The fact is, (supported by research provided by Robert Marzano, John Hattie, William Sanders, Sandra Horn and S. Paul Wright) individual teachers can have a profound impact on student learning. For me, the operative word here is “can”. I’ve been reflecting recently on how to link this possibility with a concrete reality. How can we empower our teachers to develop the traits that will have a positive impact on learning? What are the key traits? Marzano (2003, What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action) identifies three key, interdependent, areas that, when employed effectively by teachers, have a positive impact on learning:
- Instructional Strategies
- Classroom Management
- Classroom Curriculum Design
All three “teacher-level factors” must be effectively combined to improve student learning. Think about the expert teachers you have known (and, I distinguish ‘expert’ from ‘experienced’ – they’re not the same)… they are highly committed to improving themselves, seeking and offering feedback and helping fellow teachers. They are also thinkers! They model problem-solving and risk-taking, trying new assessment, instructional and behavioral strategies as needed. They are, typically, recognized as informal leaders amongst fellow faculty.
These teacher-leaders model the traits that most agree education is supposed to develop in students: lifelong learning, tolerance, responsibility, and effective communication. Teachers ARE leaders! So… how do we empower ALL teachers to develop these traits? How can we build teacher leadership?
I read an article recently that highlighted the importance of having dynamic administrators or other role models during a teacher’s early ‘formative’ career years demonstrate those traits. It has a huge impact on whether they develop as teacher leaders. It made me think back to the role models, mentors and occasional excellent principals that I had when I first started teaching.
Encourage and actively model the traits of teacher leadership that are so important for schools to develop and focus on those teachers who are still in their ‘formative’ years. Encourage the risk-taking, reflection, commitment to being involved and help teachers refine any areas of curriculum design, classroom management or instructional strategies that can be improved. Feedback, the number one factor influencing student learning… also can have an amazing impact on teacher learning and empowering teachers as leaders!