Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence?

by John Hattie


This very engaging paper was delivered at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference in 2003. It discusses the research evidence showing that “it is what teachers know, do and care about which is very powerful in the learning equation”.

In particular, Hattie identifies three dimensions of expert teachers’ behaviours that the research shows are especially important. They are:

  • challenge
  • deep representation
  • monitoring and feedback.

By deep representation, Hattie means the ability of a teacher to know not only what they want to teach, but also how they will organise and structure it in the context of their particular students and their circumstances. 

In terms of student outcomes, not only do students from the classes of expert teachers show better achievement levels, they also “appear to exhibit an understanding of the concepts targeted in instruction that is more integrated, more coherent, and at a higher level of abstraction than the understanding achieved by other students”.
The paper will be useful for principals as they plan their professional development programmes with staff because it looks at the research that identifies what is needed to build teacher quality. It has implications for a school’s long-term professional learning, for experienced teachers as well as for new teachers.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this paper:

  • In what ways is your school monitoring the links between teacher classroom practice, professional learning opportunities, and positive student outcomes?
  • Consider the teachers in your school. Think about Hattie’s differentiation between expert and experienced teachers. Does his research align with what you see happening among your staff? And, how might this material be presented to experienced staff so that they are supported to develop the characteristics of expert teachers?
  • How can you use the Ministry’s and your board of trustees’ policies and actions to support teachers to do their professional work even better than they do at present?

Further reading

Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best evidence synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
Alton-Lee, A. (2004). Using best evidence syntheses to assist in making a bigger difference for diverse learners. Wellington: Ministry of Education.


Hattie, J. (2003, October). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on Building Teacher Quality, Melbourne.

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