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 am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.