Quality teachers make the difference
We know that quality teachers make a significant difference to the learning outcomes of students. John Hattie’s (2003) recent rigorous and exhaustive research has provided profound and
powerful evidence to support this conviction – ‘excellence in teaching is the single most powerful influence on achievement’. The design, collection and response to findings are intimately
linked to the art of effective teaching and will impact significantly on student educational achievement.
In many disciplines, field professionals are predominantly identified as having the most astute and profound knowledge, skills, experience and professional capacity to make judgements about the most effective way to obtain, collate, interpret and apply evidence. Professional educators have a unique and specialised capacity to lead and contribute to evidencebased approaches to teaching and learning – because, it is they who know best, the ‘subject’ matter and the individual.
Teachers are distinguished from other professions by their deep knowledge of how the learning process occurs. This places teachers in an inimitable position to utilise a range of profession-specific, as well as locally specific, skills, knowledge and experiences, to improve the educational outcomes of their students. While it is necessary to value, or at least consider, all sources of evidence, we must not hesitate to recognise that teachers are often in a leading position to identify and act on the best way in which to obtain and assess the worthiness and weight of the diverse
range of evidence collected about students. Just as the judgement and authority of a doctor is respected in the assessment he/she makes of a patient, and the medication he/she prescribes
to achieve an outcome of health and well-being, so too should the professional expertise of teachers be valued and trusted, in the quest for high-quality educational results.
Teachers are in a unique position to have an extensive and well-developed range of strategies and techniques that can be used to identify and meet the current needs of a diverse range of students – and, moreover, to match the future desired achievements of the students to a plan for action. No, teachers cannot necessarily predict the future! However, they do have a rich capacity to accumulate a broad-ranging repertoire of strategies that enable them to match a strategy to a student’s needs.
With this knowledge base, teachers are able to make informed judgements about how best to work towards further developing students, selecting assessment strategies that accurately reflect what it is that our students know; use evidence to support students for further achievement; and prepare students to be active and contributing citizens, now and into the future.
Furthermore, teachers are in a distinctive position to be able to interrogate evidence. The value of evidence does not necessarily lie solely in the description that it provides of student achievement – but rather, the way in which this description is interrogated and understood in order to develop and apply appropriate strategies to improve student learning. It is fair to say that traditionally the role of the teacher in this process has been undervalued.
However, if evidence is to be used most effectively, the capacity of the teacher to ask the right questions of evidence, to examine the how and why of evidentiary results, and to respond with the most effective strategies, must be realised as paramount. While it is critical to realise and support the role of teachers in leading and contributing to evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning, it is also important to consider that teachers have a responsibility to the profession, as well as a broader social responsibility, to account for decisions that are made.
In times of increased change, it is necessary that the teaching profession builds strong links with research communities in order to understand the most current developments about learning and development to enhance and sharpen their knowledge. For, if we are to support the notion that the creativity, ingenuity and expertise of teachers be valued and prioritised, the thinking and instruction of teachers must be relevant, perceptive, dynamic and forward looking.