Putting teachers at the center of policymaking for student success

This page in:
Teacher helping a schoolgirl Teachers need to be at the center of policymaking to ensure that teacher policy works for student success. Copyright: IndianFaces/Shutterstock

Teachers play a tremendous role in ensuring students’ wellbeing, inspiring their hopes for the future, guiding them through uncertainty, and building resilient schools and communities. This immense responsibility requires great effort and commitment from teachers, and every day, teachers around the world bring this dedication to their students, schools, and communities. In advance of World Teachers Day, we reflect on what we are doing collectively to support them in their important roles.

Supporting teachers around the world

The World Bank recognizes that a well-functioning education system has effective and valued teachers at all levels. Currently, the World Bank's education portfolio reaches 18 million teachers and 432 million students across 94 countries and territories. Many of these projects support teachers with the tools, capacity, and enabling environments to do their jobs. This includes, for example, making the teaching profession more attractive, and improving initial teacher education and continuous professional development.

In Sri Lanka, the World Bank supports efforts to make teaching more attractive by preparing new teachers for flexible career pathways in which their future roles may span classroom, school management, education administration, or training positions. In India, the World Bank is financing upgrades of school infrastructure to improve teachers’ working conditions, such as state-of-the-art learning spaces with smart classrooms, STEM labs, and resource rooms. In Sierra Leone, the World Bank is supporting the government to provide local and individualized coaching and mentorship, strengthening teachers’ pedagogical skills.

Many education systems are still failing to support teachers

Today, many education systems around the world are failing to support teachers so that students can reach their full potential. The current high levels of global learning poverty, a measure of children unable to read and understand a simple passage by age 10, reflect in part a set of ineffective or poorly implemented policies that do not appropriately recruit, prepare, support, manage, and motivate teachers.

In our report, Making Teacher Policy Work, we asked ourselves why, despite the growing evidence on effective teacher policies, we still do not observe high-quality teaching and learning in action in every classroom. The report argues that we need to go beyond the theory of “what works in teacher policy” to more practically support teachers in different contexts to adopt what works, while making sure it can be implemented at scale and sustained over time.

Consider, for example, a new policy that requires teachers to adopt new pedagogical techniques in the classroom but does not support teachers in acquiring the skills to use them effectively. Teachers may not know what the best teaching practices are for early grade reading, as they may not have experienced them or been shown what they look like. Even if teachers know what instructional approaches could be useful, they may not know how to implement them, as they may not have been well-supported to develop and practice those skills. And even if teachers know and practice the most effective teaching practices, they still may not be motivated to implement them in the classroom. Therefore, it is essential to consider how teachers will experience it and what barriers they could face in adopting the policy’s specific changes.  

Further, it is not enough to consider barriers at the individual level, but also at the system level, as policies will need to be implemented at scale and sustained over time. Ultimately, policy design and implementation must be grounded in a deep understanding of how teachers experience these policies and what is required for systems to effectively scale and sustain these policies. Looking at teacher policies through this lens helps us understand why some programs successfully improve teaching and learning experiences and why others do not.

Designing better teacher policies

The report presents two key takeaways on how to make the design and implementation of teacher policies more effective:

  1. Effective teacher policies facilitate individual-level change by addressing barriers that teachers face in making the targeted changes.

To do so, policymakers should ask themselves three questions: Is the change clear for teachers? Is the change doable for teachers? Is the change rewarding for teachers? To increase the likelihood that a given policy will have its intended impact, first identify the change(s) needed, then diagnose the barriers that stand in the way of these change(s), finally put in place strategies to mitigate these barriers. It is important to move the focus away from simply looking at what changes are expected of teachers to (also) how best to support teachers to achieve those outcomes. Listening to and understanding how teachers experience these policies and the related changes to their practice in a given context is the first critical step toward making teacher policy work.

  1. For teacher policies to work at scale and over time, they must be operationally feasible and politically acceptable.

These requirements must be supported by a robust data system to steer and manage change. To identify what elements may impact the sustainability and scale of a teacher policy in a particular context, policymakers should ask these three questions: Do we have adequate resources, funding, and technical and management capacity to implement the policy at scale and over time? Do we have an enabling environment to implement the policy? In other words, have we built trust and coalitions with relevant interest groups to ensure that the critical elements of the policy will be preserved over time? And do we have data and data systems available to help prioritize, adapt, and iterate the policy?

In addition to identifying the changes and mitigating barriers to change at the individual level, system-level barriers must also be actively diagnosed and mitigated. Moving the focus from just “what works” to “what works and is also implementable at scale and can be sustained over time” is the second critical step toward making teacher policy work and unlocking the full effectiveness of teacher policies.

Figure on individual level

We hope that with this report, Making Teacher Policy Work, which will be launched on November 13, 2023, we can help policymakers design and implement policies that work for teachers and sustainably at scale across the education system. This World Teachers Day, we are reminded of the need to put teachers at the center of policymaking to ensure that teacher policy works for student success.


To receive weekly articles, sign-up here 


Luis Benveniste

Global Director for Education

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000