Building a collaborative culture for teachers

Most people remember at least one teacher who took a real interest in their life and aspirations, helped them understand who they were, taught them to love learning. And it is precisely these aspects that inspire the vast majority of people to become teachers: according to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), nine out of ten teachers in participating OECD countries and economies cite the opportunity to influence children’s development and contribute to society as one of their main motivations to join the profession.

What does this profession look like today, at a time when the kind of things that are easy to teach and test have also become easy to digitise and automate? For example, machines can do basic calculations, memorise facts, or sort and organise far more quickly than humans can. Today, society no longer rewards people just for what they know–Google knows everything–but for what they can do with what they know.

Today’s teachers are being asked to help students think for themselves and work with others. Teachers should have a deep and broad understanding of what they teach and for whom. They must be experts not only in their subject matter and how to teach it, but also in how to create the kinds of learning environments that lead to good outcomes. They must be able to respond to many different learners, in an environment that is constantly changing. They must also help students develop a sense of enquiry and research skills required to help with lifelong learning.

And that’s not all we ask of our teachers. We also expect them to be compassionate and thoughtful; to encourage students’ engagement and responsibility; to promote collaboration and social cohesion; to provide continual assessment and feedback to all kinds of students; and to ensure that everyone feels valued and included. A tall order, to say the least.

What can school systems do to help teachers achieve their mission? For a start, school systems should take a greater interest in the professional views of teachers as experts on teaching and learning. Surveys such as TALIS – which establish a teacher perspective on how teaching and learning can be organised to achieve the best outcomes – are still quite rare.

The views of teachers expressed in TALIS tell us a lot about the gap between pedagogical vision and practice and between professional aspirations and a still highly industrial organisation of work. To meet a growing demand for high-quality teachers, countries will need to work harder, not just to make teaching more attractive not just financially, but intellectually too, by treating teaching professionals as advanced knowledge workers in a world in which both autonomy and a collaborative culture are paramount.

This means providing teachers with better opportunities to prepare for tomorrow’s world. Our data show that little more than half of teachers participating received initial training in the use of technology for teaching, and less than half felt well prepared when they joined the profession. Contrast this with the view of two-thirds of teachers, who report that the most impactful professional development they participated in focused on innovation in their teaching.

Designers of successful education systems in the 21st century will do whatever it takes to develop teachers’ ownership over professional practice. Some say we cannot give teachers and education leaders greater autonomy because they lack the capacity and expertise to deliver on it. There may be some truth in that. Yet simply perpetuating a prescriptive model of teaching will not produce creative teachers. By contrast, when teachers feel a sense of ownership over their practices, their classrooms, and when students feel a sense of ownership over their learning, that is when productive teaching takes place.

It is time to address transparency, professional autonomy and the collaborative culture of the teaching profession all at the same time. TALIS reminds us that many teachers and schools are ready for this, and acting now will help garner trust. Imagine, for example, a giant open-source community for teachers, where they can share their ideas, a space that unlocks teachers’ creativity simply by tapping into the desire of people to contribute, collaborate and be recognised for their contributions. This is the next TALIS satellite project, through which the OECD will establish a global video library of teaching, Global Teaching InSights.

Successful schools will always be places where great people want to work and where their ideas can be best realised, where they are trusted and where they can put their trust.


OECD (2019), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Schleicher, Andreas, “What teachers tell us about their work”, OECD Education and Skills Today blog

Andreas Schleicher on OECD Podcasts: “First-class humans, not second-class robots –learning and the future of work”

©OECD Observer August 2019

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