In 2018, the Education Commission launched the Education Workforce Initiative to develop concrete options for policymakers to redesign, expand, and strengthen the education workforce to meet the changing demands of the 21st century and enable quality education for all. Dozens of experts and researchers are currently looking at ways people around the world are redefining roles, strengthening workforces, using technology, and financing change. This blog series presents some of the questions experts are tackling as part of the Commission’s forthcoming Education Workforce Report, due in summer 2019.
“I am not here to find shortcomings and faults. I am here to observe the teaching practices that are going around in classrooms – and what is good and what is not so good. My purpose is to share those ideas and practices from one school to another. So, I am kind of a messenger across the schools while I am sharing practices.”
– Mentor Teacher, Delhi
During recent research in Delhi, I was struck by how elegantly this mentor teacher articulated their role as an instructional leader. No longer a teacher, she had stepped up to a new mid-level system leadership role as part of major workforce reform by the Delhi government and STIR Education.
I see strong potential in formalizing innovative, mid-level roles to address the teaching crisis. How can policymakers learn from this, reimagining the role of these professionals – such as district officials and teacher mentors – in the service of teaching and learning outcomes?
This is one of the important new questions posed by the Education Workforce Initiative (EWI). It’s also a question on which my team at the Education Development Trust has been reflecting, in our role as researchers and practitioners in system reform. We now have the privilege of contributing to EWI’s report as part of an international collaboration to rethink the education workforce to support quality education for all. Below we share key questions that we will be asking – drawing on a range of disciplines from organisation design to change management – to shed new light on opportunities for countries to strengthen their education workforce mid-level professionals as change agents.
The first question is about design:
1. Which core functions will transform learning outcomes?
Officials’ time is typically consumed by administrative and management duties. Yet in rapidly improving systems, we often see middle tier professionals providing instructional support for teachers – from Mentor Teachers in Delhi, to Supervisor roles in Jordan, which spark change in classrooms by brokering international evidence on high impact pedagogy.
None of these is a headteacher, and yet all deliver the function of instructional leadership. If we can more sharply define the core functions required of future systems, we can explore where in the system these activities are best to take place.
Our wider questions concern implementation. Policymakers know that smart policy choices – and clever HR charts – are only the start of successful change. Taking workforce innovations to scale is where the hard work begins. What’s refreshing about the EWI research is its emphasis on implementation.
2. Which competencies are critical for mid-level roles?
In rapidly improving systems, mid-level professionals work directly with teachers to improve their practice, as mediators and the face of reforms. Getting job descriptions right is a good start, but evidence suggests it is key competencies that determine role-holders’ success in leading change. For example, Education Development Trust’s instructional coaches in Kenya talk passionately about building a climate of trust to motivate teachers.
We’ve seen again and again that successful change is created by a combination of deep expertise with the skill and disposition to bring this to bear in a way which empowers teachers. If we can understand these competencies, we can unlock solutions for high impact recruitment, training and management of system-level roles.
3. What is the role of peer influence and “horizontal” leadership?
Some innovative workforce reforms – such as those in the Brazilian state of Paraná – foster teacher-peer collaboration and networks to unlock teacher motivation. How can the middle tier unleash this capacity? What role can technology play in the spread of peer ideas? Commentators talk about the importance of middle tier ‘intermediaries’ who help scale collaboration, stewarding innovations.
If we are to push thinking on education workforce design and strengthening, we must understand these radically different models of scaling and reform which offer a vision of deep-rooted change.
4. How can feedback continue to transform the system
Workforce systems are not static. Systems thinking and organisation design theory encourage us to understand transformative practices as well as structures and roles. In Vietnam, teachers talk about the interaction between schools and the state as the ‘logical system’ – policies are cascaded to schools via middle tier professionals. There is also a strong feedback loop for rapid reporting of frontline views on implementation issues back up through the system, giving teachers a voice and agency.
If we can understand ‘implementation’ as an active process, we can design continuous improvement into future reforms.
My hope for this research is that such new perspectives help us tackle not just the ‘hard-wiring’ of workforce reform but also the social process of change required to support teachers as skilled, motivated professionals.