Advocating for excellence: a case for enhancing outcomes in schools

Professor John Hattie on why it's the time to push an agenda that enhances the qualities of schools, leaders, and teachers - and how we make it happen.

A teacher with two students

A good time for schooling

We live in a time of remarkable education opportunity in Australia: record investments into schools, a major Gonski 2.0 Review helping focus our efforts and investment, resurgence of policies geared towards expertise, and a recent government push for ‘accountability’.

Now is the time to advocate for enhancing the qualities of schools, leaders, and teachers.

Expertise of teachers must be focus over ‘things’

To achieve this, we need increased emphasis on investing in expertise. While recent years have seen a shift from primarily spending on salaries and buildings to investing in accountability reforms (such as NAPLAN, MySchool), professional learning, and policies relating to quality, the greatest investment need to be in the expertise of educators and we need to prioritise this.

Visible Learning research – an evidence-based research based on >1/3rd student into what actually improves learning – shows that teacher expertise, and teaching students the various strategies of learning within various subjects, is the best way to maximise impact.

Table 1 shows some lower influences of achievement on the left-hand side (mainly structural), and higher influences on the right (mainly expertise by teachers).

A table called "Exampls of low- and high- impact investments in building academic achievement (from Hattie, 2009)

The major messages from this research are seven major arguments to maximise impact:

  1. Teachers must work together (and with their students) to evaluate their impact
  2. Teachers, parents, and students, must develop high expectations
  3. All stakeholders, must be aware of teacher expectations through explicit success criteria
  4. Education must meet the ‘Goldilocks principles’ of challenge – not too hard, not too easy, not too boring
  5. Classrooms and staffrooms need to embrace the notion that errors are opportunities to learn
  6. There must be maximum feedback to teachers and students about their impact
  7. There should be increased emphasis, debate, and understanding of learning more than teaching.

Understanding educator expertise

Of course, Visible Learning research attributes these seven influences as primarily a function of ‘how educators think’, hence the 10 Mindframes teachers need to maximise student success: (Hattie & Zierer, 2018).

  • Three relate to Impact: I am an evaluator of my impact; I see assessment as feedback to me; and I collaborate with my peers and students about my conceptions of progress and my impact.
  • Two relate to improvement and challenge: I am a change agent, and I strive for challenge.
  • Five relate to the learning focus: I give and help students understand feedback; I engage as much in dialogue as monologue; I explicitly inform students what successful impact looks like; I build relationships and trust; and, I focus on the language of learning.

The overwhelming inference from research comparing novice and experienced teachers with expert teachers is that the major differences are how they think, what they value, and their passion to optimise their impact on student learning. Expert teachers ‘see’ classrooms differently, and the balance surface and deep thinking demands, are they more critical of their teaching.

Understanding and valuing the immense teacher expertise needed to make a difference is an important step in an agenda for enhancing quality.

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2011) recognises these forms of expertise and thinking already – making distinctions between Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished (HA), and Lead (LT) teacher levels. HALTs (Highly Accomplished or Lead teachers) is also recognised by all most Australian states and territories.

The problem is that we all need to esteem, debate, research, privilege and scale up expertise in the educational system - starting with the profession itself promoting expertise as the core of the profession.

Scaling up for success not failure

Too often we identify failure and develop policies to fix failure, whereas we need to identify success and scale it up across schools and systems. Many educators use ‘lack’ or ‘failure’ as arguments for more investment, but let’s ask for investment in teacher expertise to scale up for success that is already in the schools now. Let’s shift the focus on ‘best practice’ to discussions about teaching impact; acknowledging great teaching needs to be by design, not by chance.

There is a need to embrace the idea of improvement – rather than change. Sometimes the status quo does not need to change as there is already high impact, but everyone needs to improve. Improvement is about identifying those who already have excellent impact on students, forming a coalition of success around them, and inviting others to join.

Implementation

Implementing new polices that support such scaling up requires resources to help everyone understand their progress and impact; structures to allow the profession to debate and be a key part of identifying excellence; and, importantly, effective leadership to prioritise the narrative about collective impact.

Leaders should view implementation as a process, not an event, create a supportive learning environment, work with staff to be clear about the diagnosis and discovery, and plan for sustaining and scaling excellence from the outset.

Defining success – a basket of goods

Finally, we need to clarify what we mean by success. Currently system success is too focused on narrow academic outcomes using one measure (such as NAPLAN or PISA) , whereas an alternative is to evaluate against a ‘basket of goods’ – which goes beyond reading, math and science to encompass human development and consider progress across school years, development of multiple learning strategies, a joy and desire to invest in learning, and respect for self and others.

This broadened set of measures allows schools to capture the full scope of possibilities with which they can couch their success and pursue excellence. If each country determines its own indicators, it can better reflect the society’s needs, values, interests and expectations. And we could avoid a default world curriculum leading to the same graduates competing for the same global jobs, which risks ignoring, rather than nurturing, students with great social or collaborative skills, who may be our future entrepreneurs or leaders.

Moving forward and choosing excellence

If we recognise that educator expertise makes the most impact, the need to debate the meaning of success, dependably identify, promote, and esteem educational excellence, and devise policies to successfully implement it – we can scale up excellence and enhance quality in our schools.

If you’re interested in being part of this agenda, the Master of Education in Evidence-Based Teaching draws on pioneering research and insights from our Graduate School of Education to help you create more effective teaching interventions maximising student success.

References

  • AITSL (n. d.). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from www.aitsl.edu.au/teach/standards
  • Zierer, K. & Hattie, J. (2018). 10 Mindframes for visible learning: Teaching for success. London, UK: Routledge.