|It is what teachers think, what teachers do, and what teachers are at the level of the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young people get.
Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan
It’s a relatively self-evident truth that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. However, and as a growing body of evidence and research is demonstrating, most learning in the world takes place without any form of formal teaching.
We all know there is a great deal of teaching taking place across classrooms (in every corner of the world) without much learning happening!
So, is teaching important? What makes an “effective” teacher?
Research on teacher effectiveness consistently shows that the formal education and learning of students is greatly dependent on the quality of teachers, the teaching they receive and the level of student engagement created by teachers. The “teacher effect”, as it goes, is higher than that of curriculum renewal, textbooks and materials, and (even) school leaders.
In studies, for example, where students have been assigned to “ineffective teachers”, students have significantly lower achievement and learning than those assigned to “effective teachers” – TRUE but, WTH would even set up this type of study?
So, what is an “effective teacher”?
Everything we come across suggests effective teachers do exhibit a number of common personal qualities and instructional skills:
- Treat students with respect and a caring attitude
- Present themselves in class as “real people”
- Spend more time working with small groups throughout the day
- Provide a variety of opportunities for students to apply and use knowledge and skills in different learning situations
- Use active, hands-on student learning
- Vary instructional practices and modes of teaching
- Offer real-world, practical examples
For many of us teaching is, in essence, about believing that all students can learn and doing anything and everything to help and encourage students to grow and develop as whole people. Teaching is about engagement and designing learning opportunities and environments that focus on what students can do with what they learn – and giving learners control, not trying to control learning.
One of my favourite reads on this topic is Bain’s book “What the Best College Teachers Do” (which won the Virginia and Warren Stone Prize for outstanding book on education and society) and while a review of individual studies on teaching effectiveness reveals no commonly agreed definition of teacher effectiveness, Bain’s book provides an excellent conceptual model for what is it that makes a teacher “effective”.
He bases this on a series of questions:
Bain’s work suggests that the most effective teaching is not a question of age or experience or expertise in a given discipline (although a sound knowledge of the subject-matter of a specific discipline is a given) but rather the result of a number of attitudes, conceptualisations and practices – these are typical of teachers who “take a learning perspective”.
Indeed, many of the understandings and practices of these teachers are very similar to those practices of highly effective institutions investigated through Project DEEP – and stress the importance of:
- A “living” mission and a “lived” educational philosophy
- An “unshakeable” focus on student learning
Teachers that take a learning perspective also extend these ideas to their own understanding of themselves as professionals, and the ways in which effective teachers work to learn and grow include:
- Reflecting on their own performance in order to improve
- Using feedback from students and others to assess and improve their teaching
BUT, and this is where I throw LEARNING back into the ring, we said that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin.
I would propose that we keep Bain’s approach but modify some of his questions a little –
- What do effective teachers know and understand about learning and teaching?
- What do they do with what they know and understand about learning and teaching?
- What do they do to improve what they do with what they know and understand about learning and teaching?
That last one is a bit of a mouthful!
Some different questions like these might help us really get to the heart of what makes a truly effective teacher. How would you answer these questions?
What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain
Learning That Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development and Performance in College and Beyond by Marcia Mentkowski & Associates (Alverno)
Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter by George D. Kuh, et al