What makes a teacher “ineffective”? Education officials and advocacy groups can’t agree. For all the noise, infighting, and litigation over teacher evaluations and tenure, many states simply have no definition for what a good teacher—or a bad one—looks like.
As one way to measure effective, equitable instruction, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires that states report on whether disadvantaged students have a higher proportion of ineffective, out-of-field and inexperienced teachers than do their peers. But to report on that metric, every state needs to define, concretely, what an “ineffective” teacher looks like.
The good news: many states do not face instructional challenges without significant resources. There are beginning teacher support programs, peer assistance reviews, and leadership academies all designed to create effective teachers and leaders.
Much research has been conducted to define the dimensions and attributes that differentiate between expert and experienced teachers. Despite the numerous studies on this topic and the contributions from several researchers and academics, the conclusions have been remarkably similar.
Here are five effective teacher profiles that lead to essential teaching.
1. Expert teachers know and identify the essential representations of their subject.
Many studies found that there were six to seven main elements to great teaching, and one of the most important was subject matter knowledge. It may seem obvious, but the best teachers have a deep knowledge of their subject, and if that falls below a certain point it has a “significant impact” on students’ learning. Targeted help for teachers, giving them an understanding of particular areas where their knowledge is weak, could be effective. The quality of teaching has a big impact on the achievement of students’ from poorer backgrounds, and effective questioning and assessment are at the heart of great teaching. This involves giving enough time for children to practice new skills and introducing learning intentions and success criteria, along with teacher-created learning progressions.
Former Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said improving the quality of teaching was “the crux” of the challenge in schools. And he said subject knowledge was at the core of being a good teacher.
By contrast, John Hattie identified that subject matter knowledge is really only a minor consideration in student achievement. Hattie conducted a meta-analysis of more than 1000 educational studies, identifying 138 different factors that influenced student learning. The required effect size for a student to make a year’s progress is 0.4. According to Hattie, teacher subject-matter knowledge had an effect size of 0.19, meaning that it was far less effective than other factors like classroom management (0.52) or effective teacher feedback (0.75).
Hattie revisited this topic in a later book, Visible Learning for Teachers (2011), where he discussed the fact that expert teachers can make use of their subject knowledge to organize and use content knowledge more effectively for their students to understand. In addition, expert teachers are more likely to be able to respond to the needs of any particular classroom, recognizing students who are struggling and changing the way the information is presented in order to make it more understandable.
Defining effective teaching isn’t easy, but research always returns to the fact that student progress is the yardstick by which teacher quality should be assessed.
You can self-reflect on your own instructional impact by clicking here.
2. Expert teachers know that their beliefs count.
Teachers believe that they can positively affect the lives of the students they serve. This is called teacher efficacy. Mike Askew, the author of Effective Teachers of Numeracy, found that beliefs about the nature of math and what it means to understand it, along with teachers’ ideas about how children learn and their role in that process, was an important factor in how effective they were.
Some researchers have taken the concept of teacher efficacy to another level and developed a complementary construct called collective teacher efficacy. Goddard, Hoy, and Hoy (2000) define this as “the perceptions of teachers in a school that the efforts of the faculty as a whole will have a positive effect on students,” with the faculty in general agreeing that “teachers in this school can get through to the most difficult students.” In the view of these researchers, “teachers’ shared beliefs shape the normative environment of schools … [and] are an important aspect of the culture of the school.”
Recently, Professor Hattie ranked collective teacher efficacy as the #1 factor influencing student achievement (Hattie, 2016) based on a meta-analysis by Eells (2011). Rachel Jean Eells’ (2011) meta-analysis demonstrated that collective efficacy and student achievement are strongly related, with an effect size of 1.57.
According to the Visible Learning Research (Hattie, 2012), this finding:
- more than doubles the effect size of feedback (0.75).
- is beyond three times more powerful and predictive than socio-economic status (0.52).
- is also more than three times as likely to influence student achievement than student motivation and concentration, persistence, and engagement (0.48).
Collective Teacher Efficacy, as an influence on student achievement, is a contribution that comes from the school—not the home and not the students themselves. It can also be a predictor of future teacher success.
