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Motivating the motivator

Ramya Venkataraman Sep 20 2017, 22:38 IST
Having a high-quality professional environment allows for  high-quality teachers to thrive.

Having a high-quality professional environment allows for high-quality teachers to thrive.

A common rhetoric in India’s education sector these days is that we need high-quality teachers, and that’s the only way our education can be of high-quality. By itself, this is a good realisation — that compared to infrastructure, technology, content or materials, the quality of the teacher in the classroom plays the greatest role in determining the quality of education.

Several studies — like the seminal 1998 study , Teachers, Schools and Academic Achievement by Hanushek, Kain and Rivkin, and the 2007 publication by McKinsey & Company on the world’s best school systems — support this realisation. However, from this realisation, the tendency is to then jump to one of two sets of initiatives. One set focuses on how to train our existing teachers better and provide them with better content, technology, materials, etc. There are hundreds of initiatives around the country on this front, by private players, non-profit organisations and governments.

The second set focuses on how to attract high-quality individuals into teaching. Both these types of initiatives are, no doubt, valuable for the education landscape. At the same time, in all this, we seem to be missing one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and that is the question, What do our teachers need or want? Or, if we need high-quality teachers, what do our high-quality teachers need? How can we motivate a large population of teachers to take up training, content or technology options and reach ‘high-quality’? How can we motivate the next generation to aspire to take up teaching as a career?

Merit-based progress
In a 2014 survey of about 300 new teachers and 120 senior teachers/principals, a clear majority responded that they would be keen to see merit-based career opportunities, financial rewards and public recognition. Here, I am not talking about increasing teacher salaries in a mandated way or just making teachers ‘feel good’. The key word here is ‘merit-based’.

Thriving professions and organisations are known to create great opportunities and relevant rewards for outstanding professionals because this in turn motivates a much larger population to improve their own competencies towards similar opportunities and rewards, leading to a virtuous cycle. This is the virtuous cycle that we need to create in teaching. This is the kind of high-quality professional environment which can allow high-quality teachers to thrive and make the profession itself attractive.

So, what could be ways to make this happen? Examples from other professions show that a combination of three factors may be needed here. One, a way for individual teachers to ‘signal’ that they have a set of competencies that are relevant and well-accepted by schools and other employers. A possible signalling mechanism is a certification that is based on well-accepted competency standards. High-quality teachers then get identified by the fact that they have been able to get certified.

Two, a wide range of opportunities that these high-quality or certified teachers can now hope to get. With the certification being a common currency, these opportunities can go well beyond what each individual school may be able to create – benefiting all schools in the process. So, the opportunities can range from better placements and promotions to a range of supplemental roles such as content creation, selection for high-quality training programmes, and national or international level recognition for great teachers and their schools.

Inspiring a new generation
With these kinds of opportunities and rewards for high-quality teachers, not only will these teachers ‘thrive’ and grow further, but a much larger population of teachers will also feel motivated to improve their competencies. This brings us to the third factor – professional development options for those wanting to improve their competencies.

With this new demand for professional development from teachers themselves, initiatives in training, content and technology are more likely to be able to scale up and be aligned with market needs. The teacher’s ability to achieve the certificate becomes a measure of effectiveness of the professional development, therefore completing the cycle.

Hence, instead of only asking ‘how to create or attract high-quality teachers’, let us also start asking ‘how to create the high-quality professional environment that will allow high-quality teachers to thrive’. As the environment becomes richer with opportunities, teachers will be able to use the resources available to better their careers.

(The author is founder and CEO of Centre for Teacher Accreditation, Bengaluru)

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