What do teachers need to flourish?

25th August 2021

The foundation of all teaching is love: love for our students, love for our future as professionals, love for our families, love for our communities, love for what we are teaching

Lili Eskelsen García, ARC Thought Leader


Authors: Dr Trista Hollweck, ARC Project Director, and Mariana Dominguez, ARC Research Assistant

The ARC Education Project (ARC) is a global educational movement that advances equity, broad excellence, inclusion, wellbeing, democracy, sustainability & human rights in high quality, professionally run systems. As a policy learning network, ARC brings together policymakers, system leaders, professional association leaders (unions, inspectorates, etc) from its member systems (Iceland, Ireland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Scotland, Uruguay and Wales) and global members (International Confederation of Principals) to learn with and from one another in deliberately designed processes. Through its annual summit, virtual ThoughtMeet series, as well as local and international activities, ARC seeks out and spreads current best practices, and develops next practices that reflect ARC values, alongside existing OECD and UN initiatives.

Framed around the eight guiding ARC principles, the ARC ThoughtMeet (TM) series is a virtual bringing together of ideas and minds to create swift, timely, and practical collective solutions to urgent problems. The ARC TM is a 2-hour virtual event that aims to envision and collaboratively produce effective and efficient short, medium, and long-term collective educational solutions to the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Each ARC TM has a specific focus and includes short ARC talks by international thought leaders to stimulate dialogue.

When the coronavirus pandemic created unexpected educational circumstances for school communities around the world, there was a call for 'Maslow before Bloom': that is, to prioritise student overall wellbeing before focusing on their academic needs (Doucet et al., 2020). Educational systems and schools were also encouraged to pay attention to and support teacher and leader wellbeing during the tumultuous pivot to emergency remote learning (Hollweck and Doucet, 2020) Furthermore, as systems engaged in school re-opening decisions, one of the key factors identified by UNICEF was that 'mental health and psychosocial support services [be] set-up/expanded for students and staff' (Jenkins, 2020). Additionally, recognising how the pandemic had stimulated innovation within the education sector, many saw this moment as a critical opportunity to disrupt the traditional educational paradigm (Hollweck and Doucet, 2020), rethink the future of schooling (Osmond-Johnson et al., 2020) and ‘build it back better’ (Winthrop, 2020). In particular, support for the development of educators’ professional capital–human, social, and decisional (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012) was highlighted as an essential component to bring about transformational change in education beyond the current international crisis (Hollweck & Doucet, 2020).

As Hargreaves (2021) noted the recent policy briefing report for the Royal Society of Canada, 'we must indeed invest in the professional capital of our teachers and leaders so they can promote prosperity of well-being and success for all our students' (p. 159). Thus, in an effort to go deeper into the profession and support education’s essential workers (UN, 2020), ARC`s June 8th ThoughtMeet focused on teachers as critical stakeholders in effective and meaningful systemic transformation. Seven teacher representatives from each ARC member system were invited to offer their perspective on the event’s guiding question: What do teachers need to help them flourish? Two ARC thought leaders also presented short ARC talks on what teachers need from system leaders: Lily Eskelsen Garcia, former president of the largest union in the United States, the National Education Association (NEA) and ARC’s global member (ICP) representative, Dr. Peter Kent, Headteacher at Lawrence Sheriff School. All presentations and a summary of the event can be found on the ARC website  

So, what do teachers need to help them flourish?

Professional teachers believe in their students and help them to believe in themselves; they inspire them, comfort them, challenge them, celebrate them, and demand learning. Time and resources are essential for teachers to build trusting relationships and learning opportunities with students, their families, and school communities. Teachers need unionists, administrators, researchers, advocates, and colleagues to work together to remove barriers so that they can support the whole child and embrace what Lily Eskelsen Garcia calls the 'fierce love' that is the foundation of effective teaching and learning.

