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Adapting teacher selection tools for new contexts

October 2020

When developing evidence-based teacher selection methods, just how important is it to reflect the local context? In other words, how much do the desired attributes of novice teachers vary from program to program, or between countries? We have found that understanding local and national contexts plays an important role when designing or revising selection systems and methods, even when some key teacher attributes seem to be universal.

A few years ago we carried out a study exploring the desired non-academic attributes of novice teachers in four culturally disparate countries—England, Finland, Malawi, and Oman. Our research suggested that a core set of attributes, e.g., empathy, communication, organization, and resilience, were endorsed as critically important in each of these four countries. However, partners in each of the countries highlighted additional attributes that reflected important values in their setting: cooperation in Finland, community relationships in Malawi, and professional ethics in Oman. In short, there was a good deal of shared understanding about what makes a good teacher, but some country-specific emphases as well.

At the Teacher Success Platform, we have developed and adapted teacher selection tools across a number of different settings in and outside of the UK. Were we surprised with the strong opinions expressed about differences between the UK and Australia, or between England and Scotland? Not really! We expect to hear about differences and similarities when we talk to our partners in and outside of the UK. We find that most educators agree on the desired attributes of new teachers: high levels of academic knowledge, coupled with communication skills, empathy, resilience, and conscientiousness. These non-academic attributes are just as relevant in Africa, Australia, eastern Europe, and the Middle East as they are in the UK. 

An image visualising teacher selection tools.

So what should we do to ensure that teacher selection tools are valid for use in a new context? The first, and probably most important step is to listen carefully to partners. Our team comes from a range of international backgrounds, but we need experienced local education experts to help us understand the educational, social, and cultural values in settings with which we are less familiar. We need to listen and talk to our partners to understand the attributes that are particularly important in their context.

The second step is to work flexibly with partners to determine which elements of existing selection tools (SJTs and MMIs) can be adapted, and which elements are unsuitable for use in the new setting. For example, when adapting SJTs to a new country, we ask partners to consider the scenario content (Would this scenario happen in this context?), the response options (What responses are reasonable to expect from novice teachers?), and the scoring key (Do experienced educators agree with the best [and worst] courses of action?).

The third step is to test, test, and test again until we can be reassured that new content is reliable, valid, and fair in the new context. This pilot-testing regime requires careful planning (using a selection framework that lays out the purpose of the tests, the psychometric parameters, and the weightings given to selection elements) and an agreement on the key attributes targeted during selection.

Our research has shown that the greater the cultural distance, the more attention has to be paid to ‘getting the context’ right and ensuring that selection tools are accurately reflecting the local context. Our work at the Teacher Success Platform is focused on building evidence-based selection methods that reflect the differences—and the frequent similarities—in teacher attributes around the world.


Klassen, R. M., Durksen, T. L., Al Hashmi, W., Kim, L. E., Longden, K., Metsäpelto, R.-L., Poikkeus, A. M., & Györi, J. (2018). National context and teacher characteristics: Exploring the non-cognitive attributes of prospective teachers in four countries. Teaching and Teacher Education, 72, 64-74.