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December 1, 2010
Vol. 68
No. 4

Perspectives / Teacher Effectiveness: Getting the Whole Picture

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      At a family reunion this past fall, I asked some of my relatives to tell me about their most effective teacher. From the chemist in the family, I heard about Viva Craig, a Latin teacher who greeted her students with "Salve, Salve" when she met them in the hallway. "She was active in the Classical League, and she knew her subject well. . . . I learned more English in that Latin class than I did in all my English classes," he said.
      The nurse in the family recalled Emily Huber, who taught her class fundamental hospital skills, like making beds with mitered corners and the proper techniques for giving shots and back rubs. Compassion was her most notable quality. "She knew everyone personally, and she wanted everybody to love nursing."
      The CPA's favorite was Sister Mary Raynald, a chemistry teacher. "She pulled me aside to explain a concept she saw that I didn't understand. She knew what each student needed. She made me enjoy chemistry. And she slipped a few of us notes letting us know we had made the National Honor Society."
      Listening to my family's impressions of effective teachers, I have to conclude that most of us know effective teaching when we experience it. Caring, enthusiasm for the subject, getting the best out of students—those are the hallmarks we former students remember.
      But this intuitive recognition of effective teaching is not enough to inform policymakers, teacher educators, and those who must hire and evaluate teachers. They ask more complicated questions: Which high-leverage practices consistently lead to student achievement, and do they work for all students? Can we teach the requisite personal characteristics, the best strategies, and the right attitudes to aspiring candidates? Can we measure the tangible and intangible qualities of effectiveness? And what policies would best nurture teacher talent?
      Our authors in this issue address these questions and more. We start with one of the most recent policy issues: the call formeasuring "teacher effectiveness." Coauthors of a new report from the Council of Chief State School Officers, Circe Stumbo and Peter McWalters (p. 10), believe that the growing reliance on student outcomes—instead of years of experience and advanced degrees—to determine teacher effectiveness holds promise for ushering in a new era of professionalism for educators.
      But they also enumerate the challenges of moving in this direction: Student assessment data have their limits, and many subjects are yet untested. Most teacher evaluators have not been trained to analyze teaching in this way, and relying on student outcomes as indicators of effectiveness too often fails to take into consideration student differences, working conditions, and group accountability. Finally, the new measures must also take into account that teacher influence goes far beyond student academic performance. Teachers also foster students' motivation, perseverance, and citizenship. To really support good teachers, any new evaluation system must consider the whole picture.
      Vivien Stewart (p. 16) offers a fascinating glimpse at what countries around the world have already done to address these complexities. The world-class systems for attracting, preparing, and supporting good teachers range from highly selective teacher preparation programs in Finland, to innovative recruiting practices in England; from investment in meaningful professional development in Japan and Singapore, to evaluation that involves extensive principal and teacher conversations about student progress in Canada. These countries' sophisticated, multifaceted policies have paid off, not only in boosting student learning but also in making teaching a highly sought-after career choice.
      Not all our authors talk policy, however. Many of them give us their personal and professional views of what it takes to be good at teaching. Whether they call for pedagogical content knowledge, high-leverage practices, a framework for teaching, teaching in context, or deliberate strategies, they reveal that the act of teaching requires individuals to continually strive to improve at a plethora of skills. "No matter how good a lesson is, we can always make it better," Charlotte Danielson (p. 35) says.
      Columnist Bryan Goodwin (p. 79) puts the research about teacher effectiveness in context. After looking at the measures that matter most—like cognitive ability, adequate knowledge of content, and knowledge of how to teach—and those that matter less, but still matter—like experience and advanced training—he concludes that "good teachers do not necessarily fit one mold."
      Those who measure teacher effectiveness have a difficult job ahead of them, but not as difficult as the job of teaching itself. There will always be those precious intangibles to insert into the rubric.

      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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