• Alison Eaglesham

Developing international teacher competencies: a prerequisite for skills-based learning

In a recent blog post, we wrote about the changes we expect to see in international teacher recruitment as a result of the pandemic and why we think a move towards more skills and competency-based approaches to hiring and developing teams will have a positive impact on schools. Here we take a closer look at what skills-based hiring means for your school and why schools are adopting this approach.

Skills and competency-based learning: not just for students

Much has been said about 21st Century Skills and the 4 C’s required by students to be successful in today’s world. In a recent TES podcast discussing how education should respond to the pandemic and changing needs of society, Siva Kumari, Director General of the IB, reaffirmed that skills-based learning is the way forward. Today, on World Youth Skills Day, the importance of equipping young people with the skills they need to navigate the uncertainties of the future world of work is particularly pertinent.

Yet, less has noticeably been said in international education about what competencies teachers require to support students to develop these skills. Today, teachers need to constantly adapt, innovate, integrate new knowledge and instructional tools while teaching across multiple cultures and languages. These demands involve an increasingly complex and broad range of competencies that require continuous development throughout a teacher’s career.

Ensuring teachers are equipped with the right competencies, or the capacity to develop them is therefore central to the success of student skills acquisition and achievement.

What is meant by a competency?

Competencies are an observable and measurable set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that people need to perform their roles effectively.

While the generally accepted definition may be clear, just the notion of a competency can create confusion and concern. To some, competencies conjure up negative connotations towards a more binary view of ability, based on long checklist assessments used as a punitive means to control and inspect performance. Although still a painful memory for some, this behaviorist approach to competency development from the 1970s and 80’s has largely been rejected in favor of a more holistic definition and interpretation of competency development. Today, competencies are widely accepted as the combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are acquired and developed across a person’s life.

By applying this definition to teaching and viewing the term ‘competency’ in the broadest sense, the competencies of a teacher should be understood as not just the practice and knowledge of teaching, but the professional attributes and personal values, including cultural, social and emotional competencies.

The core competencies of international educators

Of course, the process of defining what makes an effective teacher is an extremely complex and even contentious task. There are many different ways to define a good teacher and - in an international context - will be deeply influenced by local context and perception of the purpose of education in each country. While there is no doubt that culture influences the degree of importance attributed to various competencies, a report from Education International and Oxfam Novib highlights “quality educators share some core qualities no matter where they work.”

Research interviews we have recently conducted with international school leaders from around the world validate this assertion. A common set of competencies were frequently mentioned as important, providing initial insight into what a list of core teaching competencies should include. They range from collaboration, teamwork, pedagogical and subject knowledge, intercultural understanding, communication, commitment to professional development, and technology proficiency.

Identifying the core international teacher competencies required today will lay the groundwork for building a shared understanding and framework for developing highly effective international teachers. This does not mean to say that every teacher should be the same, far from it, but it provides the basis from which each school can identify and apply the competencies most relevant to their local context. This will help to create a continuum of competency development from initial teacher training, through to entering the profession and beyond.

Tips for implementing a competency framework

1. Think globally, interpret locally

As outlined above, a general international teacher competency framework can, and should be, interpreted locally. It should be based upon the school’s vision, mission and values of what a successful teacher and school means in your community

2. Consider competencies across a teaching team

It is vital to acknowledge that the objective of a competency framework is not to achieve total mastery of all competencies, that's impossible. Rather, it is to help teachers and school leaders to obviate specific areas for development and growth. There will be core competencies that require a minimum level of understanding and application however, each teacher will have their own unique competency profile. This is why looking at the skills and competencies across a team, department or whole-school is incredibly important to ensure you have a broad balance of abilities. It also allows you to understand and utilize your in-house expertise as those with mastery of a particular competence can share their knowledge and skills to support others to grow.

3. Take an inclusive approach

Any measurement used to determine a teacher’s level of proficiency should be evidence-based and require active involvement by the teacher. To build buy-in, representatives from across the school should be involved in collaboratively developing context-specific examples that demonstrate what each competency looks like in your school. Successful collaboration, especially about skills and competence, will require that leaders show the necessary vulnerability to engender trust from their team. Leaders too - or perhaps especially - have room for growth and development.

Taking an inclusive approach will help to build acceptance of the success criteria amongst teachers, which is particularly important when it comes to identifying and assessing areas of strength and growth with each member of staff. Any assessment of which should be formative and multifaceted, prioritizing personal self-reflection but also balanced with feedback and evidence from walk-throughs, observations, and performance evaluations.

4. Take an agile approach

Finally, the creation and implementation of a competency framework or profile must always be an iterative and developmental process. As such, a competency framework should never be viewed as a finished product. Instead, it should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes in strategic goals and priorities to keep it relevant.

Learn more about the international teacher competency framework

We are engaging with school leaders from around the world to better understand the core competencies required of an international teacher today. The goal of our research is to develop an international teacher competency framework to help international schools build their own competency-based approaches to hiring and developing highly-effective teams.

To learn more about SkoolSpot’s international teacher competency framework and to add your voice, join our webinar.

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