Elements of teaching effectiveness

This article aims to help you conceptualise what it means to teach effectively and, in so doing, to help you answer the question: How will I know that there is effective teaching happening in the school?

Author: Dr Graeme Aitken

This article is for beginning principals who would like:

  • access to research about the most influential and effective classroom teaching practices that improve student achievement
  • strategies to identify what teachers know about those practices and whether they are using them in their classrooms
  • resources to help introduce effective teaching practices to their staff.

Why do I need to know about teaching effectiveness?

You may think, given all that is new to your role as principal, that teaching and learning is the one area that you do not need to know more about.

While this may well be true of your own classroom teaching, for a number of reasons the assumption needs to be examined when applied to your leadership role:

  • Much of what you know about teaching and learning is implicit and tacit. In other words, as a teacher you operated instinctively and weren't often asked to articulate what you were doing and, more importantly, why you were doing it.  
  • Teachers are often successful for idiosyncratic reasons. What worked for you may not work for your colleagues.
  • As a principal you are in a different relation to teaching and learning than you were as a teacher. 

The principal is ultimately responsible for the performance of the most important function of schooling – teaching in ways that enhance student learning.

In this role you need to rely on more than intuition and personal style. You need to be able to define an explicit vision for teaching and learning and to justify it within a coherent theoretical frame of reference that:

  • is defensible in relation to research on effective teaching
  • makes sense to teachers,
  • is inclusive of different ways of teaching.

It is true that there are external standards that define what teachers are required to do for registration and for promotion and that a principal has to sign off on these – but without a guiding framework for teaching and learning this may be reduced to a technical exercise.

Three views of effective teaching

In this article I examine three views of teaching effectiveness and argue that the inquiry framework offers the principal the most defensible conceptualisation of teaching effectiveness.

The three views are explored in these pages:

The style view – a common view of teaching effectiveness which focuses on how teachers teach.

The outcomes approach – a common view of teaching effectiveness which focuses on student results.

The inquiry approach – an alternative view of teaching effectiveness that incorporates style and outcomes within an inquiry-based framework.

Facilitating a professional learning session

This is one suggested approach to stimulate teacher discussion about teaching effectiveness. The sequence you use will depend on the context in which you introduce the materials. 

Distribute the case study to staff

  • Ask them to read the two scenarios, then discuss and defend the one they prefer.
  • The point here is that neither approach is more or less effective than the other, because effectiveness depends on content and intention – there is no single appropriate style of teaching. For some students, in relation to some outcomes, Louise is effective. Likewise, so is Len, but for different outcomes and, possibly, for different students.

Look at the PowerPoint presentation

The inquiring teacher - slides (PowerPoint 143 kB)

  • You might like to pause for discussion before slide 5, The style view, and slide 12, The outcomes approach, so that teachers can anticipate the discussion of problems with the two methods.
  • Remember that these flaws relate to using the approaches: style, and outcomes, as a basis for assessing effectiveness. The presentation is not arguing that the approaches, especially the style view, do not offer sound advice. However, sound advice is different from assessing whether teachers are following the advice.
  • The critical point argued here is that the assessment of teaching effectiveness needs to be based on the quality of inquiry into the relationship between the advice and the outcomes for students. You might like to pause before slide 19 so that teachers have the opportunity to derive this conclusion for themselves.

Direct staff to this article for follow-up reading

Or handout a printed version.

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