Wednesday, April 02, 2014

TeacherTuesday - The Netherlands: Teacher preparation means higher learning outcomes

The #TeacherTuesday teacher this week is Cees from the Netherlands. This country has some of the best learning outcomes in the world.

Learning outcomes vary widely between countries. The following is excerpts from a chart showing the percentage of children of primary school age who reached Grade 4  and achieved minimum learning standard in reading. 

SOURCE: 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report: Teaching and Learning — Achieving quality for all. Paris, UNESCO. Figure 4.2, page 193.

This first image shows Sub-Saharan Africa and South/West Asia. Note the scale at the top.
This image shows Netherlands as leading the way in the N.America/W. Europe set of countries, and with Singapore leading in the East Asia/ Pacific countries listed.
Cees works at a secondary school called Spinozalyceum Amsterdam for 12-18 year olds. It’s a general high school in the Netherlands. The school class size averages 26 and there are 1100 students. Cees teaches history.

The following excerpts are from an interview with Cees about teaching and learning at his school.
Talking about the teaching profession and becoming a teacher in the Netherlands:
Teaching was not seen as a good profession but right now there’s a lot of attention in politics to say let’s improve the level and appreciation for it.  If I compare myself as an academic teacher who studied for five years with another master after that, then the starting level of pay is quite low, but after about ten years then it becomes more acceptable, but it takes a long time to get on a certain level on which you are comparable to other salaries, and people who have marketing jobs, for example, earn a lot better.

There are some school subjects in which a lot of people will try to get jobs as teachers but there are also real shortages in certain subjects. Economy teachers and German teachers and certain other language teachers are hard to find. For history there are a lot teachers.

We have a professional education for teacher, if you want to teach in the Netherlands you need to get your papers. Those teacher educations are loose, I guess, so it doesn’t mean that everyone who’s teaching has the right papers because of the shortages in the offer of teachers, you get a certain license but it’s always, well, the school need to show to the inspection that they have good quality. So you have to do your best to get certified teachers as a school.

We have first grade and second grade teachers in Holland. First grade need academic qualification at first. That means I was studying history for five years. After that I am a historian. I’m not a teacher. Becoming a teacher you then need to do a full time year of study and then you learn a bit the basics of teaching history.  Right now you have a master in history and then you need a teaching history master. That’s first grade.

If you want to be second grade teacher that means you can’t teach the higher grades. We have pupils who are 12-13-14 years, but those who are 15-16-16, you can only teach the younger kids, so not of the preparing final exam class.
You can always become a first grade teacher by doing extra lessons, but you must already have a lot of interpersonal and pedagogical competence. 
When asked about professional development:

We have a certain amount of teaching hours and all the coming tasks from that – preparing and the after work – and from 5-10% of your time is reserved for professional development every year – courses and training. 10% is a big amount. It’s much time.

Everyone has to write a professional development plan and in that plan you have your growing points – your developing points – and we do this every year after we speak to our boss who does our analysis. You then you do the courses you need. We don’t have a huge budget, we have 500 euros a year, which isn’t much, but we do the courses in-house with, for example, ten teachers at a time so you get a discount. We have also a lot of training in how to go along with problem kids – pedagogical side – and those trainings are really moving because they tell a lot about your own personal difficulties. That’s another that passes on the educational system in Holland. Lots of 360° reflections on yourself in Holland. Thinking about what does this problem I have say about me.
I found this quite interesting - student evaluation of teachers! This is not so common in my experience around the world:

One other reason for why we are able to improve ourselves as teachers is the pupil enquiry lists in which pupils give their opinion about you and your lessons. It's a very confronting way and big motivation to improve yourself. You want satisfied pupils! Of course these test are input for the evaluation with your boss about functioning properly.
Pedagogy and student centred learning:

I am teaching at a school where it is very student focused. Students are the masters of their own learning process. You teach them how to cooperate, how to be self-supporting, and to make their own decisions how to learn things.

In our professional courses, we create those lessons with lesson forms. We know how to deal with all the learning styles – the doers, the thinkers, the dreamers – we have training in how to manage the different levels in our class – it’s called teaching on demand. It means we have different cognitive intelligence in our classroom. Simply said, we have smarter and less smarter pupils on our class.
You design choice in your lesson programs for the disadvantaged students. So the more you focus on the pupil with your learning activities, the more different choices they have. If they have a choice in which to start first, and what to learn later, and what they have to work on themselves, and what is a common activity, it motivates them to learn.  
The typical school day:

My typical day starts as I arrive at school at 7.50am and the lessons start at 8.30am. In the first hour, pupils are a bit quiet because you need to wake them up still. Most of the time the first two hours are really nice to teach because they’re still rested and attentive to your lessons. The more the day is over, the more knowledge they have and less attention. At my school the students are really social, really paying attention to each other. We do a lot of group activities.

Every day in the middle hour they have one hour to decide what to do – it’s called the Delton hour – a free hour when they put themselves on the list to say what courses they want to do – maths, French, German or history, and then they work for themselves, but they can ask us for extra help. We can also invite certain pupils who need extra attention. Then we have the big power break when the kids eat their sandwiches – typically Dutch we don’t have the warm lunch!  - Holland is a typical sandwich culture and I don’t mean the nice sandwich with egg and butter, it’s more likely bread with a slice of cheese!  Then the last two hours are difficult to get their attention. It means we have to have more creative classes but it’s not always easy to get their attention.
We finish on average at 3pm or 4pm.  
Thoughts about teacher collaboration beyond the immediate school - and on technology integration as a bridge for better learning:
I guess that if we cooperate more between the teachers nationally – maybe if the ones who are writing the school books are aiming more on how we can create more active lessons that will help a lot more. When you find a really different lesson plan on the internet you wish you could find more. It needs to be written out, you can’t tell someone in one minute, how and why you can do a lesson. But the current method doesn’t offer that. We need more learning activities and programs. is a good example of a tool we use to professionalize ourselves by sharing knowledge with other teachers in the world by the internet. 
My hopes for the future of teaching in my country? I am really hopeful about technology helping us to improve the organization that is needed to implement student-centered learning. Last Friday we had a mind-blowing presentation of the Dutch educational entrepreneur Bob Hofman that introduced Peerscholar (invented and used by the University of Toronto) to Europe. This computer program is a very good example of how teachers will be able to help students really reflect on each other’s work, and which will improve their responsibility to their own learning process. Less focus on grades and more on the content and the reflection of how they are learning.

This blog post is a contribution to Week 6 of #TeacherTuesday, a UNESCO and EFA initiative. I invite you to also read from my blog:
“Find out more about the TeacherTuesday campaign: read the blogs and join us for weekly tweetchats with the teachers”.

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