School reform efforts have come along fast and furiously in the last twenty years. They’ve included high and aspirational goals for student achievement and for closing the achievement gap. Some have been accompanied by consequences that place grades on schools as a measure of their performance while others labeled schools in a way that made their need for improvement publicly transparent. From 1983’s A Nation At Risk to the rhetoric ridden No Child Left Behind to today’s Every Student Succeeds Act, one glaring approach has been missing from all of these reform efforts and policies. While each policy has centered on improving student achievement through high expectations, aspirational goals, accountability via tough consequences, none have focused on the most important mechanism in advancing learner outcomes: improving the practices of teachers.
Here’s what we know about instructional effectiveness but have yet to capitalize on as a nation: 1. There are high yield strategies that lead to improved instructional quality and learner outcomes. John Hattie’s work, Visible Learning, illuminates this. 2. Teachers need quality and robust feedback and coaching support to improve their practices. A simple demand for improved test scores and achievement hasn’t been and will never be enough. 3. Creating a more equitable way to provide professional development and resources aligned with the goals for improvement could be a game changer. As much as inequity persists for our students and their educational experiences, those same inequities plague the professional development of practitioners who serve children in our poorest and neediest communities. This too contributes to the ongoing achievement gap between our wealthiest and poorest and Caucasian and minority students.
Teacher quality isn’t a new concept. It has been on the minds of educational scholars, leaders, and the like for many years. Yet, very few of our reform efforts focus on how to advance the quality and effectiveness of instruction that children receive. Instead, we see evaluation as a way of weeding out poor teachers, and in many cases, those who are deemed “effective” are deemed so early on and rarely provided with the feedback, support, and development opportunities they need to sustain their effectiveness. Additionally, there are learning trends and fads that seem to plague the profession, yet give little credence to the foundational and effective pedagogical strategies we know result in improved teacher practice and learning outcomes for children.
Further, we are plagued by a quantitative view of tallying our classroom visits, keeping track of how many inquiry-based lessons teachers are incorporating, instead of placing our focus on the feedback teachers need to perfect their pedagogy. By focusing on feedback and ways to advance the practices of educators, leaders have an opportunity to significantly impact learner outcomes in a positive way. Instructional leadership requires the ability to help those who are delivering the instruction to be able to do so in more effective, efficient, and innovative ways. Providing a judgment of an overall lesson as good, not so good, etc. doesn’t help advance the practices of teachers. It’s precisely what happens beyond that final judgment that can make the next lesson more effective.
This presents an additional opportunity for our school leader preparation programs. How do we move aspiring leaders past the management of the books, buses, building, finances, and people? How do we help leaders learn and prepare them to be ready to advance the practices of educators? How can practicing school administrators improve the quality of the teaching students experience in their building? I believe that ability does not come from evaluating poor performing teachers out of the profession, subscribing to the latest trends, or keeping a quantitative monitor on the number of initiatives in your building, but from having deep instructional knowledge and the ability to share and teach other educators how to improve the quality and effectiveness of their instruction by using high yield learning strategies.
In spite of every well-intentioned and well-named reform, we’ve not changed outcomes in the ways we so often say we desire. If we intend to advance the outcomes of America’s learners, we must begin by focusing our efforts on how to improve the practices of those who are serving them.
Until next time…be you, be true, be a hope builder!