Exploring Teacher Recruitment, Placement, and Motivation: Session 1 of the RISE Annual Conference 2023

Session 1 of the RISE Annual Conference 2023 brought us lessons about the different factors that influence teacher effectiveness and teaching practice.


Image of Lillie Kilburn

Lillie Kilburn

RISE Directorate

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

In 2022, seven years after its launch, the RISE Programme looked back on its wealth of research and formulated five actions that were needed to accelerate the world’s progress in learning. The fourth of these actions was “support teaching”—a small phrase that encompasses a world of meaning.

RISE’s Policy Brochure on the five actions identified two important facets of supporting teaching:

  • Reforming teacher career paths and compensation structures to attract, retain, and motivate quality teaching, and
  • Refocusing professional development on the craft of the teaching profession, ensuring that teachers receive ongoing support to build specific content knowledge and pedagogical skills.

We can see these two aspects of supporting teaching reflected in the first two sessions of the RISE Annual Conference 2023. Session 1 focused on the recruitment, placement, and motivation of teachers, while Session 2 centred on the role of teacher training and support.

Over two blog pieces, we’ll explore the research presented in these sessions and how it shed light on the crucial endeavour of supporting teachers and teaching. This blog will dive into Session 1, while a second blog will cover Session 2.

Exploring the Recruitment, Placement, and Motivation of Teachers

Session 1 was chaired by Yue-Yi Hwa, former RISE Research Manager and current What Works Hub Senior Education Specialist. In her introduction, she noted that the topics of the session—teacher training, selection, allocation, and contract structure—affect all teachers at all times and therefore affect all students. In other words, teacher professional training and selection matter for teaching throughout a teacher’s career, not just at a single point in their career.

The Effect of High Dismissal Protection on Bureaucratic Turnover and Productivity

María Lombardi of the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella began session 1 (video) with research on the effects of dismissal protection in the context of Chile. She discussed how the Chilean government’s decision to grant high protection from dismissal to a set of public-school teachers affected education quality and teacher turnover.

Lombardi pointed out that there are reasons why high levels of job security might be expected to improve and decrease the quality of teaching. On one hand, the appeal of job security might attract skilful teachers and improve morale. On the other hand, protection from dismissal might remove a motivator toward good performance and allow low-performing teachers to remain when they shouldn’t.

In Chile, Lombardi explained, permanent and temporary teachers have similar salaries, but permanent teachers enjoy far greater protection from dismissal. In 2015, the government granted permanent contracts to teachers on temporary contracts who had taught for three consecutive or four non-consecutive years—nearly one-third of temporary teachers in total. This event provided a great opportunity to examine the effects of the change in dismissal protection by comparing the changes in results for teachers who had been granted permanent contracts under this law and those who hadn’t but possessed almost the same amount of teaching experience.

The results of the analysis: among those who were granted permanent contracts, teacher turnover decreased for both high-performing and low-performing teachers, and learning declined significantly for students of initially low-performing teachers. Lombardi’s conclusion was that higher protection from dismissal based on seniority was a double-edged sword: while it helps to retain high-performing teachers, it also makes it more difficult to remove low-performing teachers.

The Potential of Smart Matching Platforms in Teacher Assignment: The Case of Ecuador

Next in the session, Gregory Elacqua of the Inter-American Development Bank presented findings from an information intervention in Ecuador (video).

In Ecuador, Elacqua explained, the process through which teachers apply for open teaching positions is opaque and complicated. As in many countries, some positions are more appealing to teachers because of location or school characteristics such as school socioeconomic status.

Yet teachers lack information about their chances of securing the vacancies they’re applying for.  Many teacher vacancies are not applied for at all, while more attractive positions have over 10 applicants. More than half of applicants end up without a position at the end of the process, and many disadvantaged schools end up not filling their positions.

The intervention provided teachers with the information they needed about their likelihood of securing the positions they applied for. Applicants received a report about their application that included the number of applicants for each position. And those who were unlikely to be hired in the positions they had chosen received a warning and a list of suggested alternative positions to apply for. These positions were recommended because the existing applicants had lower scores than those of the teacher receiving the recommendation.

The intervention was found to be effective. About 43 percent of teachers who received the warning went on to apply to one of the recommended positions. Overall, more teachers were successfully assigned to a position, and the quality of assigned teachers increased.

Rule-Based Civil Service: Evidence from a Nationwide Teacher Reform in Mexico

Ricardo Estrada of CAF‚ the Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean, explored the effects of Mexico’s 2013 SPD education reform, which required competitive exam results to be used in making teacher hiring and promotion decisions (video).

Estrada noted that teacher quality is composed of many different elements. The area his study focused on was that of cognitive skills, since high cognitive skills tend to be associated with stronger teaching.

 By looking at teachers’ own test scores in the ENLACE exam, which they took at the end of Grade 12, Estrada and his co-authors were able to determine whether the SPD reform of the hiring system brought in teachers with higher cognitive skills than those hired through a previous reform named ACE.

Indeed, they found that the SPD reform produced a cohort of new teachers who overall had higher skills, and this was mainly because it reduced the number of hires with the lowest levels of cognitive skills. Discretionary hires, which tended to have lower cognitive skills, were reduced, and the reform made the hiring process more able to effectively select skilled teachers.

How Much Do I Matter? Teacher Beliefs about Education Production

Last in Session 1 was Jalnidh Kaur of Teachers College, Columbia University, discussing her paper about the role of teacher beliefs about their own potential to affect student learning (video).

Kaur explained that although teacher effort is a strong determinant of student learning, many teachers believe the opposite: they believe that their effort can’t make much of a difference in learning for students who are perceived by these teachers to be disadvantaged. This belief has concerning implications. If teachers don’t believe their effort will pay off, then they might be less motivated to make that effort, which would result in poorer education for disadvantaged students.

Therefore, Kaur’s research centred on two questions: can teachers’ beliefs about the payoff of their own effort be changed, and would a change in those beliefs affect teacher effort and student learning? Kaur’s psychosocial intervention focused on increasing teachers’ confidence in their own abilities to effect change. Conducted over Zoom after school, the training sessions included topics such as self-efficacy and problem solving.

The results? Strong positive effects on an index of classroom effort, including more effort in engaging students during lessons and practices such as checking notebooks. Most importantly, treated teachers’ students of all skill levels experienced improved learning.

Takeaways from Session 1

In her introduction to the session, Yue-Yi Hwa emphasised the point that teachers are agents who make choices about where to direct their energy, and those choices affect their students’ learning. Three of these papers show the power of teachers’ decisions and why information and management are important factors in shaping those decisions.

These presentations also bring lessons about the different factors that influence teacher effectiveness and teaching practice. While cognitive skills at the time of hiring matter, so does teacher motivation after hiring.

Read and watch more from the RISE Annual Conference 2023

To access more research and conversation from the RISE Annual Conference, take a look at our 2023 conference playlist on YouTube, which includes recordings all of the conference sessions. The #RISEConf2023 hashtag on X (formerly Twitter) is also a great way to see the discussions that happened during the conference.

RISE blog posts and podcasts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.