Tantalizing Practices of an Effective Educator
Mrs. Sawyer didn’t know she changed my life that day. I was an awkward 4th grade student, painfully insecure, and having a bad day. We were supposed to pick out a word to describe our Thanksgiving dinner, decorate it, and post it on the wall. After fifteen minutes, I was still staring blankly at my white art paper. I couldn’t think of anything that other students hadn’t already written. I glanced anxiously around the room. Students were chatting all around me, sharing crayons, jostling each other and vying for space on the windowed wall to hang their masterpieces.
Aware of my growing panic, Mrs. Sawyer stopped by my desk and kneeled beside me. She looked at me and spoke quietly. She had spoken with my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Hendrickson, and had learned that I excelled in spelling and vocabulary. She believed in me. She knew I would think of something. As she walked away, an epiphany hit me! My eyes widened and I scrambled for my pencil. T-A-N-T-A-L-I-Z-I-N-G. I embellished the cursive writing with a colorful rainbow traced around and around the lettering until it looked like an explosion of color on the page. With a quick wink, Mrs. Sawyer took it from me and hung it high, in the middle of the windows where the sun shone through best, and turned to the class to express her satisfaction and pride. I beamed and in an instant my bad day melted away and my confidence soared.
The technical words for two of the masterful skills that my dear teacher demonstrated that day are defined by John Hattie, a current researcher in education, as collective teacher efficacy and estimate of achievement (Hattie, 2015). According to Hattie, collective teacher efficacy is the belief that together teachers can bring about the desired results and intended outcome. Estimate of achievement is the idea that the standards you set as a teacher will be achieved. In recent meta-analyses, Hattie published that the two strongest effect sizes came from these very important skills. Understanding how these skills impact student success can assist us as teachers in better identifying what the best practices of an effective educator look like.
A scientist at heart, I’m keenly aware and interested in the story that good data can tell. I became interested in Hattie’s research because of a district-wide push by administration for teachers to internalize Hattie’s work and analyze our own teaching practices. I’m not one to waste perfectly good teaching efforts on practices that lead to little positive impact. What educator has time for that? I was intrigued by what Hattie’s data evidenced and decided to find out for myself how to change my practices to induce bigger gains for my students.
COLLECTIVE TEACHER EFFICACY
Hattie reports that collective teacher efficacy is “collaborative conversation based on evidence.” This can be interpreted as teachers having a shared belief that through their collaborative efforts with each other, and armed with evidence of the needs of their students, they can make a difference. Common sense tells us that two heads are better than one, so it seems reasonable to infer that teachers working together for the collective good of their students is going to have huge impacts, but what does it look like?
- Teacher-led professional learning communities (PLCs) or grade level team meetings. It is imperative that teachers are given time to communicate with one another, share practices that are working, and engage in meaningful dialogue about their students.
- Dialogue directed by teachers. This is not the place for administration to assert a top-down approach, but rather for teacher-initiated dialogue to be supported by administration as grass roots efforts among their faculty. Creating a culture of support and mentorship among teachers, both new and veteran, serves to enhance both teacher effectiveness and student growth.
Some ideas on how to get the sharing going include:
- Expand your professional learning network (PLN) through social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Join in on weekly educator chats, subscribe to informative newsletters, and follow educators and researchers that promote collaboration and sharing of ideas.
- Advocate for time with your colleagues. Is there information in faculty meetings that could easily be shared digitally so that time could be better spent collaborating as grade level teams focused on individual students? Don’t be afraid to communicate your ideas with administrators. Complaining won’t get you anywhere, but proposing solutions and offering up ideas can make all the difference in how faculty time is spent.
ESTIMATES OF ACHIEVEMENT
Hattie indicates that teacher estimates of achievement also greatly impact student learning. Immediately, thoughts of self-fulfilling prophecy come to mind. What a teacher believes a student can accomplish, how high they set the bar, and how the teacher engages that student in the learning process will ultimately determine the success of that student.
Unfortunately, teachers, even the most well meaning, come with biases that affect the students within their classrooms. Teachers often struggle with identifying how gender, income, race, or ethnicity might influence their estimates of student achievement. A study by Brown University showed that boys and girls with similar behavior issues at the age of four or five ended up having widely different outcomes in their educational paths because of the way teachers responded to the behavior of the boys versus the girls (Mathewson, 2016). More evidence suggests that race also plays a huge role in disparities amongst school suspensions. Data released by the U.S. Department of Education indicated that black students were almost four times as likely to be suspended from public schools when compared to their white peers (Simpson, 2016). Many more studies indicate this is not an anomaly in our schools, but an epidemic with dire consequences. So, how do we change this outcome? Here are some things I’ve tried:
- Have brave and open dialogue with other teachers to help identify biases and seek to strengthen each other’s weaknesses. Only when we become vulnerable can we see what blinds us and keeps us from creating connections with others who are different from us. Project Implicit, a non-profit organization interested in implicit social cognition, offers tests to help you do just that. These quick tests can help you identify disparities in your social constructs and open up self-reflection that can move you in a positive direction to embracing all of your students’ identities and needs.
- Reflect, collaborate, and review data built from solid evidence. When we take time to do this, we begin to see every student for their individual capabilities and potential. When we do this with others, we increase our capabilities and potential to be effective educators.
Strengthening my understanding of my own implicit biases and reaching out to my colleagues to strengthen skills in collective teacher efficacy and estimates of achievement have not been easy tasks, but it has been time well spent. Can you envision a future where every student has the opportunity to succeed because a teacher invests in that student’s unique capabilities and needs and every teacher is given the time and tools to engage in meaningful conversations with their colleagues to break down their biases and raise up their students? Isn’t that a tantalizing thought, after all?
Thank you so much, Deborah!
Sources Cited in Deborah’s Piece
Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of Visible Learning to higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 79-91.
Mathewson, T. G. (2016, June 28). Study shows behavior problems have greater long-term impact on boys. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://www.educationdive.com/news/study-shows-behavior-problems-have-greater-long-term-impact-on-boys/421699/
Mathewson, T. G. (2016, July 05). Teacher expectations top list of effects on student achievement. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://www.educationdive.com/news/teacher-expectations-top-list-of-effects-on-student-achievement/422029/
Simpson, I. (2016, June 07). Black students more likely to be suspended: U.S. Education Department. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-education-suspensions/black-students-more-likely-to-be-suspended-u-s-education-department-idUSKCN0YT1Z