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Professor engaged in conversation with students in the classroom

Teacher effectiveness may be defined as achieving remarkable success in helping their students learn in ways that make a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on how those students think, act, and feel. Lead teachers are effective teachers who produce strong instruction that enables a wide range of students to learn. Such instruction meets the demands of the discipline, the goals of instruction, and the needs of students in a particular context (Darling-Hammond, 2000).

Research on teacher effectiveness, based on teacher ratings and student achievement gains, has found the following qualities important in lead teachers: strong general intelligence and verbal ability that help teachers organize and explain ideas, as well as to observe and think diagnostically; strong content knowledge that relates to what is to be taught; knowledge of how to teach others in that area (content pedagogy), in particular how to use hands-on learning techniques (e.g., lab work in science, manipulatives in mathematics) and how to develop higher-order thinking skills. Lead teachers also possess an understanding of learners and their learning and development– including how to assess and scaffold learning, how to support students who have learning differences or difficulties. Although less directly studied, most educators would include in this list a set of dispositions to support learning for all students, to teach in a fair and unbiased manner, to be willing and able to adapt instruction to help students succeed, to strive to continue to learn and improve, and to be willing and able to collaborate with other professionals and parents in the service of individual students and the school as a whole (Darling-Hammond, 2000).

  • Effective communication involves verbal ability that helps teachers organize and explain ideas, observe, and think diagnostically. Lead teachers demonstrate their communication skills through the following:

    • Teaming and Collaboration: Cooperative interaction between two or more individuals working together to solve problems, create novel products, or learn and master content.
    • Interpersonal Skills: The ability to read and manage the emotions, motivations, and behavior of oneself and others during social interactions or in a social-interactive context.
    • Personal Responsibility:Depth and currency of knowledge about legal and ethical issues combined with one's ability to apply this knowledge to achieve balance, integrity, and quality of life as a citizen, a family and community member, a learner, and a worker.
    • Interactive Communication: The generation of meaning through exchanges using a range of contemporary tools, transmissions, and processes (Kemp, 1999).
  • Teacher effectiveness includes knowledge of technology to access, evaluate, and process information efficiently and effectively. Technology is used effectively and appropriately to interact electronically with students, colleagues, parents, the community, and other professionals. Technology is used to communicate information in a variety of formats. Lead teachers have a keen understanding of the legal, social, and ethical issues related to technology use. They use technology to analyze problems and develop data-driven solutions for instructional and school improvement. They design, implement, and assess learning experiences that incorporate use of technology in curriculum-related instructional activities to support understanding, inquiry, problem-solving, communication, or collaboration.

    Teacher effectiveness recognizes that beyond all of the above, effective technology in the classroom is focused on teaching and learning first, and technology second. Technology development and use includes not only the actual instructional event, but the development of an implementation plan, the development of an assessment plan, and the completion of both to evaluate the impact of its use. Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) considered the research findings of good practice in innovative technology-enhanced and technology-delivered education. They determined that there were at least seven factors that were critical in manifesting effective good practice of technology use:

    1. Encouraged contacts between students and faculty, especially those students who were unwilling to speak out in face-to-face classroom settings.

    2. Developed reciprocity and cooperation among students allowing for the benefits of peer learning.

    3. Used active learning techniques that made students active learners.

    4. Gave prompt feedback.

    5. Emphasized time on task.

    6. Communicated high expectations.

    7. Respected diverse talents and ways of learning. (p. 144–145)

  • Lead teachers are committed to making data-driven decisions about students and instruction. Data-driven decision-making uses student assessment data and relevant background information to inform decisions related to planning and implementing instructional strategies at the district, school, classroom, and individual student levels. “Data literacy” means that a person possesses a basic understanding of how data can be used to inform instruction. Research shows that if instructional plans at the state, county, district, school, classroom, and individual student levels are based on assessment information relevant to the desired learning outcomes for students, the probability is increased that they will attain the desired learning outcomes (DuFour & Eaker, 2005). Lead teachers understand that assessment of student performance is integral in the planning, implementation, assessment, and revision of instruction. Data literacy also implies that the educator must be able to determine whether or not an assessment is a valid and reliable measure of what is being taught and to know what types of assessments are appropriate for district level versus classroom or individual student level planning. What is commonly referred to as a “cycle of inquiry” illustrates the basic steps in the application of data to inform instructional decision-making: (1) conduct assessments, (2) obtain relevant data, (3) analyze data, (4) determine conclusions, (5) plan instruction, and (6) implement instruction (Johnson & McLeod, 2004). In order for data to influence instructional practice, effective teachers continuously monitor assessment data and other information relevant to student academic performance, and translate that information into the delivery of curriculum and instruction. The design and re-design of instruction based on student assessment data is time consuming and tedious; however, recent developments in technology applications make this task less burdensome. Effective teaching involves making basic considerations for preparing or revising instructional units and practice based on data-driven assessment:

    • Instructional unit objectives are linked to the state content standards
    • Technology-based and other supplements are linked to the adopted text
    • Assessments are embedded into the instructional resources linked to the instructional unit objectives
    • Results of available state assessments are considered and linked to local assessments and are valid in accurately assessing what students learn in relation to the standards
    • Periodic assessment of student performance is provided, recorded and linked back to the unit objectives
    • Commitment is to implementing units of instruction and administering unit-prescribed assessments as scheduled
    • Teachers collaborate on students’ progress and compare notes on using assessments in planning instruction
    • Student data and background information are used to inform instructional planning
  • Friend and Cook's (1992) definition of collaboration is intentionally general and takes this into account: "interpersonal collaboration is a style of direct interaction between at least two co-equal parties voluntarily engaged in shared decision making as they work toward a common goal" (p. 5). Collaboration is based on a belief in the value of shared decision making, trust, and respect among participants. Lead teachers are more experienced with collaboration, and their relationships are characterized by the trust and respect that grow within successful collaborative relationships.

    Teachers who employ cooperative learning methods with their students promote learning because these collaborative experiences engage students in an interactive approach to processing information, resulting in greater retention of subject matter, improved attitudes toward learning and enhanced interpersonal relations among group members (McTighe, 2002).

    Friend and Cook (1992) clarified their definition by detailing several characteristics. Teacher collaboration is voluntary. They must make a personal choice to work collaboratively in such situations. It is based on parity. Teachers who collaborate must believe that all individuals' contributions are valued equally. It requires a shared goal. Teachers collaborate only when they share a goal. It includes shared responsibility for key decisions. Although teachers may divide their labor in collaborative activities, each one is an equal partner in making the fundamental decisions they are undertaking. It includes shared accountability for outcomes. That is, if teachers share key decisions, they must also share accountability for the results of their decisions, positive or negative. Lastly, teacher collaboration is based on shared resources. Each teacher participating in a collaborative effort contributes some type of resource.

    Many trends in schools are encouraging teacher collaboration. For example, peer coaching (Joyce & Showers, 1988) and interdisciplinary curriculum development are premised on teachers' collaborative relationships, as are current trends in the design and delivery of professional development programs (Barth, 1992). Many aspects of currently recommended school reforms call for greater collaboration among lead teachers (Goodlad, 1984). The trend toward school-based decision-making is also consonant with the recognition that collaboration is becoming an essential ingredient in successful schools. Smith and Scott (1990) have asserted that the collaborative school is easier to describe than define. Such a school, they suggest, is a composite of beliefs and practices characterized by the following elements:

    1. The conviction that instruction is most effective in a school environment characterized by collegiality and continuous improvement.
    2. The belief that teachers are professionals who should be given the responsibility for the instructional process and be held accountable for its outcomes.
    3. The use of a wide range of practices and structures that enable administrators and teachers to work together on school improvement.
    4. Teachers’ decisions about school goals and the means for achieving them (p. 2).
  • Critical thinking is a common objective of various disciplines and a goal to which all effective teachers ascribe. Critical thinking, as defined by Richard Paul (1995), is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. Effective teaching involves modeling an attitude or disposition of open-mindedness, skepticism, fair-mindedness, and tentativeness when presenting concepts, ideas, theories, procedures, and directions. Lead teachers model a) intellectual humility: a willingness to admit error, change beliefs when warranted, or suspend judgment, b) confidence in reason: a willingness to go wherever the evidence leads, c) intellectual curiosity: a love of exploring new topics, learning new things, gaining knowledge, and d) intellectual independence: a willingness to examine honestly and fairly the positions of those you disagree with, and a willingness to question authority, tradition, and majority opinion.

