Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Japan's Innovative Approach to Professional Learning" in Japanese Schools, the Teachers' Room Is an Invaluable Place for Teachers to Learn Together across Their Careers

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Japan's Innovative Approach to Professional Learning" in Japanese Schools, the Teachers' Room Is an Invaluable Place for Teachers to Learn Together across Their Careers

Article excerpt

For the past several decades, Japan's students have consistently ranked among the world's top performing in science, mathematics, and reading. For example, on the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Japan ranked second in science, fifth in mathematics, and eighth in reading among the 72 participating countries and economies (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2015), with similar results on the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Japan is also known for collaborative professional development models such as lesson study, which has gained popularity around the globe since its development in the 1920s, when child-centered education was first introduced in Japan (National Association for the Study of Educational Methods, 2009).

While these achievements and models are well-known, less is known about teachers' professional lives in Japan. For instance, what are the requirements for teachers' professional development? What kinds of professional development activities do they participate in? Are these activities effective? What types of learning activities do teachers initiate? How do formal and informal learning opportunities affect teachers' practice across their careers?

As government employees, teachers are essentially granted tenure on the very first day of hire (Ahn et al., 2016). But their status as civil servants brings with it many policies governing their work conditions, including professional development requirements. Since the late 1980s, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) has required teachers to complete mandatory professional development hours that include such activities as first-year induction, 10th-year training, and license renewals every 10 years (MEXT, 2009a). These national policies target teachers at different stages in their career--beginning, middle, and veteran. In addition, many prefectures and local governments have their own professional development policies.

When talking with teachers about their professional development, we found that the mandated professional learning was less valuable than the informal collegial learning that occurred in shokuin shitsu, or the teachers' room. Understanding the differences between the two types of learning can help education leaders in Japan and around the world to create the kinds of professional development opportunities that benefit teachers throughout their careers.

Professional development requirements

Beginning teachers

New teachers in Japan usually are assigned to a local school for up to six years (Fukaya, 2015), during which time they are considered beginners. After that, they are rotated to another school in the same district.

Because novice teachers begin teaching after only two to four weeks of formal student teaching, MEXT has made it a priority to boost the quality of their initial preparation and support. In 1989, it created a policy on first-year induction, requiring first-year teachers to go through an average of 10 hours per week (amounting to 300 hours in a year) of on-site and off-site professional development (MEXT, 2009b). On-site training includes regular classroom observations of new teachers by mentor teachers and observations of mentor teachers by new teachers. Also included in the 300 hours are 25 days of off-site training activities (Ichikawa, 2015).

In addition to the national first-year induction requirement, some local governments require second-year training. For example, in Osaka City, second-year teachers continue with their induction, spreading their 300 hours over two years. In the first year, they acquire foundational knowledge and leadership skills in a multitude of topics related to the teaching profession, including mental health, understanding students, communication and etiquette, human rights education, and subject-matter education.

In the second year, they focus on applying the knowledge and skills they've acquired. …

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