Global Education Leaders: Nations Must Elevate the Teaching Profession

At the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, which concluded late Thursday afternoon, participants strongly agreed that elevating the professional status of teachers was critical for improved, sustainable student achievement. The summit, co-hosted by the National Education Association (NEA), marked the first time education ministers, teachers and union leaders from around the world had assembled to discuss best practices.

“We must build a professional community of teachers if we are all to thrive,” Eddie Shee Shing Chung of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union told the delegation. “There needs to be more respect, more trust, more space for teacher autonomy.”

The theme of “autonomy” was widely discussed at the summit. Accountability based on testing was insufficient and even counterproductive, most agreed, and without the necessary empowerment and training of good teachers, the desired outcome for student learning would not be realized.

S. Iswaran, Senior Minister of State for Education in Singapore, speaks at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

S. Iswaran, senior minister of state for education in Singapore, said high quality teachers has been the lynchpin of his country’s status as one of the world’s highest performing education systems. In building its education reforms, Singapore identified teacher quality as key to improving outcomes and the government aggressively promotes and fosters teaching talent.

“We’ve been able to systematically recruit high quality teachers, develop them and retain them in our system,” Iswaran said. “This has had beneficial consequences on our students and their learning outcome.”

Other key themes discussed during the two-day summit included the partnership with teachers in education reform efforts and building collaboration between unions and education leaders.

In top-performing countries like Finland, Singapore, and Canada, teachers unions are an active partner in the design and implementation of reforms. In Norway, the input of the education unions is respected, valued and considered a vital part of education policy.

“We have a very close cooperation with the union, to ensure that we get the valuable information on what is going on in the classroom,” Lisbet Rugtvedt of Norway’s Ministry of Education explained. “And we have a very important discussion on how to go forward and the implementation of reforms. I think that sometimes we need to compromise with the teachers because we need to show them respect, respect their professional skills. If we don’t show them respect we will not get the results we need in the classrooms.”

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel (middle) and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (left).

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel described these and other success stories as “inspirational” and contrasted the political climate in these high-performing nations with recent current events in the United States.

“The idea that you could possibly really change what is happening in education and not consult the voice of the professionals who are there every day, just doesn’t make sense,” Van Roekel said. ” In the United States, we are having incredible attacks on the union – folks are wanting to shut that voice out. These ministers and unions (from around the world) are doing things in partnership. And what an important message to send: a good education is way too important to allow politics and political gain to be made at the expense of students.”

The summit is designed as just the first step in building an ongoing international dialogue on improving education. In the following weeks, the Asia Society will lead host organizations in preparing and publishing a summary paper outlining key points and lessons that emerged from of the summit. General Secretary of Education International Fred van Leeuwen urged all participants to build on its success.

“This cannot be solely a one-off event,” van Leeuwen said. “Otherwise the potential of this summit will be lost. It is vital that this event provide a springboard for a global forum in which this valuable dialogue will continue.”