

A higher level of general pedagogical knowledge is related to higher quality of instruction.

Students of teachers with higher general pedagogical knowledge reported

  • higher cognitive activation

  • better instructional pacing

  • better student-teacher relationships

  • fewer disruptions and

  • higher teacher awareness of students’ comprehension problems (Voss, Kunter and Baumert, 2011).

Evidence reviewed in this volume suggests that despite the considerable history of discussion and debate around the connection between teacher knowledge and instructional quality, empirical research is still scarce in this area. While further research is needed to support this relationship, existing evidence suggests that teachers’ pedagogical knowledge is relevant to understanding quality teaching as understood by its impact on student learning outcomes. On the other hand, evidence also shows that the quality of instruction requires not only knowledge about teaching and learning, but is also influenced by teachers’ affective, motivational and self-regulatory characteristics.

Why investigate teachers’ affective-motivational characteristics?

Teachers’ motivation represents a relatively new field of research, which started to build on established theoretical frameworks of motivational processes only recently. As the review of research in Chapter 8 by Lauermann shows, teachers’ motivations have important implications for the profession, among others, for professional commitment, well-being as well as instructional practices. Studies also suggest that teacher motivation is central to student motivation and academic success. Although various approaches to the conceptualisation of motivation exist, a general definition of motivation, is “the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained” (Schunk, Pintrich and Meece, 2008, p. 4). According to this definition, motivation is a process, and as such it needs to be inferred from actions rather than products. The goal-oriented nature of the motivational process implies awareness of something that individuals would like to attain or avoid. In the context of teaching, motivation is oriented towards teaching-related activities, tasks and outcomes that teachers strive to attain or avoid (Lauermann, this volume).

A review of the conceptual and empirical literature on teacher motivation is showing the following implications:

Table 11.2. The various impacts of teacher motivation

Main finding


Teacher motivation is related to their pedagogical knowledge and decision-making strategies enabling the use of high-quality instructional practices.

The following has been reported:

  • A positive association between teacher motivation and general pedagogical knowledge (König and Rothland, 2012).

  • Positive associations between teacher motivation and the teacher or student-reported use of certain instructional practices (those emphasising student learning, mastery-oriented instruction, cooperative learning and student differentiation) (e.g. Ciani, Summers and Easter, 2008; Lauermann, 2015; Thoonen et al., 2011a; Thoonen et al., 2011b).

  • A positive relationship is between teacher motivation and teacher or student-reported cognitive activation of students, classroom management, individual learning support by the teacher and positive teacher-student relationships (e.g. Butler, 2012; Butler and Shibaz, 2014; Holzberger, Philipp and Kunter, 2013, 2014; Kunter and Baumert, 2006; Kunter et al., 2008)

Teacher motivation is related to teachers’ willingness to take advantage of learning opportunities and to engage in professional development. As such, teacher motivation can be conceptualised as both an antecedent and a concomitant of professional knowledge.

Teacher motivation is positively related to:

  • willingness for professional learning, keeping up-to-date and a positive attitude toward professional development (e.g. Nitsche et al., 2013; Thoonen et al., 2011a).

  • positive perceptions of seeking help and a preference for receiving help (e.g. Butler, 2007; Nitsche et al., 2011).

Teacher motivation is related to the motivation, performance and well-being of students.

Positive relationships were reported between the following:

  • teachers’ motivational characteristics and students’ self-reported enjoyment and achievement in mathematics as assessed by the 2003 cycle of PISA. reported a positive relationship between (even after controlling for prior achievement) (Kunter et al., 2013);

  • teacher motivation and student-reported well-being in the school (Thoonen et al., 2011b)

Teacher motivation is related to teachers’ professional and psychological well-being and job satisfaction.

  • Motivation is related to indicators of teachers’ well-being, such as burnout, stress, job satisfaction, positive work environment, as well as persistence in teaching.

The studies reviewed above indicate that teacher motivation is an important factor in high-quality instruction and is positively related to student achievement. While the research on teacher motivation is still relatively new, the theoretical constructs are based on established and empirically-tested theories of motivation used in research on student achievement (Lauermann, this volume). Most importantly, research is beginning to show that teacher learning that is designed to support teachers’ motivational characteristics is more successful in changing teacher behaviour for implementing new instructional strategies (e.g. Tschannen-Moran and McMaster, 2009).

