School Reform: Learning From Around the World

This blog summarizes a longer article by Lieberman in the book Leading Educational Change. To learn more about the book, visit this link

The idea of school reform, although having a different look in different countries, has one thinking about what it means to be a teacher in different countries and how the policies in education connect to the supports that teachers need in their daily practice.

In China, there are subtle messages to move from rote learning to embrace more project-based learning. A recent conference on elementary education in Beijing began the conversation among teachers in elementary schools in China. Four schools in the United States that do project-based learning were mated with a group of elementary schools in Beijing and several other cities. Two American teachers from each of the four schools went to a conference that consisted of teachers, principals, and policymakers. The conference videotaped American teachers from the four schools teaching students in Chinese elementary schools. The teachers then appeared in the conference setting to answer questions. Needless to say, the conference participants were excited to see the real practices of a different way of thinking about the role of the teacher and the participation of the students.

There is still connection to the Chinese schools with the American teachers, but one wonders how much more needs to be shared? And how can these complex ideas take root in a vastly different culture in the policies as well as the practices?

In the United States, we are moving toward national standards called the Common Core, and much of the acceptance of the Common Core also comes with the need to change our assessment system. The state of California is supporting both the ideas. But states across the United States are mandating the use of the Common Core, and test prep businesses are creating new forms of assessment. How can the policies support teacher involvement so that they will have opportunities to learn and teach these new standards?

In Toronto, a program called Teacher Learning and Leadership began in 2008 and is still in place. Teachers write a short proposal to do professional development in their own school and beyond. Early evidence shows that teachers find this kind of trust and respect extraordinary and that they learn leadership by their actual involvement in this program. Because this is a collaboration between the Ministry and the Ontario Teachers Federation, policies support this form of professional development. Will the next election of new policymakers continue to support this extremely successful program that has now involved more than 3,000 teachers?

Even in Finland, a new type of mentoring of beginning teachers has been introduced, despite the fact that all their teachers must earn a master's degree with research being an important part of their learning. Can such an addition to their already outstanding results on International Tests be continued? Can these kinds of investments be made to an already strong teacher preparation program?

Singapore is one of the few countries that has actually created a career ladder for teachers. Singapore's teacher attrition rate is very low because of the good salary, opportunities for teachers, and its continuing respect and trust of teachers in society. What are they doing to create this culture of opportunity? They openly talk about teachers as professionals (Goodwin, 2012).  What can we learn from countries like this about a path toward teacher professionalism supported by national policies?

We are in an extraordinary period of history where rapid change, caused in part by the growth of technology, is enveloping many areas of our life including education. The demand for teachers to engage in continuous learning throughout their careers has never been stronger. Both pre-service programs and professional development programs are slowly changing to involve teachers not just in learning someone else’s ideas, but in participating in the development of those ideas. Learning from other countries is giving us some innovative and important ways that this is happening. Will teachers be given the time and support to create schools whose policies will enhance the commitment of teachers to be full partners in the changing practices?

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