Expectations of teachers and schools are changing rapidly. This is being driven by a range of factors including our growing understanding of the future of society and workplace that today’s children will face when they finish formal schooling. As the OECD noted in its 2016 report, Teaching Excellence through Professional Learning and Policy Reform, it is likely that skills we require of our teachers today will be significantly different to what will be required of teachers in the future.
To manage these challenges, schools and teachers are under pressure to continually adjust their priorities and practices to continue to be relevant. They are also under real pressure to keep up with the latest research, including emerging knowledge of the most effective ways teachers can support student learning and wellbeing outcomes.
Given this, it is not surprising that one of the strongest recurring themes to emerge in the literature on effective teaching and schools is the importance of evaluation, a critical mindset and self-reflection. Combining the skills and the mindset to support continuous improvement is one of the strongest protections available against the uncertainty inherent in today’s environment.
Evaluation and feedback: what’s the empirical evidence
John Hattie’s landmark 2009 review, Visible Learning, analyzed over 800 meta-analyses of the research evidence to identify the influences associated with improved student outcomes. Hattie ranks formative evaluation of programs and feedback in the top ten most influential factors identified in the literature.
In explaining the power of formative evaluation of programs, ranked 3rd overall with an effect size of 0.90,1 Hattie notes:
It is the attention to the purpose of innovations, the willingness to seek negative evidence (i.e. seeking evidence on where students are not doing well) to improve the teaching innovation, the keenness to see the effects on all students, and the openness to new experiences that make the difference’.2
Feedback, ranked 10th overall with an effect size of 0.73, is often misunderstood as relating to feedback from teachers to students. While this is important, Hattie emphasizes that feedback is ‘most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher’:
‘When teachers seek, or are at least open to, feedback from students as to what students know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged – then teaching and learning can be synchronised and powerful. Feedback to teachers helps make learning visible.’3
As Hattie’s work shows, evaluation and two-way feedback (from teacher to student and student to teacher), which enables teacher and school-wide self-reflection, have among the most powerful effects on student learning identified in the empirical research.
Teacher professional standards: encouraging reflection and review…
The importance of professional practices associated with evaluation of teaching programs and strategies emerges strongly from the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, particularly for Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers. For example, four of the focus areas relating to Standard 1: ‘Know students and how they learn’ and four of the focus areas relating to Standard 3: ‘Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning’ refer explicitly to the review and evaluation of programs and practices.4
Looking further afield, the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s professional standards emphasize the importance of evaluation and review even more strongly. Scotland’s recent educational reforms are very highly regarded internationally. In establishing the benchmark requirement for all Scottish teachers, irrespective of career stage, the Scottish professional standards provide that all teachers should have the professional skills to engage in ‘professional reflection and communication’, including the ability to:
- ‘read and critically engage with professional literature, educational research and policy’ and
- ‘engage in reflective practice and advance career-long professional learning and expertise’.5
Meanwhile, the first of four sets of core ‘professional actions’ of mid-level leaders specified in the Scottish Standards for Leadership and Management emphasizes that mid-level leaders have responsibility for:
- fostering ‘an ethos to support self-evaluation’
- creating opportunities to ‘enable staff individually and collectively to engage in regular and rigorous self-evaluation’ and
- critical engagement with literature, research and policy.6
… but your mindset matters too
Education research has increasingly accepted that effective practice requires the right combination of skills, on the one-hand. But critically important are an individual’s beliefs, motivation, and self-regulatory ability (Blömeke and Delaney, 2012). The latter are sometimes referred to as ‘affective-motivational characteristics’7 or, more simply, ‘mindset’. Being able to adopt a positive, continual learning mindset not only enables teachers to demonstrate these attributes to their students, but also enables them to continue to improve their own teaching practice to achieve mastery and adapt their teaching to changing school, societal and workforce trends.
Adopting a ‘school-wide’ perspective on reflection and review
School review processes also emphasize the importance of school-wide self-reflection on practice as well as the use of data to evaluate teaching programs. Key features of school review processes include, among other things:
- prioritizing one or two key goals for teacher learning (e.g. in Victoria government schools, a goal aligned with the Framework for Improving School Outcomes)
- a school-wide culture of self-reflection, underpinned by data, focused on improving classroom teaching
- the systematic evaluation of initiatives and programs, and
- collaboration between teachers to review the effectiveness of lessons.8
NSW Education Department’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation’s What Works Best Reflection Guide draws on findings from a number of recent reports. The guide is designed to assist teachers and school leaders to reflect on and evaluate the extent to which practices in their school align with the research evidence against seven key areas:
- High expectations
- Explicit teaching
- Effective feedback
- Use of data to inform practice
- Classroom management
Teachers and school leaders are prompted to answer the following questions, in respect of these seven areas:
- What do we do well?
- What could we do better?
- What could we do differently this year?
Pivot is developing a new school guide for publication next year which draws on these frameworks and research in helping school leaders to incorporate their Pivot student survey data within their school-wide reflection and evaluation processes. Our guides for individual teachers will also reference data collected from our new accompanying tools – classroom observations, ‘Halt360’ and ‘Prin360’.
Contact us if you would like an advance copy of our guide.
Australian Council for Educational Research (2016) National School Improvement Tool, available at www.acer.org
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (2011) Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, available at www.aitsl.edu.au
Blömeke, S. and S. Delaney (2012), “Assessment of teacher knowledge across countries: A review of the state of research”, ZDM Mathematics Education, Vol. 44, pp. 223-247.
Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (2016), What Works Best Reflection Guide available at: https://www.cese.nsw.gov.au/publications-filter/what-works-best-reflection-guide
The General Teaching Council for Scotland (2012) The Standard for Career-Long Professional Learning: supporting the development of teacher professional learning, available at www.gtcs.org.uk
The General Teaching Council for Scotland (2012) The Standards for Leadership and Management: supporting leadership and management development, available at www.gtcs.org.uk
The General Teaching Council for Scotland (2012) The Standards for Registration: mandatory requirements for Registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, available at www.gtcs.org.uk
Hattie, John (2009) Visible Learning: a synthesis of meta-analyses relating to achievement, Routledge, Oxon.
Schleicher, A. (2016) Teaching Excellence through Professional Learning and Policy Reform: Lessons from Around the World, International Summit on the Teaching Profession, OECD Publishing, Paris.
1 An effect size provides a common measure of the size of a study’s outcome for different types of outcome variables.
2 Hattie, John (2009) Visible Learning: a synthesis of meta-analyses relating to achievement, Routledge, Oxon, p 181.
3 Hattie, John (2009) Visible Learning: a synthesis of meta-analyses relating to achievement, Routledge, Oxon, p 173.
4 Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (2011) Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.
5 These requirements are contained in the General Teaching Council for Scotland (2012) Standard for Full Registration for Scottish Teachers (Standard 3.4.1 and 3.4.2).
6 These requirements are contained in the General Teaching Council for Scotland (2012) Standard for Leadership and Management, Standard 3.1: ‘Develop a range of strategies for individual and collective self-evaluation which contribute to school improvement’.
7 Blömeke, S. and S. Delaney (2012), “Assessment of teacher knowledge across countries: A review of the state of research”, ZDM Mathematics Education, Vol. 44, pp. 223-247.
8 Victorian Department of Education and Training (2017), Framework for Improving School Outcomes (http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/educationstate/Pages/outcomes.aspx); Aqustralian Council for Educational Research (2016) National School Improvement Tool.