Teachers hold the key to an equitable society

A ground-breaking collaboration between the University of Virginia and University of Melbourne is giving teachers the skills to influence change, inside and outside the classroom.

Education remains the foundation by which we build stronger and more progressive communities.

Teachers play a fundamental role in strengthening educational outcomes. They hold the key to individual growth and social betterment – both within the confines of school and beyond.

An innovative partnership between the University of Virginia and the University of Melbourne is enabling teachers to progress through an online postgraduate course at each institution, with the dual aims of building individual teaching skills and understanding how teachers can make their mark at a societal level.

teacher working with young student in the classroom

The role of the teacher is changing

Over the last 100 years of teaching practice, there has been a significant shift in how teachers approach education.

Suzanne Rice, founding course coordinator of the Master of Education in Evidence-Based Teaching at the University of Melbourne says: “We have moved away from pure knowledge transmission to building a very broad range of skills. Teaching has become a role that has a much stronger focus on facilitating lifelong learning.”

According to Rice, now more than ever there is a need for students to have broad skillsets.

“If we go back 100 years, basic skills could get you a reasonable job and a reasonable wage. With the shift to a knowledge economy, the sorts of skills that were acceptable and reasonable 100 years ago are nowhere near enough,” she says.

“When my parents went into the workforce in the 1950s, you’d finish your initial training and then you stayed in your job for 30, 40, 50 years. That scenario doesn’t exist anymore.”

With a continually changing and evolving job market, Rice says that not only do individuals need to keep building their skills, “teachers need be able to respond to that particular context”.

A progressive education partnership

The University of Virginia and University of Melbourne education partnership program draws on a long-standing relationship between the two universities, each ranked among the top 40 institutions around the globe.

Offered completely online, the program provides a forward-looking model within the field of education. Students are able to streamline their studies: first gaining a masters and then progressing to a doctorate with significant advanced standing.

The first half of the program, the Master of Education in Evidence-Based Teaching at the University of Melbourne, is designed to develop the skills of teachers to be able to cater to diverse classroom and student needs.

Rice says that by looking at the latest evidence of what is likely to be effective in various classroom scenarios, the program has the ability to transform teaching practice.

The question is not whether you've taught students something, the question is whether the kids have learnt it. Through this program, teachers will gain the skills to identify what students have learnt and adjust their teaching accordingly, to cater to different groups.

Rice says it’s no longer enough for teachers to frog-march students through a curriculum, but they must teach more directly to meet the varied needs of their students.

“We need highly skilled students, so there's a push to ensure that we improve the quality of our students’ learning. To do this, we need to increase teachers’ capacity to manage student learning and their ability to target their teaching to students’ needs,” Rice says.

“Teachers need to build a broad range of skills and set students up for ongoing learning and development across their lives.”

Social change begins in the classroom

Education has the power to make the world a better place – it’s crucial to economic development, productivity and innovation.

Associate Professor of Education at the University of Virginia, Matthew Wheelock, sees teachers as “primary agents of social change”.

“Because they work on the frontlines with students, teachers are in the unique position to prepare the leaders of tomorrow, engage families and communities, and, in the process, galvanize critical social change,” says Professor Wheelock.

The second component of the program, the Education Doctorate (Ed.D.) at the University of Virginia, moves the focus beyond the classroom walls, to look at deeper societal and systemic issues in education.

Professor Wheelock says the aim is to create teacher-leaders with skills to think strategically and shape education systems to suit our changing world.

With these dual qualifications under their belts, graduates will be prepared to both teach more effectively and spearhead new developments in education. They will be in demand in classrooms across the world and have the specialist knowledge to influence change at the policy level.

The ultimate goal, says Professor Wheelock, is to create educators who can “promote quality and equity in classrooms, school systems, and society more generally.”

Find out more about the partnership program