Challenges and directions for future research

Studies reviewed in Part II of this volume clearly demonstrate the value of conceptualising teachers’ competence as a multidimensional construct. Besides their subject-specific and pedagogical knowledge, teachers’ affective-motivational characteristics, such as motivation play a role in teacher quality. Furthermore, a comprehensive model of teachers’ competence includes the transformation of knowledge into practice. Situational perception, interpretation and decision-making skills are such mediating processes. While accumulating evidence shows the significant impact of teachers’ knowledge on the quality of instruction and student achievement, empirical data that allows cross-country comparisons on these relationships are still scarce (Blömeke, this volume). Similarly, research on teacher motivation is to date underdeveloped, and many questions remain to be addressed in future work.

Although we still lack data and evidence, prior research provides a good basis for future studies. Existing research provides theoretical frameworks that capture the main components of teachers’ competence and on which further research can be built. Reliable and valid instruments to assess teachers’ cognitive resources such as their pedagogical knowledge and to measure their motivational characteristics are available. As Blömeke argues, building on existing comparative studies and instruments also has the advantage of connecting new results to existing ones. Nonetheless, several methodological and theoretical challenges have been highlighted in this volume.

Methodological challenges, described in Chapter 8 by Lauermann and Chapter 5 by Blömeke, include various issues. Firstly, establishing clear cause and effect relationships is difficult for several reasons. The majority of available evidence is correlational and cross-sectional. Also, different aspects of teachers’ professional competence can be highly interrelated, causing further difficulties in disentangling their effects. Similarly, social and psychological phenomena and outcomes are typically interrelated, resulting in mutual influence rather than clear predictors and outcomes. This is especially problematic in the absence of sufficiently large samples and longitudinal data. Secondly, analyses of the impact of teachers’ professional competence on the instructional process and on student outcomes necessitate linking teacher and student data. Such study designs and analyses are challenging and costly. Thirdly, the assessment of situation-specific skills entails methodologies such as direct observation of behaviour or video-based assessments that require considerable resources. Furthermore, whether such approaches work across different cultures is an open question.

Theoretical challenges include the direct adaptation of certain frameworks from other domains. For example, as Lauermann argues, research on teacher motivation has largely been inspired by research with students. Assuming that that motivational factors that influence students’ performance on academic tasks are the same as those influencing performance of teaching tasks is not entirely justified because of clear differences between the two groups.

It is clear that further research on teachers’ competences as an indicator of teacher quality is needed. Existing frameworks and instruments provide stable grounds for further development to address research gaps and challenges.

Conceptual framework of teachers’ professional competence

This volume will feed into an international comparative study to be conducted in the OECD’s ITEL project that will investigate teachers’ knowledge as a crucial component of teacher quality. Based on the evidence reviewed here, this section presents a conceptual framework of teachers’ professional competence that serves as the basis for the international study. Although the scope of the study will be narrowed in comparison to what is presented here, it is important to develop a broad framework that incorporates main research findings in the field.

Scholars have conceptualised knowledge and learning in various ways. The cognitive psychological approach understands knowledge as a property of an individual mind, and learning as growth in knowledge, i.e. constructing or acquiring knowledge (Mulcahy, 2012; Paavola, Lipponen and Hakkarainen, 2004). Another approach originates in social constructivism and views knowledge as being distributed over groups of individuals and their environment, and emphasises the situated nature of learning. For teachers this would mean a co-construction of knowledge through the interaction of their prior knowledge and beliefs, and the events and activities in which they participate (Hardy, 2010; Mulcahy, 2012). Learning in this sense is participatory and is situated in teachers’ activities. Literature in the field is vast including work on communities of practice, professional learning communities and learning organisations (e.g. Lave and Wenger, 1991; Gherardi, 2006; Kools and Stoll, 2016). Finally, a more recent approach to conceptualising knowledge and learning is a socio-material perspective, which, instead of only focusing on human interactions, also takes into account the material environment. This is a whole system approach that understands knowledge and learning as embedded in the action and interaction of human actors, teachers for example, and material elements such as texts, instruments or technologies. Knowledge is inherently dynamic and emerges together with, as well as in the activities and practices of teachers (Fenwick, Nerland and Jensen, 2012; Mulcahy, 2012).

