21 July 2017

By Susan Douglas, British Council.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 is clear in its aspiration: we need to create a world where quality education is available for every child. This need is predicated on the assumption that to achieve this, all the persistent disparities that exist around gender, socioeconomic status, rural vs. urban and special educational needs must be reduced. But therein lies the challenge.

If we are ever going to achieve quality education for all children, we need to ensure not only that we have enough teachers, but that we have the right quality of teacher. If every young person is going to access and actively engage in their education, we need every teacher to be highly skilled and that’s why each and every one of them – and their professional development – matters.

But what sort of professional development?

In my role at the British Council, I am lucky enough to work with educators all over the world, and a globally shared challenge is that teachers never have enough time. While it is essential for us to invest in the professional development of every teacher, we must acknowledge the parallel commitment which teachers make in dedicating their time, and ensure that when we do invest, we do so wisely.


Teachers have the biggest influence over student performance at school. While teachers starting out in their careers tend to rapidly improve as they learn ‘on the job’, this tends to plateau after the first three to five years of teaching. After this initial period, improving teaching practice is often more about changing the habits teachers have developed rather than anything else – and we all know how hard it is to break a habit!

To break these habits, teachers need to be encouraged to engage in reflective collaboration, to ask themselves the question ‘Why do I teach the way I do?’ and to make that part of their everyday professional life. When a new technique is identified, it takes around 20 to 25 attempts at practising it for a teacher to use it effectively. That’s why it’s essential for all professional development programmes to involve deliberate and professional practice.

The British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme has so far delivered professional development to over 38,000 practitioners in over 40 countries. The following five principles underpin all of our programmes:

1. Intensity: At least 15 contact hours.
2. Spaced: Regular (but short) sessions over at least two terms.
3. Modelled: Participants watch or hear about someone else implementing the strategy.
4. Practised: A requirement for participants to implement what has been learned.
5. Evidence-based: Promoting strategies which are supported by robust evaluation evidence.

Learning Communities for Teachers

Our Connecting Classrooms programme also establishes both national and international teacher learning communities where practitioners can learn together, improve their pedagogy and sustain their engagement even after the intensive training has concluded.

Through this programme, we offer free learning journeys for teachers to help improve their classroom practice and develop ideas with like-minded colleagues internationally through a global network. In doing so we help improve outcomes for thousands of children around the world, helping young people develop the knowledge, skills and values to live and work in a globalised economy.

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