The definition of an expert, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject. Defining expert teaching is more elusive. While current value-added models attempt to nail down teacher impact through a use of single test score, expertise is defined by more than a test score obtained in a single week of testing.
To define an expert teacher is to examine the skills and actions teachers perform in a classroom, which are deemed by the research to be effective in improving student achievement. The variety of lists available in the literature is substantial, but for the purpose of this research, the researcher chose a set of skills and actions, which are supported in a wide-range of research, but also clearly observable by a researcher in the classroom, through the examination of student work, and by interviewing students and teachers. The list is a compilation of specific skills effective teachers exhibit as defined by Good and Brophy, (2008). The clarifications and further explanations are supported by the work of Marzano, Marzano, and Pickering, (2003), and Hattie, (2003 & 2009).
Intrigued by the National Board process, Hattie and Jaeger (2003) began researching how the certified teachers internalized and processed the five Core Standards differently then teachers who did not attain certification. Expert teachers (Hattie, 2003) can 1) identify essential representations of their subject, 2) guide learning through classroom interactions, 3) monitor learning and provide feedback, 4) attend to affective attributes, and 5) influence student outcomes.
Hattie and Jaeger examined the entries for patterns and then spent time observing the teachers to find the differences between those who achieved certification and those who did not. Hattie (2003, p. 5) states “expert teachers can identify essential representations of their subject, can guide learning through classroom interactions, can monitor learning and provide feedback, can attend to affective attributes, and can influence student outcomes. These five major dimensions lead to 16 prototypic attributes of expertise. Herein lie the differences.” A further examination of these five dimensions of an expert teachers, finds an alignment to other effective teacher research of Good and Brophy, (2008), Marzano (2008) and Darling-Hammond (1995).
Last spring after my evaluation had been cancelled six times due to my administrator being pulled for other more important issues, my turn finally arrived. The opportunity landed on the Monday after the previous week of statewide testing Students were extremely tired and thought they deserved a few “fun” days after working so hard. The air was out and the temperature was hitting 85 degrees in the classroom.
Since I am a master teacher, I do not have my own classroom and for my evaluations I use another teacher’s classroom. The class I used for my observation was beginning a four-day unit on exploring the Renaissance, so the lesson was a foundational information lesson and not exactly traditional. I planned the lesson over the weekend and was pretty excited about introducing Pascal’s Triangle in a social studies class as an interdisciplinary connection. However, I soon realized between the kids being aggravated at yet another set of people in their room and the air being out, this lesson was not developing smoothly.
The scores were my lowest of the year, still above proficient, but certainly not reflective of a “normal” day for me. The great part was the second observer, (yes we observe in pairs) was my state Executive Master Teacher, who laughed and said, “Well, what can you take away from that.” We spent about an hour talking through the lesson and how to manage some of the issues from no air to kids who were tired after testing. Even though I would have liked the scores to be more aligned to my traditional level, the coaching was powerful and very beneficial. Evaluation should be about developing expertise.
Last weekend I received four phone calls from teachers concerned about the new evaluation system. All sought advice on how to improve their teaching. Even though experience and expertise are no longer en vogue in Louisiana, I will humbly submit the research both international and national, which suggests expertise is not simply a blessing of luck, but of hard work and dedication.
This blog is the beginning of a series on teacher expertise. My belief is the evaluation process should be a lifeline between teachers and effective instructional leaders. The focus of the evaluation is to assist the teacher in developing expertise as opposed to punishing or extolling the teacher’s effort. Effective teachers do not simply appear in classrooms, but rather develop over time and through intensive reflection and practice.
Lesson Number #1: If you want to become an expert teacher, read, read, read, read, and read some more. Read the research. Read other teacher’s stories. Read the newspaper. Read poetry. Read news magazines. Read great works of literature. Read children’s books. Read young adult literature. Read the comics. Read both sides of political rhetoric. READ!
I was primarily a math teacher for 15 years, however I was able to intertwine all types of connections into my lessons because I read constantly. I was able to improve my methodology because I read about Japanese lesson study and the work of Jim Stigler. I was able to chitchat with my students because I knew the books they were reading and I could suggest others they may enjoy. I could tie an article on deer contraception from Smithsonian magazine into a data lesson, because I read. An expert teacher, regardless of content, is a constant learner, an inquisitive thinker, and a seeker of answers. Teachers modeling these attributes will begin to see their own students mirroring the practices. Are we not ultimately developing a future of citizens who are able to think, problem solve, and communicate? If so, should we not be doing the same?