In an effort to investigate teachers’ knowledge, the different approaches would require different methodologies. For example, exploring socially constructed knowledge can benefit from qualitative case studies conducted in professional learning communities, or social network analysis that can provide a visual map and analytical understanding of the structure of teachers’ knowledge exchange mechanisms. Since some of these methods would require considerable resources when applied large scale in international context, the ITEL study chose to focus on individual teachers’ characteristics as a first step towards exploring teachers’ knowledge.

As a result of the scope of the ITEL study, namely to explain student achievement by individual teachers’ characteristics, the evidence reviewed here focused on the knowledge and competences of the individual teacher following a predominantly psychological approach combining cognitive and motivational theories. The conceptual framework we are proposing is based on the body of work reviewed in this book, grounded in the empirical and conceptual research in the areas of pedagogical knowledge, the instructional process and the professional competences underlying quality teaching.

The conceptual framework (Figure 11.2) is positioned within a larger framework of teachers’ professional competence. We define competence, similarly as in Chapter 3, as a broad term referring to the ability to meet complex demands in a given context by mobilising various psychosocial (cognitive, functional, personal and ethical) resources. In this sense competence is dynamic and process-oriented, and includes the capacity to use and to adapt knowledge.

Figure 11.2. Conceptual framework of teachers’ professional competence

In fact, the framework expands the professional triangle presented above by focusing on the relationships between the three elements: science, practice and student learning. Educational and learning sciences construct knowledge by investigating, among others, how students learn, and what characterises teaching and learning processes. The dynamic knowledge base is transferred to and co-constructed by teachers through their individual and collective learning. This is denoted by the node “teacher learning”.

Teacher learning

The framework is founded on the basis that high-quality initial teacher education is just the first step in a continuous process of professionalisation which also involves continuous professional development and the regular updating of teachers’ knowledge and skills through informal and non-formal learning. Initial teacher preparation is a crucial site to initiate teachers into the foundations of knowledge and skills about teaching and learning. Further to the scientific content taught in teacher education programmes, this would also include opportunities for pre-service teachers to actively participate in the process of research and inquiry, to learn how to interpret, validate and apply research. This latter is guaranteed through access to experiential opportunities that allow applying knowledge in practice. It is initial preparation that provides teacher candidates with the opportunity to observe professionals in their teaching roles, to practice teaching accompanied by mentors and to learn reflecting on their practice.

However, as argued above, teachers need to be lifelong learners in order that they can meet the complex expectations set in a rapidly changing environment. Formal continuous professional development courses provide them with opportunities to broaden and update their knowledge base regularly. Moreover, non-formal learning, such as national or international conferences and seminars, school-based knowledge sharing workshops, structured professional collaboration are key for teachers to build and also adapt knowledge and skills to their particular context. Informal learning, such as practical experiences in teaching, has been shown as essential in acquiring as well as interiorising knowledge. To include all the different forms and scenes of teacher’s opportunities to learn, the framework uses the broad term of “teacher learning”.

The above opportunities to learn shape teachers’ professional competences on a continuous basis. Competence, as in Chapter 3, is viewed as comprehensive and flexible that comprises the complexity of teachers’ action and is able to capitalise on learning opportunities that happen in different contexts. We now look at the specific elements that constitute teachers’ professional competence based on the evidence reviewed in the volume.

Teachers’ competence

The framework models teachers’ professional competence as a multi-dimensional construct. Evidence clearly indicates that mastering the complex tasks of a teacher necessitates different types of psychosocial resources (Weinert, 2001). Based on the model proposed in Chapter 5, we distinguish between cognitive resources and affective-motivational factors. The former refers to the professional knowledge base of teachers and includes content and pedagogical knowledge. These elements of knowledge encompass the three categories of Shulman described above: (i) knowledge of the subject, (ii) knowledge of the teaching and (iii) learning processes particular to that specific subject and general knowledge of teaching and learning that is cross-curricular. While the framework acknowledges the importance of all of these, evidence seems the scarcest on the third element. It is therefore recommended that an international study on teachers’ knowledge should focus most strongly on general pedagogical knowledge.

