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Interview #21: Educator Effectiveness Survey: Australian Findings
In 2014, Pearson conducted a survey of those in the education system that are affected by teaching policies across the globe - the Global Survey of Educator Effectiveness. The survey was headed by Dr. Katherine McKnight , Director of Pearson’s Center for Educator Learning and Effectiveness in the US.
For this edition of In Conversation, we join Dr. Katherine McKnight to discuss the unique results from the Australian survey audience, and what it means to educators, students and parents alike in the Australian education system.
Katherine McKnight, Senior Research Scientist at RTI International in the Education and Workforce Development division has over 20 years of experience as a researcher and program evaluator in a wide array of topic areas.
Over the past 10 years, Dr. McKnight has focussed exclusively on research and the evaluation of teaching and learning in addition to school improvement. She led Pearson’s Center for Educator Learning and Effectiveness from 2013-2016, where she and her team developed the research agenda, designed studies, built partnerships with universities, educator organisations, and education non-profits, and shared research with practitioners.
This survey was conducted in 2014 as a one-time project funded by Pearson. As the Director of Pearson’s Center for Educator Learning and Effectiveness, I proposed the study and carried it out with my team.
Teacher effectiveness is a critical focal area for education systems around the world so we were motivated to ask the key education stakeholders, what they thought were the most important qualities of an effective teacher.
We believe that those who are most affected by how teacher effectiveness is defined should have their voices heard regarding which qualities and competencies they valued most.
To identify the data gaps, we analysed the data we collected and compared the results to the teaching standards for each country. We then compared the results to what research and expert literature tells us about what teachers should know and be able to do.
We focussed on the gaps where survey results did not align well with the teaching standards and/or the literature on effective teachers and teaching. We chose those who are most affected by teaching policies: the teachers themselves, their students, their students’ families (parents), and school administrators.
We also included education researchers and policymakers because in many countries, they have the most say in teacher policies, including how teacher effectiveness is defined and measured.
We worked with third party marketing research organisations to identify the sample participants to make sure there was equal representation from the public (government) and private school sectors, and from primary and secondary educators.
Australia’s overall results were generally similar to those of other countries. The two most important qualities of an effective teacher were the ability to build trusting, compassionate relationships with students and a patient, caring and kind disposition. Australia’s and the global results also include Knowledge of Learners and Subject Matter Knowledge in the top 5 most valued qualities.
One of the interesting differences was that globally, there is a stronger valuing of teacher professionalism (3rd most frequent response) compared to Australia, where it was the 8th most frequent response.
What is also unique is that globally, the stakeholder groups share 9 of their top 10 most valued qualities of an effective teacher, whereas in Australia, they share only 4.
This suggests that within the Australian education system, stakeholders have widely ranging opinions about what they expect of their teachers and of the education their students are receiving. Therefore, results emphasise the importance of getting feedback from all stakeholders.
The responses from the Australian educators were consistent with what research tells us matters most for effective teachers. They responded at a level of detail that showed a sophisticated understanding of these competencies.
Australia’s researchers, policymakers and principals were also unusual in their emphasis on the use of assessment for monitoring student progress and the high valuing of an ‘always learning’ or continuous improvement mindset, which was rarely mentioned by stakeholders in other countries.
We were somewhat surprised to see that the teacher’s professionalism wasn’t mentioned more frequently and that subject matter knowledge wasn’t more emphasised, but this was the case in most countries.
We were also surprised that teaching skills/pedagogical approach was reported so infrequently by the Australian stakeholders, with the exception of the researchers and policymakers, who reported this category second most frequently.
The top three qualities in our Australia study results reflect a high priority for teachers to connect with and understand learners and the learning process. I think this reflects the shift in focus from a more teacher-centered to a more student-centered approach to education.
From our study results, we hypothesise that Australians have a model of teaching in mind where the disposition to teach is foundational, and without these dispositions, teaching-specific knowledge and skills will be less effective.
Cognitive science suggests that for effective learning to take place, the social relationships between the educator and the learner must be trusting and compassionate. This will result in the learner to focus his/her cognitive resources on learning.
If the learning environment is stressful or threatening, the learner’s cognitive resources are focussed on reducing the risk or threat and cannot be fully devoted to the job of learning. Although our study participants may not be aware of the cognitive neuroscience behind their priorities, they appear to have a good understanding that if the teacher cannot gain the students’ trust, students will not make the effort or take the risks required to learn.
Patience, caring and kindness is a category that reflects the teacher’s personality. It may be that researchers, policymakers and principals don’t focus on qualities of teachers that are assumed to be unchangeable, like personality.
When it comes to recruiting, many education systems are focussed on knowledge, skills and dispositions that they believe can be changed, like a growth mindset (‘Always Learning’), teaching methods or skills, and the skills to build trusting relationships with students.
The students, parents and teachers, on the other hand, may believe that in order to build those trusting relationships, teachers need a caring, kind and patient disposition.
For teachers, parents and students, teaching skills didn’t make it in their top 10 most frequent responses, unlike in other participating countries. Australia’s results are similar to those of the global sample in that researchers and policymakers valued teaching skills the most, and it was lower on the list for the other groups.
It may be that the strong emphasis in Australia on ‘Knowledge of Learners’ is a more sophisticated and indirect way of expressing the importance of teaching skills. This category includes the understanding of how learners learn and develop, understanding their individual learning interests and needs, and aligning instruction to those interests and needs.
Pearson has been using the survey results in different regions around the world to start conversations with education stakeholders about what they value most in effective teachers, and how that aligns with what these stakeholders want and expect for their child’s education.
It helps teachers to know that first and foremost, stakeholders value their dispositions to teach. Teaching knowledge and skills matter, but overwhelmingly parents, students, teachers, administrators, and education researchers and policymakers seem to value a teacher’s ability to develop trusting relationships with students, and their patience, kindness and caring.
Teachers and administrators should think about how they can emphasise the knowledge, skills and dispositions required to build relationships with students through teacher preparation, training and evaluation processes.
Overall, the top three priorities in Australia reflects a more student-centered approach to education. Teachers and administrators should think about how their schools approach teaching and learning, and whether the culture and practices in their school are aligned with how humans learn at the developmental levels of their students, including the importance of trusting and caring relationships between teachers and students.
Read the full Educator Effectiveness Survey report here.
Dr. Katherine McKnight is a Senior Research Scientist at RTI International in the Education and Workforce Development division. She has over 20 years of experience as a researcher and program evaluator in a wide array of topic areas, she has rcenetly focussed exclusively on research and the evaluation of teaching and learning in addition to school improvement.
Since launching the 'In Conversation' series in 2015, we now have a collection of interviews to present, with more arriving each month!
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