Giving teachers a voice: Interview with the ETF's Julian Stanley


Julian Stanley has been coordinating the ETF’s thinking on vocational education and training (VET) teachers and trainers since 2014, with a special focus on their professional development. His own professional experience makes him well suited for the role. After working as a vocational education teacher and manager himself, he joined the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. There, he concentrated on the relationship between education and industry, conducting research into the development of curricula, qualifications and pedagogies. But it is perhaps Julian’s previous role as a VET trainer that really marks him out. Giving teachers a voice in educational policy and reform has been a constant theme of his work ever since. 

“People are starting to wake up to how teachers feel,” he says. “They’re real people, just like you and me. They’re not just tools to do the will of policy-makers.” 

Listening to teachers 

That insight was the driving force behind the recent large-scale survey that Julian developed and ran for the ETF, entitled Listening to Vocational Teachers and Principals. The results of its second cycle – conducted in Albania, Algeria, Belarus, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Tunisia and Turkey between 2018 and 2019 – were published in 2021. “The idea was listening to how VET teachers and principals perceived their experiences and needs, and discovering how reforms were impacting them,” says Julian.  

Essential resource 

If that approach appears to turn the classic top-down approach to policy-making on its head, it is entirely intentional. “Teachers and trainers are the critical resource for successful education and training,” Julian explains. “If you want to make changes, you need to have them on board.”  

That realisation is gaining more traction today, partly as a result of the COVID pandemic. “The experience of the pandemic put teachers under such pressure that they got a bit disillusioned,” says Julian. “It gave them a lot of extra work, they felt unsupported, and they let the world know. That marked a critical shift. It undermined the assumption that you can just go on asking teachers to do more and more.” 

Fostering engagement 

So how can we foster teacher engagement with the far-reaching transitions underway in the modern world? For Julian, the answer is by addressing their professional development. “It’s critical,” he explains. “We have to empower and enable teachers to address the problem, whatever it is.” 

Today, those changes may be imposed suddenly by the external environment – like COVID – or they may take place in a more anticipated fashion, like the Digital Transition. Like the Green Transition, they may even be intentionally willed by our societies. But in all cases, they require motivated teachers to be managed successfully. “It’s very important to look at models of professional development that take the experience, motivation and commitment of teachers into account,” says Julian. “If you don’t, you’re missing out on an essential resource.” 

Feel-good factor 

That means capitalizing on the things that motivated teachers to become teachers in the first place. “They’re usually very public-spirited people,” Julian explains. “The question is: how can we go about harnessing that enthusiasm? Are there ways of empowering teachers to take on leadership roles among their peers? How can we make teachers feel good about themselves, by recognizing their additional skills? We believe these are effective ways of enabling teachers to react to the challenges taking place in and outside education, now and in the immediate future.” 

International dimension 

Today the ETF is acting on these insights, with projects that empower teachers to take the lead in their own professional development. And as ever, the ETF’s commitment to international collaboration is a crucial part of the equation. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is to share solutions from country to country,” says Julian.  

One means of doing just that is the International Self-Assessment Tool for CoVEs (ISATCOVE), whose development Julian is currently leading. ISATCOVE – whose pilot project has just been launched in Slovenia – enables Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) to review their own activities and structures in the light of what other vocational schools are doing, thus fostering international best practice. “It’s all about fostering new ways of bringing teachers together – both within schools and across schools – so they can feel able to meet the challenges of today,” he explains. 

For Julian Stanley and everyone else at the ETF, that is a challenge well worth taking.  

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