The Swahili proverb “Asiye funzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu” is recognisable, after translation, both across Africa – where there are many similar sayings – and the world.

It means, simply, that it takes a whole community to raise a child.

We’re no strangers here in Aotearoa to using our rich mixture of words and phrases to express a sentiment, but as we share in the celebrations for UNESCO’s World Teachers’ Day, we should consider how relevant the Swahili proverb is to our own unique education environment, given our history and cultural diversity.

There is an almost universal agreement that the education environment today is more dynamic and the role of teachers more complex than at any time in the past. There’s an expectation that every individual will experience success as a learner in a culturally responsive learning environment. It is also important to recognise the duality of our system and that our children and young people can learn through the medium of English or Māori. We should remember, too, that there are those who learn through sign language.

It’s clear, now more than ever before, that teaching is much more than an individual endeavour that takes place in a classroom or centre.

Now, more than ever before, we are realising (or perhaps, re-realising) that it is a collective and collaborative effort with other teachers, parents, whānau, and the agencies that exist to serve them, who can best support our learners.

And now, more than ever before, it’s vital that we all realise teachers do far more than teach: they are the most critical contributors to our civic society.

From early childhood through to early adulthood, educators mould our futures by encouraging, enabling and inspiring us. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, we learn lessons so much wider than the curriculum - lessons that last a lifetime.

And this is why now, more than ever, we need to recognise that the skills, efforts and selflessness it takes to run a classroom are just as valuable (and rare) as those needed to run a boardroom.

Teachers are the education experts to whom we must listen. It’s their ability to develop solutions to educational problems and issues, and the importance of their judgements, that should guide our policies. And it’s teachers who should be advising on the evolution of the educational environment.

Teachers are what we all have in common; they hold the key to the future and, with it, help us unlock our potential.