Every so often, educators are presented with opportunities to reflect on the intersection between where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. Three recent experiences have me contemplating this. First, a skilled veteran teacher who I had the privilege of mentoring earned a promotion as a school leader. Second, a team of teachers and I collaborated to recommend a new teacher for appointment. Third, I was included as part of a college interview panel, for aspiring teachers. Through each experience, I’ve reflected on the the need for educators to actively embrace the evolution of our profession.
Thinking back to the start of my teaching career, I was most focused on the following:
- I was eager to teach.
- I was a hard worker.
- I loved working with kids.
Noticeable absent from my 20th Century mindset? The word learning. The work of John Hattie and Peter DeWitt has helped to restore and renew my perspective that for our students and schools to thrive, teachers and school leaders must make learning an individual and collective focus, each and every day.
Last summer, I engaged in a book talk on Visible Learning for Teachers, by John Hattie. This fall, I’ve been involved in a fall book talk on Collaborative Leadership, by Peter DeWitt. As a result, this three word sentence has become a mantra of professional learning and educational leadership. Know thy impact.
As both an aspiring and new teacher (and a new administrator), my view was narrow: regrettably, it was all about me. Now, as a more reflective school leader, I can see deep value in the work of Hattie and DeWitt. It’s unparalleled in it’s potential to support educators in becoming what Hattie aptly refers to as “expert teachers”, and what DeWitt considers “collaborative leaders”.
The depth and magnitude of Hattie’s work is significant:
- It encompasses over 1,100 meta-analyses looking at the effect size of over 150 influences on learning.
- When an influence has an effect size of .40 or greater, it is referred to as a hinge point, indicating that this influence can yield at least a year’s learning for a year’s input or effort.
Hattie knows what works in a teacher’s efforts to have a significantly positive impact student learning.
According to DeWitt, Hattie found that “95 percent of everything that teachers did had a positive effect on student achievement, and include any teaching strategies, school conditions, or home conditions that affect a student’s performance” (26). However, there can be a distinction drawn between high-effect and low-effect teachers. On page 26 of Visible Learning for Teachers, Hattie cites Slater, Davies, & Burgess (2009), stating, “The effect of high-effect teachers compared with low-effect teachers is about d = 0.25, which means that a student in a high-impact teacher’s classroom has almost a year’s advantage over his or her peers in a lower-effect teacher’s classroom.” This begs a question:
In our profession, aren’t we obligated to challenge one another to maximize our impact?
“The ultimate requirement is for teachers to develop the skill of evaluating the effect that they have on their students.” (Hattie, p. 36).
Over a ten year teaching career, I spent significant time all-too-consumed with what (and how) I was teaching, when I should have been investing in what and how my students were learning. I allowed myself to be distracted and/or consumed by how my performance was being externally evaluated by administrators. And I lost that which is most valuable and significant to the process of becoming a high-impact teacher: the impact of my efforts…on learning. This experience leaves me to wonder how I may have been a better teacher, had I considered how my instructional planning, desired outcomes, and decision-making impacted my students’ learning. Despite the prevailing notion that a teacher’s “gut instincts” lead to what’s best for students, and sticking with my perception of “what works”, I regret that I didn’t dedicate time and attention to considering the impact of proven research.
What would the impact be, if evaluation was approached as more than a just a traditional top-down mandate?
“The results are clear: expert teachers do differ from experienced teachers – particularly in the degree of challenge that they present to students, and, most critically, in the depth to which students learn to process information” (Hattie, p.34).
Becoming an experienced teacher requires one to return to the teaching profession year after year.
Becoming an expert teacher, however takes time. Every teacher should aspire to become an expert teacher.
As Hattie writes, “Students of expert teachers are much more adept at deep, as well as surface, understanding, whereas experienced non-experts are as adept at surface, but not deep, learning” (33). For our students to move past the superficial, we too must be willing to do this. A look at the tools being used for evaluation reveal domains and language that puts learners at the center of the highly effective range.
With each teacher-student interaction, consideration of this idea of expertise should consider the value of:
- responsive scaffolding and tiered questions to promote deeper learning (as well as modeling for students how they are expected to develop questions that promote their own “thinking about thinking”).
- lesson design and how embedded tasks lean towards the desired outcome.
- the role assessment plays in informing learning (Did the students learn what was intended?)
- the role assessment plays in and in informing instruction (Did I deliver instruction that advanced learning for individual and groups of students?)
- student feedback to determine the degree of “learner responsive” teaching.
A focus on how students learn will open us to pathways that reveal the strengths and learning preferences of students.
With the data to guide us, what stops us from committing to take the first step towards becoming “experts”?
Make no mistake. while I am fascinated with the work presented by Hattie and DeWitt, I am at best, a novice. But I can’t help but marvel at what I am learning and am eager to continue to dive deeply, to integrate professional learning into my leadership practice. The challenge is to evolve daily and to share this reflective process with the teachers with whom I work.
If progress is a daily expectation for students, what impact would result if we applied this thinking to our evolution as educators?
Day 3: Collective Wisdom
Day 4: Designing Conditions