Kristen Weatherby: TALIS Teachers’ Voice
Connect Learning Today caught up with Kristen Weatherby of TALIS recently. She was inParis, getting ready to help open the Education Fast Forward Debate 8 (EFF8), as one of its speakers, along with fellow-presenter Michael Fullan, on November 21, 2013. Kristen Weatherby is @KW_research on Twitter, and is an active contributor to the OECD EducationToday Blog.
CLT: Hello, Kristen. I know you work at the OECD, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and manage TALIS, but many of our readers may not. Can you share what TALIS is and what you do?
Kristen Weatherby: OECD is an organisation of 33 of the more developed countries according to their economies that work together to help governments create better policies for better lives. I manage TALIS, the Teaching and Learning National Survey. It’s where we ask teachers around the world about their working conditions and the learning environment in their schools. We’re currently conducting these TALIS surveys in 33 countries around the world.
CLT: How did you come to work at OECD?
KW: I’m not the traditional OECD employee, because I don’t come from government, or a university research background. I worked in the private sector, for Microsoft worldwide and in the UK, on Microsoft education programs—working with schools and teachers, as well as the government to help find programs and solutions for integrating technology into teaching and learning. And I actually began my career as a classroom teacher.
CLT: Can you further explain why TALIS is important for teachers and to education?
KW: The way I explain TALIS, particularly to teachers, is that it really is a way to give teachers a voice. It’s a teacher’s opportunity to tell us what is happening in their schools and what kind of access they get to things like professional development, appraisal and student feedback. Furthermore, what kind of climate is in their schools—is there a climate of collaboration, do they like their jobs, and are they confident about their abilities to teach? Additionally we ask what kind of preparation did they receive—did they feel prepared when they first entered the classroom as a teacher?
CLT: How is this data used?
KW: With the data we’ve collected, we’re able to look at countries around the world,
know something about their education system—something about their socio-economic status of the schools where those teachers work, and look at what factors may contribute to the experiences of teachers in those countries.
What I think is useful for countries, and what we hope to do is help to make changes in policy, where teachers get more support in the areas they need to improve the quality of teaching. So, you can look at and learn from what other countries are doing. And that’s where we hope TALIS will help.
We also have a lot of people working with us who are experts in their field, so we have the best and most cutting-edge research to refer to, as we develop our data analyses and policies. But it really comes down to the teachers.
CLT: What do you see as the biggest challenge?
KW: Our biggest challenge is how we take these policy recommendations, just like any government take their policy and translate it to classroom practice.
CLT: I know you’re surveying and collecting data internationally. Are the US and UK part of that mix?
KW: The UK and US are participating in TALIS for the first time. We also have for the first time Finland, France, Japan, as well as Singapore. So we’re quite interested in seeing the results of surveys and data from those new countries. It’s interesting to compare countries on a national level, but also internationally, because there are more similarities for some of the issues facing teachers regardless of where you’re from.
CLT: What makes the data collected so educationally valuable?
KW: What’s interesting is that TALIS is the first and largest survey of teachers. Our new data will be out June 2014, so for a short time longer, we’re still relying on our 2008 data—but it is the only data of its kind. It’s the only way that we can look at teachers’ conditions around the world. What we’re able to do is join in the conversation that’s happening internationally. At the end of the day, countries want to improve the quality of their teacher work force. They know how important teachers are to improving student outcome. They just don’t know how to do it.
There are so many different buzzwords and new trends going around, but what ministers of education want to know is what’s actually working. It’s also good to have union members in the conversation to see if these reforms are actually viable—making sure that teacher voices are represented.
More about TALIS here: www.oecd.org/talis