Like most teachers, I have a passion for making a difference to the lives of the kids I teach. Today, this has led me to acknowledge the difference someone else has made in my life. That person is John Hattie.
Why am I writing this now?
Partly, because I just read John’s testimonial to Mr. Tomlinson – a teacher who made a difference in John’s life. And partly because my own health challenges have led me show my appreciation now rather than when it’s too late.
John Hattie started his career as a teacher, but I wasn’t one of his students.
He later became a researcher and author, and this is how he touched my life.
John Hattie’s work is one of the few things that has fundamentally changed the way I think as a teacher.
I first came across his work more than a decade ago, when he was encouraging teachers to give their students dollops and dollops of feedback, and I have kept reading everything he has published since then.
John Hattie has provided me and the entire teaching profession with evidence based insight into what works in the classroom, as well as what doesn’t work, and most importantly what works best.
In his book Visible Learning, you will find 138 factors that contribute to student achievement in rank order. What makes this amazing is that he based these rankings on his statistical review of over 800,000 research studies.
This ranking of factors is great in and of itself, but that is not what touched my life.
Rather, John Hattie taught me to approach my whole role as a teacher in a different way.
I still wanted the best for the students I taught, but now I had new insight into how achieve it.
In short, I have learned that teachers should be like doctors.
- My success as a teacher is linked to the success of my students.
- While teachers may not be to blame for kids who don’t succeed at school (just as doctors aren’t responsible for heart disease), our actions can overcome many obstacles, and help kids succeed despite other inhibiting factors.
- I have a professional responsibility to start with evidence-based strategies that are more likely to help more kids succeed, just as doctors choose treatments that are most likely to work.
- I need to continually monitor the effect my chosen strategies are having, and to adjust my approach if needed. Or, in Hattie’s words to be a student of my own effects, using student results as feedback on my own teaching.
And, as with medicine, new research will undoubtedly lead to even better approaches to teaching.
I no longer have a philosophically or politically grounded stance, but rather am happy to let the evidence fall where it may and change when research shows it is worthwhile to change.
However, I will cast an even more critical eye over successive attempts to change, when such change involves adopting the latest educational fad.
These fundamental changes to my thinking have had a profound effect on me and through me on many others. I thank John Hattie on the difference he has made on my professional life.