We are in the midst of a revolution. The weapon, which will win this battle, is expertise. Arm yourselves and prepare to become a profession of thinkers who do not picket, but rather step up to the podium and speak with authority, a deep understanding of teaching and learning, and evidence of our ability to put words to action. Let’s us not run from reform, but rather set our own course instead of letting those who know little set it for us.
I have a little secret research study I have been doing for about five years now. I stalk people with children in the grocery store and listen to their conversations. Basically the conversations fall into two categories, which I think of as Teaching and Berating.
The people in the Teaching group have conversations which sound like, "Oh sweetie, look at those apples. Can you tell Mama what color that apple is? How many apples does Mama have in the bag?" The conversation goes on throughout the store. I like to compliment the child and the parent will usually respond with something like, "Oh, she is a sweet one!"
Then there those in the Berating group. Their conversations sound like "Get your hands off that!" "If you don't stop touching that I am going to beat the daylights out of you." "Shut up!" When I smile at the mom, she says something like, "These kids are driving me crazy. They are so bad!" In all honesty, the kids are usually doing about the same types of things, but the parents are parenting differently. Every conversation is about how terrible the child is and the majority of the words from the parents, grandparents, and caregivers are words of correction, condemnation, and rebuke.
A child from the first group is learning to question his/her world, to verbalize questions, to make mistakes, and to learn. A child in the second group is learning that everything he/she touches or asks about will result in condemnation. The interesting part is I really believe the majority of both types of parents love their children. The sad part is many do not know how to help their children become learners and our system is not set up to help them, only reinforce the issues.
This past week a teenager in my sister's high school science class asked her about all of the legislation happening in Louisiana. He asked, "You know if I miss 15 days of school, I don't see how anyone can fault my teacher. That is my parents' problem and they should be held accountable." My sister shared the conversation with me and I began to ponder this revelation. Anyone who knows me, knows I have long disliked the idea of blanket tenure, given simply for surviving three years. I also believe in strong accountability for teachers, schools, and systems. As a tax payer, I want the money I pay in taxes to be used to educate and propel our democracy forward. The point of education is to create citizens who are prepared for the future. However in the midst of all of the chatter about reform, there are critical pieces of the process being ignored. The home life of the child is one piece of the puzzle, which needs to be discussed.
Can we hold parents responsible for truancy? Should parents be held responsible for children who come to school not ready for kindergarten? Should parents be held accountable for children who fail state tests? Should parents be held accountable for children who are hungry? Should parents be held accountable for children who come to school high or drunk? Should parents be held accountable for children who have no supplies? Should parents be held accountable for children who hurt other children? Should parents be held accountable for children who curse or threaten the teacher? These are just a few questions to be asked.
If it really takes a village, then should all villagers, especially the ones choosing to add children to the village, be held accountable?
I ponder this and I can think of instances where my answer may be no. I have taught or worked with around 2,500 kids in twenty years and there are always the anomalies. For example, the child who had been abused and then adopted by a really nice couple. The child had serious emotional issues and these parents were doing the very best they could. Her behavior was out of their control. For the most part, this child was precious and I loved teaching her for two years. There were times when all the love and kind words I could give her, bounced off and it was unsafe for her to be with other children. These parents really could not be held accountable.
Then there are situations where I would completely support the parents being held accountable like the child who vandalized a school and the parents' tried to explain it by saying he was acting out because he was mad at them for not buying him the latest gadget. Then there was the parent who gave the child the drugs to sell at school or the parent who sold her daughter for drug money. There are some serious issues in the lives of children and 8 hours a day does not even come close to being enough time to help them. My heart breaks for these children and no matter how "terrible" they seem, often their home life is so unbelievable that I can look past their issues and just love them. I am not sure the very best teaching will help them overcome their issues.
As an educator, I am a little nervous about the speed in which things are passing through the legislature. I agree we have real issues in our state and many can be solved with a solid education system. I also agree we have teachers who really have no business working with children. We have people running schools for their own profit and we have people running schools who truly sacrifice for children. We have a teacher training system with extremely low standards compared to countries at the top of the charts. I also believe truly learning to be an effective teacher is a difficult process and not just anyone with a degree can teach. We have to do something and I believe after all of the dust settles from the current battleground, great educators will rise up to build a powerful system.
