Highlighting The Role of Effective Teaching and Teachers: Key Takeaways from the 2022 RISE Conference

The first session of the 2022 RISE Annual Conference showed that supporting the complex craft of teaching requires long-run and comprehensive approaches to teacher selection and training.

Teaching is a complex craft; there is never a “one size fits all” approach. Even though we all understand the importance of good teaching, we sometimes fail to identify implementable actions to ensure quality teaching. We must hold teachers fully accountable for delivering learning, but that accountability must include a supportive environment, training, and incentives to motivate good teaching practices. Given all this complexity, the question remains: what is the best way to support effective teaching? 

With this question in mind, I decided to join the RISE Annual Conference on 23 and 24 June 2022. Held in the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford with a hub in Abuja, Nigeria, the conference brings together researchers across a range of disciplines (economics, political science, comparative education, and others) who study why education outcomes in many developing countries lag behind and how systems thinking can help address the learning crisis.  

The more than 30 papers presented at the conference were divided among eight sessions, ranging from learning to long-term trajectories of change. During all the sessions, I found all the presentations extremely useful and relevant to my research interest, specifically on teachers and quality teaching. This emphasis on supporting teaching was also mentioned a day before the RISE conference at an event where the RISE Directorate presented emergent policy messages to improve education outcomes.  

Supporting quality teaching

One of these messages, focused on “supporting teaching,” highlights the importance of effective teaching practice in accelerating learning progress. It’s noteworthy that the message emphasises supporting effective teaching rather than supporting teachers.  The intention of this distinction is to highlight the need to provide teachers with the types of support that directly improve their teaching effectiveness—coaching, curriculum support, and relevant, quality materials—rather than programs that focus only on requiring additional paper qualifications or providing additional benefits.  

Along similar lines, the first session of the RISE conference, which focused on teachers, raised several interesting points related to supporting teachers.  The four papers presented each shed a light on specific modalities of teachers’ support, starting from teachers’ selection to understanding norms affecting effective teaching. 

In Indonesia, the criteria used to select teacher candidates do not predict student learning outcomes

A study by Asri Yusrina, Luhur Bima, Emilie Berkhout, and Daniel Suryadarma aims to determine whether teacher candidates’ selection criteria into Teacher Professional Education or Pendidikan Profesi Guru (PPG) in Indonesia can predict student achievement. Using data from 1,291 primary school teacher candidates, the related paper, “Selecting Teachers in Indonesia: Predicting Teacher Performance using Pre-Employment Information,” finds that teacher candidates with better interview scores or GPAs have higher scores on exams that test their teaching practice. However, there was no evidence of any relationship between novice teachers’ previous scores on the selection criteria and their students’ subsequent learning. This paper adds to the growing body of evidence showing that classroom teaching is a complex craft, so we cannot rely solely on one-off selection indicators to predict which teachers that will thrive in the profession throughout their careers. To identify committed and capable teachers, selecting teachers based on a probation period is more favorable.

Most teachers misestimate the share of low and high achieving students in their classroom

A study (“Primary- and Middle-School Teachers in South Asia Overestimate the Performance of their Students”) by Sharnic Djaker, Alejandro Ganimian, and Shwetlena Sabarwal uses math and language score data for 1,500 students and 450 teachers in India and Bangladesh. They find that most teachers underestimate the total share of low-performing students in the classroom, and the amount of misestimation by teachers is large. Some reasons underlying these findings are teachers’ heavy reliance on heuristics and overestimation of students’ fluid intelligence as a predictor of test performance. Policy implications to create more effective teaching include giving teachers regular snapshots of their students’ achievement levels and training teachers to differentiate instruction to meet different levels of student achievements. These are examples of the types of support which could promote more effective teaching.  

Continuous professional development (CPD) influences teaching practice through a few different drivers of change

A paper (“What Drives Teachers to Change Their Instruction? A Mixed-Methods Study from Zambia”) by Jacqueline Mathenge, Andreas de Barros, and Junita Henry uses primary qualitative data from 78 Zambian education employees to determine the factors influencing change of instruction by teachers in developing countries. By incorporating qualitative thematic analysis and linear probability models, this paper concludes that off-site teacher training helps teachers to learn new teaching methods, while school-based training creates opportunities to discuss and address challenges. Thus, a multimodal approach to teacher CPD, with school-based CPD complemented by other approaches, can help teachers to practice new skills and motivate quality teaching. 

The norms affecting teaching practices are influenced by different levels such as teachers’ individual motivations, situations, as well as societal values

A paper (“Teacher professional norms in the Global South: Intersections between selves, situations, standards, and society”) by Yue-Yi Hwa uses a qualitative coding of transcripts from interviews between pairs of interlocutors who have complementary, interdisciplinary expertise related to teacher norms. By giving various examples of teachers’ firsthand experiences and broader system-level reflections from the interlocutors, this paper highlights two important findings: i) The importance of complementarity between a bird’s eye overview and individual actors’ perspectives in systems thinking; ii) Rather than short-term approaches that only focus on one element of the system, long-run and comprehensive approaches are needed to improve teaching practice throughout an education system. 

A complex challenge, worth facing

These papers highlight the importance of supporting effective teaching because of its complexity. As an example of the complexity of the teaching craft, Djaker and coauthors’ paper on teachers’ misestimation of student achievement in India and Bangladesh shows that effective teaching is not only about teachers’ technical skills, but also their perceptions and mindsets. Similarly, Hwa’s paper on the norms affecting the teaching profession shows the many competing factors and pressures affecting daily teaching practice. The other papers on the panel suggest some examples of what it means to support teaching: selecting teachers based not only on one-off tests and interviews, as mentioned in Yusrina and coauthors’ paper, and complementing school-based continuous professional development with off-site training, as depicted in Mathenge and coauthors’ paper.  

These studies on teaching and teachers are just some of the many thought-provoking studies presented at the conference, all of which can be reviewed on the RISE Annual Conference 2022 webpage, where the full papers, presentation slides, and videos are freely available. This blog by David Evans also summarises all of the conference presentations. 

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