Our system’s strategic intent seeks to: improve the learning outcome for all students and ensure a professionally rewarding working life for teachers.
A professionally rewarding work life for teachers is more than having a well-paid and contented workforce. It concedes that without highly professional, committed, passionate teachers who believe every child can learn, there won’t be great improvements in learning outcomes. In my experience this is what drives good teachers in their profession.
I’ve been thinking about this as I read John Hattie’s latest book ‘Visible Learning for Teachers‘. The path to visible learning begins with teachers thinking about the impact they are having on student learning – not annually or each term but every week, every lesson. And by learning, Hattie doesn’t mean passing ‘surface-level tests’ but the kind of learning that develops a deep sense of wonder and recognises students as agents of their own development.
This emphasis on the connection between quality student learning and quality teaching and teachers in our strategic intent provides the motive for our work as a system. As Hattie states ‘the fundamental quality of an expert teacher is the ability to have a positive influence on student outcomes….for students to achieve these outcomes, teachers must set challenging goals, rather than ‘do your best’ goals.’ As a system, we don’t want to marginally improve learning outcomes, we want to move students as far as possible towards becoming creative and competent individuals. This means assisting teachers to be able to move into the ‘expert’ group.
Hattie discusses the differences between experienced and expert teachers in Chapter 3. Expert teachers:
- have high levels of subject knowledge and understanding
- are able to guide learning to surface and deep outcomes
- monitor learning and provide effective feedback
- attend to attitudinal attributes of learning (e.g self-mastery)
- provide defensible evidence of the positive impacts on student learning
Several years ago, I used the metaphor of the web to describe learning in today’s world but I believe this metaphor reflects what expert teachers do – they build scaffolds for students that allow them to connect the dots of prior and current knowledge. This builds trust and encourages risk taking, both essential to learning. Everything is organised around this; knowledge is interconnected and weaknesses are immediately addressed to ensure learning continuity. This may seem like a simplistic description of what expert teachers do but web structures are complex, flexible and responsive to internal and external factors.
Richard Elmore believes that if you can’t see it in the instructional core, then it’s not there. I think this is what Hattie means by visible learning – watch an expert teacher in action and you see an optimal climate for learning, you see learning being monitored, you see respect and care for students, you see passionate teachers who are working with and for every single learner, you see learners being challenged and encouraged to take risks and importantly you see teachers continually seeking evidence and feedback on the effect they are having. Is this what you see in your school – how visible is the learning?
I agree wholeheartedly with Hattie’s conviction that the aim of the profession is to encourage collaboration in order to ‘drive the profession upwards’ – to move teachers from good to great, from experienced to expert etc. It takes a village to raise a child and a profession to ensure a positive influence on student learning.
Hattie drives one point home continually -it’s about teacher professional learning not just the teacher. We all need to improve and that’s a powerful challenge.