Yet, no system will work if we are not willing to acknowledge all the factors impacting a child and to discussion accountability for all participants.
My daddy often tells me you can get a person's attention if you hit them in their hip pocket. Money speaks.
Here are a few ideas for possible legislation to hold parents and caregivers accountable:
If a child is absent from school for more than five unexcused days in a semester, the parents are fined for every additional day absent. If the parent receives any type of government assistance, there is a mandatory deduction made from the welfare check. The money from both sources is transferred directly to the schools to pay for teachers to tutor and catch the child up. Wages can be garnished if parents refuse the fine.
Behavior issues are not only the child's issue, but also the parent's issue. For example, if the child earns an in-school suspension, the parent may be required to attend detention also or pay a fine to the school. A second offense includes a heavier fine and so forth. An expulsion includes a sever fine and mandatory community service by the parent and child. If the parents receive government financial assistance, the fine is deducted from the assistance or the parent can complete community service until the fine is paid off. Schools have such a need for things to be painted, weeded, planted, mowed, cleaned, etc...
Any child scoring below proficient on state testing will be required to attend additional school at the parents' expense. Parents unable to pay the expenses will be required to complete community service until the fees are met. Parents will also be required to attend classes in order to be able to assist the child in the child's homework. government financial assistance will be linked to children succeeding in school.
In order to ensure transparency and accountability parents unable to raise children effectively will have their names listed in the newspaper along with their child's education and behavior record. Schools may then choose other parents for the children and move the children to these new homes for a period of three to five years or find the children a private home with parents who are productive. Maybe this last idea is a bit over the top, but if teachers and schools can be held completely accountable for a child's achievement, then shouldn't the teachers and the schools have a say in how the child is fed, clothed, raised, medicated, and entertained? As taxpayers, we are all involved in the lives of these children, right?
Does any of these suggestions sound even remotely feasible? Can you imagine how crazy this would be?
The majority of parents I have met really love their children. Many do not know how to help them or how to do a better job of raising them. We have serious societal issues, especially in our inner-cities. I fail as a parent more than I succeed. Most teachers really love their students and want to do a good job, but teachers are thrown into situations they are not prepared to handle. Why do we place precious new teachers in our most difficult schools? The answer is experienced teachers won't go. With the new accountability system, fewer will be willing to risk their careers on struggling students. A poor observation could equal the end of your career. I can admit, I have had some really, really poor lessons in my career. If it just takes one to loose our jobs, then I am not sure who can make it.
Maybe we all need to step back and listen in the grocery stores, churches, gyms, and on the sidewalks. Maybe the people making the rules should come to the neighborhood where I work and teach these beautiful children who sleep through bullets blazing. Maybe some teachers who refuse to even consider reform would be willing to have their personal children educated by the weakest 10% of our profession in a failing school for the next 13 years. Maybe we all need to stop throwing mud, carrying coffins, threatening careers and retirement, and hold professional conversations. We are professionals.
There are so many factors involved in reforming education, but most of these are really about reforming our society. Teachers are just one part of the puzzle, the easiest part to blame and intimidate. Parents are another. Government, churches, communities, businesses, the media, and the entertainment crowd are other parts just to name a few. We keep looking for this one problem, but there are multiple problems. Just stop and talk to the beautiful faces of the children I work with every day. How brilliant these kids are about their world. They need us.
Can we come together and do what is best for our future? Or will we continue to slap at each other, punish those who ask questions, challenge the rules, and profit from power. For the sake of children, teachers, parents, and our country, I hope we will choose to love, to believe, to trust, to teach, to seek, to find, to support, to pursue, to yield, to be merciful, to laugh, to learn, to listen, to care, to understand, to .......
Wayne Furman, M.D. came into my family's life in an unexpected way. My niece Allison was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer in February 2010. Dr. Furman became her doctor at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Neuroblastoma diagnosed after age 1 has between a 10% and 40% cure rate. I wonder why anyone would choose a career where the cure rate is below 50%. However, Dr. Furman goes to work everyday researching and trying to figure out how to increase that cure rate. I am happy to report Dr. Furman and his colleagues are making tremendous strides in the treatment of neuroblastoma. Allison is running around, cancer free at this very moment.
