Beng Huat See, Professor in the School of Education, Durham University, UK
Ensuring an adequate supply of appropriate, suitably qualified teachers is a major policy concern facing many education systems around the world. It is generally agreed that the quality of teachers is an important element in the learning outcomes of their students (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Hanushek and Rivkin, 2006; Higgins et al., 2014). I am, therefore, delighted to introduce Issue 17 of Impact on the topic of teacher effectiveness and teacher development. In this issue, we have an interesting range of articles, from academics examining the challenges of measuring teacher effectiveness and practitioners exploring different models of professional development in their schools, to how to support professional development for early career teachers and mid-career teachers’ career progression.
In most studies of teacher effectiveness, student attainment is used as a proxy measure for teacher effectiveness. For example, value-added approaches use pupils’ prior scores and the progress from those scores as an indication of teacher effectiveness (Ballou et al., 2004). Such measures are highly unreliable because of error propagation due to missing data and measurement errors; they are inconsistent over time and place, and not truly independent of the underlying raw scores (Gorard, 2018). Others have used a combination of classroom observations, student feedback and pupils’ standardised test scores (Stecher et al., 2018). These are often difficult to implement in practice, and require several observations and consistent training of observers. OECD analysis of effective teacher policies uses teachers’ qualifications and teacher experience as proxies for teacher quality. All these measures cannot account for factors outside the control of the teachers. While random assignment of teachers to students may mitigate some of the unmeasured variables, this has never been carried out successfully (See, 2020).
Dylan Wiliam’s piece in this issue provides some interesting examples with which to illustrate the unreliability of both student test scores and teacher observations as measures of teacher effectiveness. He argues that rather than trying to evaluate teachers as good or bad, we should think of teacher quality as being on a continuum, and focus instead on improving all teacher quality through professional development. This leads to another question: how can one know that teacher quality has improved if we cannot necessarily measure it accurately? In their article, Larvin et al. suggest three assessment tools with which to measure teacher development, one each to evaluate development in knowledge, self-efficacy and classroom practice.
Even if one could measure teacher quality, improving teacher quality, which is what professional development is about, is not straightforward. Knowing what to do and actually being able to do it are two different things, as Pointer and Farndon explain in their article on deliberate practice. Carrying on from the same theme, Perry and Morris reiterate the gap between research and practice. Because few research trials have included any form of implementation and process evaluation (IPE), which could provide information on how an intervention works, under what conditions and for whom, effective implementation of evidence-informed PD (professional development) is often fraught with challenges. The authors caution against overly prescriptive approaches to using evidence in PD.
Aubin et al. also stress the need to contextualise certain features of a PD approach that is relevant to the needs of the teachers and pupils. Likewise, Maguire and Towers question whether normative approaches to school effectiveness are counterproductive, and the implications that this has for teacher development. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) guidance report on effective PD is clear that effective PD needs to focus on mechanisms that build knowledge, motivate teachers, develop teaching techniques and embed practice, taking into consideration the context within which the PD is to be implemented.
Despite these challenges, there is some evidence to suggest that teacher professional development might make a difference to pupil outcomes when done well (Rauch and Coe, 2019). Five articles in this issue describe teacher PD in practice. In his article, Alex Tomkins details his school’s experience in adopting the Lesson Study principles (a collaborative enquiry approach where teachers work together) in a special school context to improve teaching and learning. Other research that also uses the Lesson Study approach was conducted among expatriate teachers in Brunei Darussalam. In this study, Towsend et al. identified the reported key benefits of this approach. These include opportunity to learn from the expertise of other teachers, making sense of theory in practice and focus on student outcomes. Gray and Mulholland demonstrate how they have applied the mechanisms recommended in the EEF guidance on PD with their own staff, sharing with us their experience. James et al. detail an eight-month PD programme aimed at improving Early Years children’s communication, also informed by the EEF guidance. In her article, Lucy Parker explores the use of objects and photographs as metaphors to reflect on their pedagogical practice. These are interesting examples of how PD can be implemented in practice. But how effective they are in improving pedagogical practice and knowledge will need to be tested and evaluated robustly in a range of contexts.
Developing effective PD with impact is complex and time-consuming and can be resource intensive. To address these issues, Lomax and Watkins utlilised a hybrid model that blends asynchronous digital learning with face-to-face sessions to deliver an evidence-based, four-stage teacher development programme. Their article describes in detail how this was achieved. Giubertoni and Cunnane share their model of CPD (continuous professional development), which also uses a combination of in-person, online, in-school and after-school delivery. The CPD programmes that they employ are based on strong research evidence and are focused on pupil outcomes. Another approach to PD involves a community of practice where teachers interact and share their experiences, and learn from each other. This is particularly beneficial for early career teachers, who can learn from their more experienced colleagues. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are also good resources for PD. Katie Cork’s article examines how social media can be used as a community of practice to deliver CPD, enabling teachers across the globe to share experiences, practical tips and even teaching resources and tools. Gracie and Hopton describe a model of coaching-style CPD where teachers work in pairs to share, listen, support, reflect and encourage each other. This model was feasible mainly because of the support of the leadership, which ensured that teachers were given time each week for these coaching sessions.
It is apparent in many of the examples in this issue that effective and successful PD cannot happen without the support and ambition of the school leadership. Kathryn Taylor argues that the language used by school leaders when implementing PD also needs to be considered. Terms like ‘agency’ and ‘efficacy’, for example, have different meanings for different people. In her article, she describes an analytical framework that school leaders can use to engage with teachers for effective professional learning.
Three articles in this issue look at mentoring as part of PD for early career teachers. Powell and Shibli propose co-planning as a mentoring strategy that might be more useful than the often-practised post-hoc feedback. See et al. tested a mentoring approach that equips trainee teachers with the dispositions necessary to handle stress and burnout, thus supporting their mental wellbeing and self-efficacy, and potential likelihood to stay in teaching. Ovenden-Hope argues that for effective mentoring of early career teachers, certain conditions are necessary. In her article, she outlines five of these.
Not forgetting mid-career teachers, Shepherd and Campbell reiterated the important role of school leaders in providing space, time and support for these teachers, particularly the ‘mother-teachers’. Tanner and Percy share their findings from two pilot projects that tested the feasibility and impact of teacher–employer partnerships.
What is clear from all the papers in both the print and online versions of this issue is the important role of professional development and mentoring of teachers in developing and retaining teachers. Assessing how effective a teacher is does not make the teacher more effective. Instead, we should focus on developing their skills and expertise. Developing a culture of collaborative, supportive, shared experience and communities of practice are some of the strategies schools have used with their teachers. It is important that these strategies are based on robust evidence, but equally important is that they should be relevant to the school’s context. To reiterate, effective professional development needs to build knowledge, motivate teachers, develop teaching techniques and embed practice.