Effective Teaching...

by Harry and Rosemary Wong

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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
located at https://teachers.net.

May 2009

Teachers Are the Greatest Assets


Improving Teacher Effectiveness

John Goodlad, while at UCLA, reported on 40 years of educational innovations.  He did not find a single one that increased student achievement.  What he did find:

The only factor that increased student achievement
was the effectiveness of a teacher.

For over 20 years, we have worked tirelessly to help educators become more effective teachers.  We have steered clear of fads, buzzword initiatives, and trendy programs.  We are laser-focused on teacher effectiveness and how to achieve it.  Our book, The First Days of School—How to Be an Effective Teacher, has sold 3.5 million copies and is in the professional libraries of teachers worldwide.  It is used in 102 foreign countries and in over 2,010 colleges.  The key word in the title is “Effective,” and is the reason for its success.

Our DVD series, The Effective Teacher, was given the Telly Award as the best education video series of the past 25 years.  Notice the word “Effective,” and yes, there’s a connection.

For ten years, we have been writing the “Effective Teaching” column for www.teachers.net.  “Effective” is the operative word for the content of the column.

We publish an 8-page newspaper, Successful Teaching—For Those Who Want to Be EffectiveTeachers. It's free for the asking in any quantity at www.EffectiveTeaching.com. Just click the newspaper image on the homepage to order. Again, notice the word "Effective" in the newspaper's title.

We are able to help teachers become more effective because we understand the research and make it applicable to the classroom.  

Foundations Tried to Help

In 1991, Ron Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University,reported, “A large scale study found that every additional dollar spent on raising teacher quality netted greater student achievement gains than did any other use of school resources. 

Two years later, to demonstrate how we ignored the research, philanthropist Walter Annenberg created the Annenberg Challenge—a $500 million, five-year reform effort and the largest single gift ever made to American public education.  Cities were urged to use the money to improve student achievement:

Sadly, but not surprisingly, five years later, the Annenberg Foundation reported that none of the programs improved student learning.  Instead, what consistently delivered the best returns on student learning was money invested in giving teachers SUSTAINED opportunities to improve their classroom skills

It's not programs, fads, or ideologies.  It's the teacher!

The Bill and Melanie Gates Foundation invested $40 million toward supporting small schools nationwide.  Unfortunately this did not result in improved student learning.  Now, their focus is on charter schools and it’s predictable what the outcome will be—another failed attempt to improve teacher effectiveness.

It’s the teacher that has the greatest impact on student achievement, but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested no money to directly and systematically improve the effectiveness of teachers.

The Annenberg and Gates foundations are not at fault.  The great tragedy of money given to schools is that instead of heeding what research tells us, we choose to use the money to recycle the same old programs and ideologies that have failed time after time.

A School’s Greatest Asset

It was famed business guru Peter Drucker who coined the term “human capital” and considered people “assets.”  Human capital refers to what people know and can do.  Human capital is not measured by accumulated physical assets, but by knowledge, skills, and attitudes.  The very notion of human capital replacing physical capital was so novel that it won a Nobel Prize in 1992 for its most ardent exponent—University of Chicago economist Gary Becker.  Companies today depend on their people to create the next great idea.  Human capital is the wealth and future of a company.  People are its major assets—just as teachers are a school’s greatest asset.

Businesses spend $53 billion each year training their people—their assets—to make them worth more to a company.  They know that the better their people—their assets—the more successful the company. 

However, ask a school administrator or policymaker to name their greatest asset, and they will often tell you it is money or programs.  It’s uncommon to hear anyone say their teachers are their most valuable assets.  Yet the research says it over and over again—teacher instructional effectiveness is the most critical factor by which to improve student achievement and to close the achievement gap.

Make a Plan, Then Run with It

Instead of spending money haphazardly, we need to learn to ask, “What exactly do we wish to accomplish?

Richard Elmore, Harvard Professor of Educational Leadership, says, “To improve student learning, you do not change the structure (i.e. block scheduling, smaller class sizes, smaller school sizes, etc.).  You change the instructional practices of the teachers.  The schools that seem to do best are those that have a clear idea of what kind of instructional practice they wish to produce, and then design a structure to go with it.”

Even when the odds are seemingly stacked against a school, Theodore Hershberger at the University of Pennsylvania found that good instruction is 15 to 20 times more powerful than family background and income, race, gender, or any other explanatory variables. 