When Jacy was six weeks old, she had lost weight, was yet to sleep more than two consecutive hours, and I was losing my mind. Enter Dana Fakouri, pediatrician and lifesaver. Dr. Fakouri took my phone call at 2 a.m. Jacy was not her patient at the time, but my friend called for me and Dr. Fakouri called me back. The next morning at 7:30, she met me, examined our child, and changed her to formula. Jacy slept 11 hours straight and I began to think maybe I could do this mom thing after all. Dr. Fakouri has cured Jacy of colds, disjointed elbows, poison ivy, a cut lip, and wounded ears. I suspect her cure rate is almost perfect. She is a wonderful doctor. I wish she took grown ups.
I use these two people as an example of a profession, which works with people. Interestingly enough, humans are unique and have very individual needs. Dr. Furman was constantly examining, testing, and refining Allison's treatments. He met her needs based on his observations and his team's discussions. Her treatment was unique to her needs. Dr. Fakouri has treated Jacy with standard medicine as most of her health-related needs are normal and need little specialization. The treatment has always worked without flaw.
If we were to publish the cure rates of these two doctors with nothing but their names and the cure rates, you would think Dr. Furman should be suspended from practicing medicine. Dr. Fakouri, on the other hand, would be exalted. Yet, examining the facts finds that both doctors are amazing and wonderful. Each has a very special place in my family's hearts. Both contribute to their profession and make moms smile. I thank God every day for Dr. Fakouri and how she has taken care of our daughters. I thank God every day for Dr. Furman and his willingness to work with a very aggressive type of childhood cancer.
Before we fall into a place in Louisiana where every moment a teacher spends with a child is narrowed down to a single score, we should consider the lessons our medical friends can teach us. Children are all unique. Some come to us from strong and supportive homes with parents who have read to them since before birth. These parents may be wealthy, middle-class, or impoverished, but they understand the necessity to teach their children and set high expectations. Then there are the children who come to us from homes where parents are loving, but do not understand how to help their children succeed in school. Other children come from homes where there may be a parent or not. They have no assistance, possibly go hungry, or even worse live in an unsafe environment. Some children come to school with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, or behavioral issues. Some students have physical impairments. Some children simply come to school to eat and be safe.
In a class of 25 students, each child has a unique set of needs, which a teacher must diagnose, treat, and revise on a moment-by-moment basis. When two or three students have moderate to moderately sever needs, the classroom can be in interesting place. However imagine classes where 90% are reading three or four grade-levels below normal, 50% have emotional/behavior issues, and another 25% have learning disabilities. Then add the fact a 100% come from impoverished homes and 60% will go to home without consistent parental support each night. Finally, consider the majority of these children have buried at least one family member to violence in the past 12 months.
I have taught in rural schools, a suburban school, and several inner-city schools. Each of the positions has certain aspects, which made the job intense and rewarding. I have never had an "easy" teaching job, but I can promise my "cure" rates are extremely varied and correlate with the level of need of the children I have taught.
I support teacher accountability and I believe we should raise expectations of not only students, but also of the people we recruit to teach children. What I fear is the generic scoring of teachers will lead to teachers avoiding teaching the children with the most difficult needs, because the "cure" rates will not stack up to children who come to school ready to learn from fully supportive homes. There are so many variables to consider. We must develop a system, which will encourage teachers to take on the difficult cases without fear of retribution or loss of employment. We need to create schools, which are research sites for challenging cases, like St. Jude is for childhood cancer. We need teachers who are researchers who publish and share their work. These teachers must feel free to make mistakes, make decisions, and try new things without fear of being unemployed. "Cures" are not invented in top-down institutions where teachers teach from canned programs with prescribed scripts, but rather where teachers become researchers and develop their craft with precision and wisdom. These teachers teach children to learn to think and also to believe.
We have an opportunity to create something amazing in this state. All children deserve an equal chance, which is provided by meeting their needs every day, in every class. The system being created must consider how to encourage teachers to work with the most difficult students without fear. The system must recruit the best and the brightest to the teaching field by changing how our culture views educators. We, the teachers, must police our own profession and admit some teachers are not effective and should not be teaching. We must act like professionals and set our own high quality professional standards. We must stop complaining and start sharing what we do in a positive manner. Teaching is not an exact science, because humans are not exactly alike. We must step up and have honest, professional discussions with politicians and the public about what we do. We create the future and the public needs us, but we also need the public.