Besides knowledge, a range of affective-motivational and self-regulatory characteristics also influence teachers’ instructional practices and their professional behaviours and are related to student achievement (Blömeke and Delaney, 2012; Lauermann, this volume). While research is still underdeveloped in this area, initial results summarised above suggest that motivational factors contribute to quality teaching. For example, motivation has implications for teachers’ well-being, instructional practices and students’ academic and socio-emotional outcomes. Affective-motivational competencies include different dimensions of teacher motivation such as career choice motivation, achievement motivation and goal orientation, but also teachers’ beliefs about their subject area, about teaching and learning, as well as their perceptions of teaching and of the profession (e.g. Blömeke and Delaney, 2012; König and Rothland, 2012; Lauermann, this volume). Another strand of research presented in Chapter 5 shows relationships between teachers’ self-efficacy and their professional responsibility on the one hand and instructional practices on the other. These need to be taken into account when investigating teacher quality, and are included under the broad category of affective-motivational competences and beliefs in the framework.

Decision-making and professional judgement

Professional knowledge base and affective-motivational competences alone do not account for the complexity of the teaching activity. A teacher must be able to use their pedagogical knowledge to make rapid decisions in the classroom. Evidence suggests that in order to make informed pedagogical decisions, teachers must be able to analyse and evaluate specific learning episodes, in combination with contextual and situational factors (e.g. students’ prior knowledge, ability level, motivational factors, lesson objectives, curriculum goals) and to be able to connect all this information to their technical knowledge of the teaching-learning process in order to guide subsequent teaching actions (Blömeke, Gustafson and Shavelson, 2015).

In an international study the characteristics of the context may vary strongly across countries, thus situation specific skills that mediate between teachers’ knowledge and teaching practices must be taken into consideration (Baumert et al., 2010; Blömeke, Gustafsson and Shavelson, 2015). These skills are referred to under the broad term of decision-making and professional judgement in the conceptual framework.

Theoretical frameworks developed in the field of expertise research, reviewed in Chapter 4, Chapter 5 and 6, use the concepts of noticing, perception, reasoning, interpretation, decision-making and professional vision to describe these situation-specific skills. Teacher’s ability to identify classroom situations that are decisive for instructional practice is often referred to as “noticing” or “perception”. Once, the specific situation is identified, teachers need to process and interpret the events to which their attention is directed. “Reasoning” refers to the process and act of interpretation based on their knowledge of teaching and learning. Three facets of the reasoning process were summarised in Chapter 4 based on the work of Seidel and colleagues (Seidel et al., 2011):

  1. the ability to describe what has been noticed

  2. higher-order processes to connect the observed classroom event to prior knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning

  3. knowledge-based reasoning processes to evaluate and predict what might happen as a result of connecting the observed situation to prior knowledge of teaching and learning.

Teachers make pedagogical decisions as a result of various contextual elements including wider school policies, the students in question as well as specific classroom events based on their knowledge. In order that such decisions result in instructional practices that effectively facilitate student learning, noticing and reasoning require a high level of pedagogical knowledge about effective teaching and student learning processes on the one hand, and the ability to apply such knowledge for planning and implementing instruction to the current situation on the other (Stürmer, Könings and Seidel, 2013). Shalem (2014) also highlights the importance of theoretical knowledge in teacher’s judgement and argues that locating teachers’ judgement in their practice would mean neglecting the role of a formal and systematic knowledge base. Therefore the conceptual framework represents decision-making and professional judgement as the link between formal knowledge and competencies and teaching.

