Netherlands has consistently delivered learning outcomes that are excellent. This week we listen to a a teacher from there to find out what systems help teachers support these high learning outcomes…
We meet Cees, our teacher of History from Netherlands. Cees teaches teenagers and moved to teaching when some teachers he met when working to set up the educational wing of a museum told him it was exciting and challenging work. And most strikingly for many of us who teach in other countries – the teachers said – You are really free to design your own lessons’.
Cees is not an ‘academic’ teacher – they have two masters degrees, one in their core subject and the other, a yea long, in teaching. A masters is five years of university education. These teachers get paid more and they teach senior classes. Teacher pay does not really match up to many other professions Other teachers get a professional qualification for teaching – the certification is essential for a teaching job. But this is not as rigourous as the masters in teaching, easier to obtain and are seen as a quality assurance measure by the school inspectors. It is possible of course to upgrade to being a ‘first class’ or ‘academic’ teacher by acquiring the degree.
Teacher quality we know is probably the most important input into the progress of children – whether one measures it by learning outcomes (as most measures do) or by student wellbeing and long term progress. Cees notes that a significant 10% of his time as a teacher is allocated to professional development. Emphasis is placed on reflection and learnings from practice. This is in addition to teaching time – which again has time allocated for preparation and after work. Pupils rate teachers too and this puts teachers under pressure to perform better. Interestingly, he adds later – when talking about managing the range of students in the classroom – “We have tools for that. If there is a problem, you can always get training for that”
This, then is at the core of delivering good outcomes – supporting a teacher with training whenever gaps are identified. Clear goal setting and holding them to account in every academic cycle. Working on ironing out gaps, supporting them with peer learning, with time and money for improving themselves and giving them freedom in their lessons.
In his own words – what I think is special and must be adopted in every country for better teaching and learning –
“During the training we have supervision and mentors and I had two coaches – one for supervision on the psychological reflection and one for more general studies. Now when you’re new at the school you have a special coach. When you’re not new anymore, you don’t have a coach, but in every school you find five teachers who are equal and you share your experiences – what you can’t cope with and what techniques you use. You can reflect on that. It’s really helpful for things you can’t cope with. It’s done by our school. We got special training to lead such conversations. And now we do that as some sort of oral support. For example I had a personal clash with a pupil and I didn’t know what to do because there was tension that wasn’t getting better. I talked to the pupils’ parents and that didn’t help, so then I talked to the support group. It’s all classified and safe of course.”
Cees is now also a teacher coach. And the advice he gives new teachers? “Be yourself, Be consistent”
Advice we would be wise to take, and invest in ourselves to give our best to the students we nurture.
When speaking to teachers across countries, all have expressed the need for a mentor from time to time. A teacher mentorship network that has evolved online is new – and it is early days to judge it – but early reactions show a positive impact on teacher morale and capability. Teachers often find themselves isolated in their professional worlds – even in places where team teaching is strong or where senior support is available in the areas they teach. Good school leaders foster an environment where mentoring is valued and nurtured. Schools that can enable this are lucky – there are large swathes of schools and students that are small, remote and face a scarcity of teachers that a mentor network is not physically possible.
Before I leave, I have to ask the question – do these teacher training and support processes, including coaching and mentoring really lead to better learning outcomes? The evidence from the EFA Report certainly seems to indicate that this is so – countries with stronger teacher training systems and better support and governance mechanisms do seem to have better learning outcomes as measured by standardised tests.
Of course, learning outcomes are only a part of the story. But an important part.
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Do come back here for two more links coming up – one, a broader discussion on learning outcomes; and two, a link to the UNESCO EFA project where there is much more on these stories.