Teachers need clear, constructive, and transparent communication channels between schools, communities, and policy makers so that they can express concerns, ask questions, and be heard. Teachers need to be at the centre of the pedagogical knowledge creation process, and they need the opportunity to provide input into curricular documents. Teachers need to work and to network collaboratively to problem-solve; to develop confidence in addressing difficult knowledge without fear of repercussions; to transition into a learning zone that embraces educational change(s) in schools; to develop agency; and to adopt a holistic teaching and learning practice.

What do teachers need from their educational systems & system leaders?

Educational systems need to support leaders so that they can support teachers. For leaders to support teachers and enable them to flourish, there must be a focus on– and resources available– to enhance equity in schools. There needs to be greater trust, transparency and communication between the government and educators and the other way around. Systems need to provide key resources, funding, and support for schools to recruit and retain teachers. Systems need to provide educators with appropriate salaries. Systems need to provide time for educators’ ongoing professional learning and development, so they are prepared for different career stages, remain up-to-date, and are empowered. There needs to be a greater sense of supporting the whole person, for both students and educators.

Key questions that emerged for ARC systems

  • How can we develop responsive, effective, and inclusive systems?
  • How can we ensure that systems take teachers' voices regarding the challenges of their professional practice into consideration?
  • How can systems build relationships and capacity across all educational levels and stakeholders in order to mobilise collective action?
  • How can we provide the time and space for teachers and leaders to engage in professional dialogue, collaborative inquiry, and curriculum co-construction?
  • How can systems effectively and openly communicate about how policies are implemented?
  • How can we create professional and accessible platforms for teachers to take leadership in schools and curriculum development that will help us find a balance between well-being and learning?
  • What strategies were necessary during the pandemic that have led to benefits in systems and schools that we can build on moving forward?

Final thoughts & next steps

We need to have hope, vigilance, determination, direction, goals, and a plan when searching to improve the conditions where our teachers perform their daily, professional practice with our children. We all know excellent teachers make a difference in the lives of our students. When teachers flourish, so do our students. Thus, at the heart of all school and system improvement should be a focus on how to improve the wellbeing and practice of ALL our teachers. As ARC president, Andy Hargreaves highlighted in his closing comments: 'Unless we develop our teachers as whole teachers, how can we develop our children as whole learners?'


Doucet, A., Netolicky, D., Timmers, K., and Tuscano, F. J. (29 March 2020), Thinking about pedagogy in an unfolding pandemic: An independent report on approaches to distance learning during the COVID19 school closures, an independent report for UNESCO, available at https://learningportal.iiep.unesco.org/en/library/thinking-about-pedagogy-in-an-unfolding-pandemic-an-independent-report-on-approaches-to

Hargreaves, A. (2021), “What the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us about teachers and teaching”, in Vaillancourt, T. et al. (August, 2021), Children and Schools During COVID-19 and Beyond: Engagement and Connection through opportunity, Royal Society of Canada, available at https://rsc-src.ca/en/covid-19-policy-briefing/children-and-schools-during-covid-19-and-beyond-engagement-and-connection.

Hargreaves, A., and Fullan, M. (2012), Professional capital: transforming teaching in every school, Teachers College Press, New York, NY.

Hollweck, T, & Doucet, A (2020). Pracademics in the pandemic: Pedagogies and professionalism. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 5(3), 295-305. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1108/JPCC-06-2020-0038

Jenkins, R (2020, September 20). Education and COVID-19: School re-opening. [PowerPoint slides]. ARC Education Project. http://atrico.org/virtual-summit-2020/

Osmond-Johnson, P., Campbell, C. and Pollack, K. (2020), “Moving forward in the COVID-19 era: reflections for Canadian education”, EdCan Network, May 6, available at: https://www.edcan.ca/ articles/moving-forward-in-the-covid-19-era/

United Nations Sustainable Development Group. (August 2020). Policy brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond. https://unsdg.un.org/resources/policy-brief-education-during-covid-19-and-beyond

Winthrop, R. (2020), “COVID-19 and school closures: what can countries learn from past emergencies?”, Brookings Institute, March 31, available at: https://www.brookings.edu/research/covid-19-and-school-closures-what-ca…