Quality teaching

Day 1 with James Stronge & Leslie Grant

The morning with James Stronge has been very energizing.  Currently a professor in the School of Education at William and Mary.  He is presenting a very compelling argument for being strategic when we go about hiring, supporting, training, and retaining good teachers.  One of the big takeaways in the morning session is that we have to develop effective ways to identify or recognize good teaching and it needs to be data-driven. 

His two big questions to begin are:

Why do we need good teachers?

How do we know a good teacher when we see one?

What if a Head of School asks the division director or principal to show evaluations of the three most effective and least effective teachers?  Compare what each of their evaluations says about the quality of their teaching in terms of assessment, instructional strategies, classroom management, and student learning.  What would we find?   Strong pointed out that we have to know how to distinguish between poor teaching, good teaching, and average teaching.

He also went into a conversation around what the research says about the influence of increasing school resources, classroom heterogeneity, or decreasing class size on student achievement.  While changing these variables can influence student achievement slightly, the largest influence comes from changing teaching practice.  It is easier to teach a more homogeneous classroom, but changing that variable is not the trump card.  Decreasing class size has some influence on increasing student achievement, but not substantial.  However, if you increase teacher effectiveness you will increase student achievement significantly.

Stronge looked at John Hattie’s data presented in his book, Visible Learning, on influence of different factors on student achievement (see graph below).  Rank order of the list of five factors that influence variation in student achievement

  • teachers
  • home
  • peers
  • students
  • school

Students have the most influence on their own achievement, while teachers were the next most influential.  The last three factors were about equally influential, but much less than the student and teacher.

We broke up into small groups and came up with our list of what makes an effective teachers?

  • Good planning and management skills
  • Promotes relevant or connected learning
  • Values relationship building with students
  • Is focused on student-oriented learning, as well as subject-oriented teaching
  • Teachers use formative assessment as part of instruction
  • Good teachers are active learners–they want to improve, to keep the work interesting for themselves
  • Good teachers vary instructional strategies based on the students they teach
  • Good teachers have high expectations of students
  • Passion for teaching and working with students
  • Having deep knowledge of underlying skills students have or don’t have-knowledge of the learning process

Here is a chart that shows what Strong believes are the qualities of good teaching.  This comes from his 20o7 book, Qualities of Effective Teachers.

After talking about qualities of effective teachers, we moved into a conversation about prerequisites for effective teaching, reality versus myth.  Does prior teaching experience influence whether a teacher is effective or not.  The research indicates that between 1-3 years of experience does have a positive impact on teacher effectiveness as compared to no prior experience.  However, beyond those initial years, there is no strong correlation between having more than 3 years experience and being an effective teacher.  There is some positive correlation between having grade-specific experience and being an effective teacher with that grade-level.  So having elementary experience, as compared to having no experience, is helpful.

Other factors that we assume correlate with being an effective teacher are: (1) content knowledge; and (2) verbal ability.  Does content knowledge make you a good teacher?  Stronge says, yes it does.  Good teachers know their content deeply.  However, having the content knowledge doesn’t make a teacher effective nor does having an advanced degree correlate strongly with being an effective teacher.   

Strong presented a slide, “Which factor is a strong predictor of teacher effectiveness?”

  • teacher experience
  • teacher level of education
  • type of teacher certification

According to Stronge, none of these are critical predictors of teacher effectiveness.   97% of the variability in teacher effectiveness is due to factors other than the three listed above-only 3% due to a teacher’s background.  Yet we base our salary structures for teachers on years of experience, degrees, and certification.   The studies on the influence of National Board Certification on teacher effectiveness do not show strong correlation between the two.  National Board Certification shows some correlation but many of the most highly effective teachers are not board certified.

In education, we may have to shift our prerequisites to more field-based experience and training rather than classroom, content or instructional degree training.  Should education for effective teaching mirror what goes on in the medical profession where the training is experiential and field-based?

Possessing strong verbal ability does correlate well with being a good teacher.  Good teachers are capable of communicating and verbally sharing their understanding of the content with students.  However, good verbal ability is not sufficient.  Strong presented this study that demonstrates the importance of good communication skills for effective teaching.


As we close today, Leslie Grant is talking about the importance of the teacher as a person.   The teacher cares about his or her students by showing respect for them.   We did an exercise, thinking about the most memorable teacher we had in our student career.   Then we were asked to think about the one quality that this memorable teacher possessed.  It turned out that almost no one in the audience of 100+ teachers and administrators thought about qualities like:

  • had an advanced degree
  • wrote good tests
  • used cooperative learning
  • Other another quality that was related to pedagogy or background

Literally 100% of the audience related ideas that were about:

  • cared for me
  • made learning fun for me
  • showed interest in me as a person

These references were almost all about the teacher as a person.  Teaching is a highly personal experience so the relational aspects play a large role in being an effective teacher.

If you have thoughts, questions or ideas, please post a comment to the blog.

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