3. Expert teachers create an optimal classroom climate for learning.
Students should be cared for as people first. Take care of them and show them that you care about their personal wellbeing. Ask them about their day and find out what is important to them. We always need to teach kids FIRST–then curriculum. Remember that. Always.
Creating an optimal learning environment does not have to be a source of stress. Many teachers create this environment through a series of common traits:
- An optimal classroom climate embraces the idea that ALL students can learn.
- An optimal classroom climate makes learning relevant to the lives of students by connecting school with home, culture and community
- An optimal classroom climate features authentic measures for assessing student learning.
- An optimal classroom climate recognizes that student success is a complex idea and measuring it must be accomplished with many tools.
High functioning classrooms elevate the use of questioning and student dialogue. Questions are valued as more important than answers. And that means adding currency whenever possible—like feedback, creative curation (writing as a kind of graffiti on large post-it pages on the classroom walls), or simply honest respect. See if you don’t notice a change.
Teach students how to answer this simple question: “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” Having students think through the use of metacognitive strategies helps to develop self-regulated learners who are able to monitor their own learning, rather than depend on the teacher for all of there needs. Remember: student engagement is a product of effective instruction.
4. Expert teachers rely less on praise and more on providing effective feedback.
The wrong kind of praise can be harmful for students. A number of studies conducted by education experts, including Carol Dweck, John Hattie, and Helen Timperley, have observed this. Deborah Stipek, the dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, said that praise is meant to be encouraging, but it can actually “convey a teacher’s low expectations.” Stipek said that if a pupil’s failure was met with sympathy rather than anger, then they were more likely to think they had done badly due to a lack of ability.
When students receive effective feedback about their learning, their speed of learning doubles. Effective teachers regularly discuss this with their students. “This is where you want to be, this is where you are, and this is what you can do to close the gap.” Effective feedback will flourish when it is OK for students to make mistakes. For students to feel that mistakes are welcome, there needs to be a high level of trust in the classroom. Students have a greater chance of understanding feedback if it takes into account the instructional level (novice, developing proficiency, proficient) they are working at. A prerequisite for giving effective feedback is having clear learning intentions and success criteria.
5. Expert teachers form strong student-teacher relationships-
This may also seem obvious, but teacher interactions with students have a big impact on learning – as well as the classroom climate. It is important to create a classroom environment that is “constantly demanding more” while affirming students’ self-worth.
When it comes to improving education, we must believe that:
- Students are the potential, not the problem.
- All students have something to teach us.
In effective student-teacher relationships where teachers are approachable, students are more engaged, more respectful of others and display less negative behavior. This has a positive impact on student achievement.
What Does It Look like When Teachers Build Relationships With Students?
- Teachers talk in a positive manner about students.
- Teachers hold high expectations for all students.
- Students respect teachers and their classmates.
- Students feel listened to and acknowledged for their unique skills and talents.
- Students trust their teachers.
- Students appreciate each other’s differences.
- Teachers value students’ ideas and opinions.
- Teachers let students know they care about them as individuals.
Knowing just one thing about each of your students can make a difference.
Expertise in teaching involves much more than the simple accumulation of skills listed above. Teacher competence is an important base from which expertise in teaching grows. It is important to recognize that teaching is an educative process and although it cannot simply be measured against a list of competencies, expert teachers use a series of strategies reflective of the list presented here.
Because experience does not always equate to expertise, we must understand the difference between the two; effective teachers are resilient and can tackle problems that challenge them, all while pursuing new opportunities to grow. To extend themselves, they approach tasks in different ways, set higher standards and work hard to reach those standards. Even when having to contend with challenging teaching conditions such as large urban classes, highly diverse student populations, and a shortage of supplies, resources, and facilities, many teachers persist in the classroom and experience success and satisfaction in their work (Brunetti, 2006; Marso & Pigge, 1997). In sum, finding the joy that teachers feel may seem a difficult path for exploration; however, time, practice, and reflection will reward teachers with the opportunity to professionally grow and make a significant difference students’ lives.