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Inside Teaching : June 2011
www.atra.edu.au | firstname.lastname@example.org PROFESSION 23 We’ve all heard plenty in recent years about the importance of quality teachers, mainly due to the research of John Hattie, now the head of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education. According to Hattie, ‘The national testing movements have been introduced to ensure teachers teach the right stuff, concentrate on the right set of processes (those to pass pencil-and- paper tests), and then use the best set of teaching activities to maximise this narrow form of achievement (that is, lots of worksheets of mock multiple choice exams). Instead, we should be asking where the major source of variance in student’s achievement lies, and concentrate on enhancing these sources of variance to truly make the difference.’ The major single source of variation in a student’s achievement, Hattie has been explaining since 2003, is the teacher, accounting for about 30 per cent of the variation. Ask what a quality teacher looks like, though, and you’ll get a million different responses. Hattie himself distinguishes between experienced and expert teachers. Essentially, expert teachers: • identify essential representations of their subject • guide learning through classroom interactions • monitor learning and provide feedback • attend to affective attributes, and • influence student outcomes. In my view there’s one other thing all quality teachers have in common, though, and that’s their quality as people. We’re all familiar with airline cabin crew giving us safety instructions before a flight on how to use an oxygen mask. The first thing they explain is you need to put your mask on before you put masks on children. In other words, take care of your own wellbeing first so you’re equipped to take care of the wellbeing of others. As adults and particularly as teachers, we need to learn to be happy in our own skin before we can teach children to be happy in theirs. And that’s important because happy and engaged kids learn far better than stressed and disengaged ones. Kids who are happy in class and like their teacher as a person don’t tend to be a behaviour management problem. There will always be times when a child has to be pulled into line, but we don’t need to shame them when we’re doing it. Children appreciate explanations just as much as we do. ‘Because I say so’ is just not good enough. When we do have a behaviour management problem, explain to them calmly but firmly why their behaviour is inappropriate or dangerous to themselves or others. It’s usually best not to do this in front of others unless it’s a situation of immediate danger; I’m sure you don’t like to be screamed at by your boss in front of others. In my role as State Coordinator Aboriginal Education for the New South Wales Catholic Education Commission, I’ve found that the first characteristic typical of the most successful Aboriginal students are that they’re happy at school. The second, by the way, is that their teachers have ensured that teaching and learning is relevant to them. ‘You can’t have a partnership without a relationship, and you can’t have a relationship without a conversation. Everything starts here.’ Those are words from Working Together – What Works: The work program improving outcomes for Indigenous students, produced as a resource for school staff by the What Works team. In saying that you need to have conversations in order to cultivate relationships and you need to cultivate relationships in order to build partnerships doesn’t mean you have to make every student like you, but it does mean you should get to know them and they should get to know you. In a perfect world, I’d have primary school teachers spend as much of the first two weeks of each school year as they can just getting to know