“Qualified” Is Not the Same as “Effective”

A term that often comes up in legislative acts and education circles is “highly qualified teacher.”  “Highly qualified” and “qualified” are redundant terms.  They are similar to “pregnant” and “highly pregnant.”  “Highly qualified” is a term that was coined by the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated that a teacher:  1) must have a college degree, 2) have a teaching credential, and 3) be competent in the subject he or she is to teach.  We agree.  However, a highly qualified teacher may not be an effective teacher!

It is effective teachers that produce student learning and achievement,
not highly qualified teachers.

Therefore, you hire for qualifications, then train for effectiveness.

It’s the Teacher.  It’s the Teacher

The research states over and over again, “It’s the teacher.”

  1. Give a child four straight years with effective teachers, and you could close the achievement gap.  (Eric Hanushek, Hoover Institution)

  2. An average child in an ineffective school with an ineffective teacher could plummet to the 3rd percentile in academic performance in two years.  In contrast, take the same student and put him or her in an ineffective school, but with an effective teacher, and in two years, the student could be at the 63rd percentile in academic performance.  Keep the child with an effective teacher in the same school, and performance will increase by 12 points each year.  (Robert Marzano, Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

  3. Research says that a child will normally maturate by 6 percentiles every year.  Given the scenario of a child being with an ineffective teacher, it may be better for this child to not even be in school, and to have been allowed to grow through normal maturation!

Impact On Learning

Yes, it’s the teacher.  It’s the teacher.

You Win with Teachers

Hall of Fame football coach Joe Gibbs says it short and sweet, “You win with people.”

Translated for schools, “You win with teachers.”  The only factor that increases student achievement is the teacher.

Earlier in 2009, we were in a faraway, jungle area of Cambodia—five hours from the nearest airport where our The First Days of School Foundation has built a school for 300 students ( see www.NewTeacher.com ).  This is the very first school ever in this remote village.  During our visit, we met the school committee ( a.k.a. school board ) and asked them what we could do to help improve the school.  

  1. They wanted to build a fence around the school.  Why?  To keep the cows and pigs off the school grounds!

  2. They wanted continued support to improve their teachers.  Here were five men whom, we dare say, may not even have had an elementary school education.  Yet, they were wise enough to understand that the better the teachers, the better their children would learn.

They did not ask for smaller class sizes, block scheduling, a literacy program, whole child instruction, or any other initiative, program, or structural change.  They somehow knew—like Peter Drucker, John Goodlad, Ron Ferguson, Richard Elmore, Theodore Hershberger, Robert Marzano, and Eric Hanushek, education researchers whose work are in this month’s column—that the greatest assets of their school are the teachers.

A Solid Investment

Successful schools wisely invest in their teachers and in the effectiveness of their teachers.  They do not adopt programs in pursuit of a quick fix.

We know that good teaching matters for student achievement more than any other single education resource.  We also know that the first group to benefit from an increase in teacher effectiveness are the lower-achieving students.

It’s not rocket science—the better the teacher teaches, the better the students learn.
There is no better way to spend stimulus funds or any funds
than to train and produce effective teachers.

The Price of Effectiveness

You, the teacher, are responsible for the learning that takes place in your classroom.  It’s not the school environment, the principal, the textbooks, or the desks—it’s You! 

What will you do to increase your effectiveness? 

  1. There are ten years worth of articles archived on www.teachers.net.  Next month’s column will have the summary of each of those articles.  Use your summer break to read, review, restructure, and revamp your classroom to maximize learning opportunities for your students.  Price:  $0.00

  2. Read or reread The First Days of School and internalize the three characteristics of effective teachers.  Price:  $0.00  (Borrow the book from the library or a colleague.)

  3. Be proactive.  Develop a plan for your success and approach the administration for a slice of the stimulus funding pie.  Encourage your colleagues to do likewise.  Make it a school-wide effort.  According to the Marzano chart, average children with an effective teacher in an effective school, can test out in the 96th percentile after only two years.  Price:  $0.00  (Ask.  The money is in the Act and will be spent.)

  4. The joy of seeing the light bulb of learning go on in the minds of children because of your effectiveness in the classroom—priceless!

Teachers are the greatest asset of a school and of humanity.  You have an awesome responsibility.  Use your summer to invest in yourself.  Return to the classroom with the skills and determination needed to make each moment count for each child.  Don’t waste their time in the classroom with you.  You are their best hope for a brighter tomorrow. 

We wish you an enlightening summer and many light bulb moments for your students!



Harry & Rosemary Wong products: http://EffectiveTeaching.com

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