    Lead teachers recognize that the critical thinking attitude is unnatural and must be cultivated. To understand this requires a few insights into how learners acquire beliefs and make decisions. Critical thinking is a standard of intellectual excellence required for full participation in the social, economic, and political life of our society. Teachers who teach creative problem-solving strategies improve learning by providing students with general-purpose problem-solving tools appropriate for a variety of situations (McTighe, 2002). Teachers who establish classrooms characterized by an open, democratic climate promote learning because such a classroom climate correlates significantly with the development of critical and creative thinking abilities.

    Lead teachers assume the responsibility of shaping discussions and establishing the classroom culture to support them. It is unlikely that students will succeed in substantive, reflective exchanges if they have not learned to carry on similar conversations elsewhere. Given the diversity of the student body in public institutions, it is insufficient to provide students with the means to communicate and not support them with the skillful and active participation of faculty or facilitators. Students need coaching and practice in how to carry on discussions. Initially, teacher effectiveness involves stepping in and supporting disciplined discussions by:

    • Maintaining a focused discussion,
    • Keeping the discussion intellectually responsible,
    • Stimulating the discussion by asking probing questions that hold students accountable for their thinking,
    • Encouraging full participation, and
    • Periodically summarizing what has or needs to be done.

    In monitoring discussions or group work, lead teachers engage in a line of questioning that will continue to drive an idea. Discussion formats that help promote critical thinking and task analysis include Socratic seminars, small group discussions, buzz groups, debating teams, jigsaw groups, and mock trials.

  • A change agent is someone whose behavior results in social, cultural or behavioral change (Havelock & Zlotolow, 1995). Current research and thinking suggests that we must travel beyond the formal teacher leader roles of coordinator, grade level leaders, etc., that are grounded in differential leadership theory. We must examine democratic leadership models that empower every teacher to exercise leadership, even in an informal capacity, within the school setting. Every teacher must contribute to classroom research and creative teaching strategies if all pupils are to succeed. Every teacher must become a change agent if true reform is to be achieved.

    To meet the goals of our educational programs, students must grow and change in their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. To design effective programs we need to understand how to promote this change. A change process based on Rokeach's model of the belief system (Ball-Rokeach, 1984) is recommended. To create an educational system that will promote the desired change, we need well-defined educational objectives and educational activities that will engage students in the learning process. Lead teachers are willing to change themselves and to develop a support system to insure that the changes they make will be effective and lasting. This support systems consists of gaining administrative support, listening and observing before suggesting changes, allowing others to make mistakes, accepting that no one can do it alone, establishing working relationships, and selecting your battles.

  • What over the years have we learned about instructional practices and their success rate for helping students learn? Examining 50 years of research, Angelo (1993) identified some key principles for effective teaching. Lead teachers:

    • Actively engage students in learning. Students teach other students, collaborate, hands-on work, and are motivated by the teacher.
    • Make it clear what is to be learned and why it is important for students to know the material.
    • Set high, but realistic goals.
    • Meaningfully connect new information with prior knowledge.
    • Assess the success of the lesson and then re-teach, if necessary.
    • Organize subject content in meaningful ways that are personally and academically appropriate, and are aware of their own learning style (metacognition).
    • Give timely and specific feedback to students.
    • Know the standards to be used in assessment and evaluation, and the nature of that assessment.
    • Invest adequate time and quality with a focused effort.
    • Find real-world applications in many contexts so that students transfer what they are learning.
    • Balance instruction so that all learners are challenged.
    • Interact frequently with learners and other teachers.

    Additionally, McTighe (2002) compiled findings on best instructional conditions and practices and reported the use of concept development, graphic organizers, teaching to multiple intelligences, and metacognition training to be effective practice. Teachers who teach concepts inductively through the use of examples and non-examples promote learning because this strategy actively involves students in constructing a personal understanding of a new concept. Teachers who utilize graphic organizers with their students promote learning because knowledge that is organized into holistic conceptual frameworks is more easily remembered and understood than unstructured bits of information. By attending to students' strengths and helping develop other areas, teachers accommodate more learners and give students a greater repertoire of problem solving tools. Teachers who help students develop and internalize metacognitive strategies through direct instruction, modeling, and use of practice, promote learning because the effective use of such strategies is one of the primary differences between more and less able learners.

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