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Differentiating between ‘expert’ and ‘experienced’ teachers

Mark Sass, a teacher since 1994, teaches at Legacy High School in the Adams Five Star School District.

As my district navigates its way through the implementation of standards-based grading and learning, I have been reviewing research on feedback and its impact on student achievement.

John Hattie, a New Zealand researcher, has done some meta-analysis studies on the role of feedback in the classroom.  I have blogged before about his conclusions.  I went back to Hattie recently and stumbled upon a paper he presented to the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference.

The paper identifies the dimensions and attributes that differentiate between expert and experienced teachers.  Immediately you can see that Hattie controls for the “confound of experience.”  Hattie allows for experience and then asks what makes the difference between excellent, or accomplished teachers, and experienced teachers.

Hattie finds five major dimensions of excellent teachers.

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

Within these dimensions are 16 prototypic attributes.  Expert teachers:

  • have deeper representations about teaching and learning
  • adopt a problem-solving stance to their work
  • can anticipate, plan, and improvise as required by the situation
  • are better decision-makers and can identify what decisions are important and which are less important decisions
  • are proficient at creating an optimal classroom for learning
  • have a multidimensionally complex perception of classroom situations
  • are more context-dependent and have high situation cognition
  • are more adept at monitoring student problems and assessing their level of understanding and progress, and they provide much more relevant, useful feedback
  • are more adept at developing and testing hypotheses about learning difficulties or instructional strategies
  • are more automatic
  • have high respect for students
  • are passionate about teaching and learning
  • engage students in learning and develop in their students self-regulation, involvement in mastery learning, enhanced, self-efficacy, and self-esteem as learners
  • provide appropriate challenging tasks and goals for students
  • have a positive influence on students’ achievement
  • enhance surface and deep learning

There is much to digest here, but most, if not all of these attributes ring true for me.

The most striking words for me came in his conclusion:

We do have excellent teachers in our schools in New Zealand, but we have a reticence to identify such excellence in the fear that the others could be deemed not-excellent. We work on the absurd assumption that all teachers are equal, which is patently not true to any child, any parent, any principal, and known by teachers. Such assumptions of equality brings all teachers down to the latest press scandal about a teacher, and our profession needs and deserves better than this.

Much has been written, and will be written, on the ways to evaluate teachers.  We are not there yet.  But we owe it to the profession to persevere and carry on.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.