Teaching approaches and instruction

Teaching approaches include the strategy a teacher decides to adopt as a result of his or her professional judgement. These are understood here as particular ways of organising and managing the teaching and learning process. They are not limited to what actually happens in the classroom, rather encompass the broad strategies on curriculum and lesson planning, selecting and applying sets of teaching methods, ways of classroom management, student assessment and so on. Instruction or teaching practice is, in turn, the concrete implementation of the teaching approaches. It refers to the way the pedagogical approaches are manifested in the teacher’s interactions with the students, his or her behaviour, as well as in the tools and materials used in the classroom. It is through instruction that the complex assemblage of teaching competences finally reach students.

Student learning

Preserving the primarily psychological approach to describe the teaching and learning process, the framework highlights two interconnected aspects of student learning: their cognitive and socio-emotional development. High quality teaching should allow students to acquire the competences they need to achieve their life goals and become active and happy members of society. While cognitive skills are important in attaining a high-level of qualification, finding a job and earning a good salary, social and emotional skills are crucial for a broad range of social outcomes including achieving goals, working with others and managing emotions (OECD, 2015c).

A framework developed in the Education and Social Progress project within the OECD describes some of the most important functions of the two main domains of skills. Cognitive skills, including domains of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving, incorporate basic skills such as recognising patterns and memorising; the ability to access, extract and interpret knowledge; and the ability to reflect, reason and conceptualise novel ways of dealing with a particular problem. Social and emotional skills include the domains of achieving goals, working with others and managing emotions (OECD, 2015c). The conceptual framework (Figure 11.2) shows that cognitive and socio-emotional skills are not distinct, they mutually influence each other. For example, some of the “21st century skills” such as creativity and critical thinking have both cognitive and socio-emotional dimensions (OECD, 2015c).

A complex framework

Evidence presented in this volume demonstrates the complexity of the teaching and learning process. It is important to underline that our proposed framework does not represent a series of linear relationships between its elements. In fact, the different pieces are in a continuous and dynamic interaction with one another. Teachers’ learning about practice is enhanced through their consciousness of the interaction between teaching and learning in classroom practice (Loughran, 2013). For example, teachers’ professional judgements are influenced real time as they consciously observe and reflect on student learning in the classroom. This dynamic process itself is part of their informal learning. Teachers’ knowledge both informs teaching strategies and is being generated as a consequence of an active and ongoing process (Loughran, 2013).

Naturally, capturing such complex and non-linear relationships through an international comparative study is very challenging. However, contributing to a better understanding of what the specialised knowledge of teachers is like, how their opportunities to learn exactly relate to their knowledge, and in what ways motivational factors relate to it would be an important first step in unfolding the complexity of the teaching profession.

Governing teacher knowledge – a policy perspective

Teachers are facing new challenges and new requirements to be able to adapt to an environment characterised by changes in society, the labour market, technology etc. In an effort to make the education system more effective and equitable, it is particularly important that governments reflect on strengthening the teaching profession. We have illustrated the complexity of teaching and learning and how this is embedded in a system characterised by multiple levels, actors, processes and mechanisms. Ensuring that teachers are able to tackle these new challenges and equip all children with the competences they need thus requires a deep understanding of how such a complex system can be governed.

Governance needs to aim at strengthening both the cognitive and the social aspect of the teaching profession. The former involves facilitating the creation of an integrated and robust knowledge base for teachers capable of renewing and adapting to new circumstances. Part III of this volume illustrated that research and evidence that may potentially be relevant for teaching is growing in various fields. Learning sciences include emerging evidence in educational neurosciences and how concepts such as brain plasticity and structural brain development could have implications for teacher development as well as student learning outcomes (Ansari et al., this volume). At the same time research is also emerging through studies focusing on so-called 21st century skills. Helping students acquire skills such as innovation, creativity and creative problem-solving are seen as developing transferable knowledge that can be applied to solve new problems or respond effectively to new situations (Pellegrino, this volume). Growing evidence on how to create learning environments that support the development of these competencies can also be pertinent for teachers.

