Teachers can have a significant effect on how well their students do at school, but not all teachers do. In fact, research1 shows that:
This is why John Hattie talks about the differences between classrooms (aka teachers) being more important than differences between schools.
The current mantra, that teachers make the difference, is misleading. Not all teachers are effective, not all teachers are experts, and not all teachers have powerful effects on students.
Jaime Escalante is a great teacher. Jay Mathews called him the best teacher in America. Jaime’s impact was so great, he inspired the touching movie Stand and Deliver.
What separates great teachers, like Jaime Escalante, from run-of-the-mill, average teachers? Great teachers are not born to teach. They don’t have exceptional gifts or magnetic personalities. Rather, research shows that the effect that they have on student achievement depends upon the way they approach their work. Therefore, we can all be great teachers.
Of course, your teaching is not the only factor that influences how well your students do. Other prominent influences include socio-economic status, students’ work ethic and raw ability. However, you are a potentially powerful force.
In this article, you will discover five ways that you can approach your work as a teacher that each has a substantial impact on students’ results.
Form High-Performance Relationships With Your Students
Great teachers forge high-performance relationships with their students. A strong student-teacher relationship has more effect on student results than most other strategies2
Angela Maiers explored the nature of these relationships from her students’ perspective by asking them to describe past teachers who had helped them succeed the most.
She found that you must genuinely care about you students as people in much the same way that a loving parent would care about their child. It is a view supported by a review of over one hundred research studies. Greet them each day, enjoy their company and show an interest in their lives.
Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Adapted from Theodore Roosevelt
However, care alone is not enough. You need to believe in your students and challenge them to excel while simultaneously supporting them to do so. Great teachers believe that their students can do well, and they demand that they do so. Students themselves know that the teachers who help them learn the most give them challenging work and hold them accountable to high standards. Great teachers don’t let their students get away with doing sub-standard work when they know the child is capable of doing better.
Adopt Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies
Put bluntly, research3 shows that some teaching strategies have far more effect on student results than other strategies do.
It is essential to know which teaching strategies have the most impact, and you can learn this in an earlier article, the Top 10 Teaching Strategies for Those Who Care About Student Results.
However, if you are serious about embracing evidence-based teaching, it is also important that you learn to critically evaluate and even let go of some of your past philosophies of teaching. Personal philosophies are often the result of being indoctrinated in popular educational theories – initially through university, and later through school systems and professional associations. Sadly, many of these theories have little, if any grounding in evidence at all.
When I went to university, whole language was the ‘in thing’. Yet, subsequent research4 has proven that the whole-language approach has a negligible impact on student results. More recent calls for teachers to embrace ideas such as, constructivism, inquiry learning and being a ‘guide on the side’, are similarly misguided.
This may sound like I am against any progressive approaches to education. This is not the case. Evidence shows that some progressive strategies, such as nurturing meta-cognition, peer learning and strategy instruction, have a large effect on student learning. So too do creativity programs and play based programs (before formal schooling). Conversely, there are some aspects of traditional approaches to education, such as retention and ability grouping, which are not effective either.
The point is that you need to put your personal beliefs aside, and let the evidence speak for itself.
Establish & Maintain Good Discipline
A well-managed classroom has a large and positive effect on how well your students do academically. Typically, students of teachers who maintain proper discipline achieve 20 percentile points higher than other students5. Conversely, a single disruptive student can have a negative impact on the achievement levels of all the students in the class6.
Effective teaching and learning cannot take place in a poorly managed classroom.
Effective teaching, coupled with the relationship that you have with your students, can prevent a large amount of misbehaviour before it occurs, but there is more that you can do.
It is also crucial to establish and maintain routines for everyday tasks, such as how to enter the room and signals for when you want them to stop, look and listen. Additional preventative strategies include making it clear that students are there to learn, that you expect them to behave in ways that help them (and those around them) to learn, and that you will support them along the way.
Then, you should acknowledge and reward positive behaviour while correcting and punishing misbehaviour.
To do this well, you need to remain calm, to stay focused on the lesson and to be aware of potential problems early enough to nip them in the bud. This moment-by-moment with-it-ness has more of an effect than any other aspect of behaviour management.
When coupled with strong teacher-student relationships and effective teaching, these strategies work.
Participate In Quality Professional Development
You should always strive to improve yourself as a teacher. Research7 confirms that teacher professional development has a significant impact on student results. However, this only holds true for quality professional development.
You should be seeking to learn what works and what works best. Beware of development opportunities that promote untested fads and vested interests. In short, you need to know about evidence-based techniques. Don’t be afraid to critically appraise what people tell you and ask for the hard evidence behind what they are recommending that you do.
There are many ways that you can access information about evidence-based approaches to teaching. You can enrol in formal study, you can attend workshops and you can do some focused professional reading (why not sign-up for ongoing advice from us). However, regardless of how you access your new insight, research shows that it is necessary to involve external experts, to try out fresh ideas and to refine them over time in light of the feedback you receive. This leads me to my final point.
Evaluate Your Impact
Teachers have goals that they want their students to achieve. They then take action to help their students master those goals, whatever they may be. Great teachers ensure that their actions are evidence-based. However, your actions, even when evidence-based, will not always produce the results that you desire. Evidence-based teaching strategies are not a magic bullet. They do not guarantee success. Rather, they increase the likelihood that more students will succeed. You need to monitor the results that you are getting so that you can change your approach when needed. This process of monitoring student results, and adjusting your own approach accordingly, is what we mean by evaluating your impact.
Teachers who are students of their own effects are the teachers who are the most influential in raising students’ achievement.
Great teachers are keen to measure how much of an effect that they have had on their students. This includes a willingness on their part to accept negative evidence – data that shows their students are not doing as well as they intended. Such data enables them to adjust and readjust their efforts until they achieve their desired outcome.
Evaluation is not about blame. It is about problem solving. When you are failing to get the results you hope for, you view it as a challenge or a problem to be solved. This is a perfect time to draw on the collective wisdom of trusted colleagues, establishing your own little professional learning communities. Fancy jargon aside, a professional learning community is simply a group of experts pooling their ideas to discern how to move forward when one member is facing a challenging problem.
Which of these 5 strategies will help you?
- Sanders, W. L., & Rivers, J. C. (1996). Cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement: University of Tennessee Value-Added Research and Assessment Center. [↩]
- Cornelius-White, J. (2007). Learner-centered teacher-student relationships are effective: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 113–143. [↩]
- See, for example, Hattie’s Visible Learning, and Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works [↩]
- Jeynes, W. H., & Littell, S. W. (2000). A meta-analysis of studies examining the effect of whole language instruction on the literacy of low-SES students. The Elementary School Journal, 101(1), 21–33; Stahl, S. A., & Miller, P. D. (1989). Whole language and language experience approaches for beginning reading: A quantitative research synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 59(1), 87–116. [↩]
- Marzano, R. J. (2003). A quantitative synthesis of research on classroom management. Paper submitted for publication. [↩]
- Hattie, John A. C. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Routledge. [↩]
Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, I. Y. Y. (2007). Teacher professional learning and development: Best evidence synthesis iteration In. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education. [↩]