What exactly of this emerging evidence proves to be relevant for teachers and how it becomes integrated in teachers’ knowledge is dependent to a large extent on the social side of the profession. Creating opportunities for the different actors – teachers, educational and learning researchers, teacher educators – to interact and co-operate in a purposeful and constructive manner, facilitating participatory action and continuous reflection and evaluation are important features of the effective governance of the social aspect of the teaching profession (Best and Holmes, 2012; Burns and Köster, 2016). Self-organisation is a fundamental characteristic of complex systems, which implies that rather than creating strong central structures it is more beneficial to facilitate self-governing processes in the teaching profession (Davis and Sumara, 2009; Snyder, 2013).

Self-organisation within a profession can relate to the regulation of various phenomena and processes, some of the main features including controlling access to the profession by setting requirements for initial training and professional development, establishing a code of conduct, etc. This often involves an independent professional body responsible for managing and revising these requirements, and regulating processes of selection, registration and accreditation of programmes. Accountability mechanisms such as evaluation and inspection can also fall under the responsibility of the profession itself. As illustrated in Chapter 2, countries and economies differ regarding the extent of responsibility of the state versus that of independent bodies responsible for regulating the teaching profession. Scotland was mentioned as an example where a truly independent professional body exists. While some argue that the status of a profession depends also on its self-regulatory power (e.g. Whitty, 2000), others acknowledge that it is not a universal solution for every challenge of the profession (Monteira, 2015). In this volume we have focused on teachers’ knowledge base and have argued that governance should empower the profession itself to govern teacher knowledge.

Applying a whole system approach rather than focusing on isolated elements has been identified as one of the main elements of effective governance (Burns and Köster, 2016). For teaching this means addressing all levels of the system: the level of the classroom, that of the school as an organisation and the systemic level of the whole profession. It was suggested in Chapter 2 that teacher learning is a key node that is connected to many others and is thus central for governing teachers’ knowledge. Figure 11.3 shows the nested nature of some elements. The inner circle, pedagogy refers to the teaching and learning process at the classroom and school level, which is cultivated by teacher learning, again understood broadly. The whole is embedded in the system of the profession. A study aiming to support teacher policies should target all three levels.

Figure 11.3. Nested elements of the teaching profession

As demonstrated above, more evidence and research is still needed to inform policies on teaching. Such research should take into consideration the different levels and address both the social and the cognitive dimensions of the teaching profession. It is in this quest that the ITEL project was conceived. The study aims at the same time to improve teacher learning through investigating opportunities to learn and to improve the knowledge base by looking at pedagogical knowledge. The three policy challenges to which ITEL will contribute are:

  • How we can improve pedagogy for more successful learning?

  • How we can improve teacher education for more successful teaching?

  • How we can improve the selection, retention and professional development of teachers?

Developing a teacher knowledge survey

In addressing the above challenges, the next phase of the project is to develop and test an instrument that is capable of contributing to the empirical evidence base in this field. A survey aiming to answer the policy challenges should look at different aspects of teachers’ competence. First, to provide guidance in improving pedagogy, it needs to look at teachers’ knowledge of teaching and learning and how teachers learn to adapt their practice to new educational demands. A future survey should thus be designed to explore the nature of teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and understand the extent to which teachers have the knowledge and skills for teaching 21st century skills. It should also be able to explore the dynamics of knowledge in the teaching profession, in particular whether and how new pedagogical knowledge is incorporated into the profession.

Second, to address challenges of improving teacher education, the future study should explore the quality of learning opportunities in teacher education and how these relate to teacher candidates’ learning outcomes. In particular, it should provide insight into whether teacher education programmes actually offer teachers opportunities to attain the knowledge and skills in order to effectively teach students and prepare them for 21st century society. Furthermore, such a survey needs to unfold the relationship between pedagogical knowledge and learning opportunities in teacher education, including specific characteristics such as the quality of field experiences and qualifications of teacher educators.

Third, to understand how the best candidates can be selected and retained, as well as how they can become expert teachers, a future study needs to understand teachers’ motivation and how this relates to professional competence. It is important to select candidates who not only show potential for the teaching profession, but who are driven to continue to develop their practice. It is thus crucial to better understand how teachers’ motivational characteristics relate to the quality of pedagogical knowledge, as well as the relationship among the institutional characteristics of teacher education, opportunities to learn pedagogy and teachers’ motivational characteristics.


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