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Inside Teaching : June 2011
Inside Teaching | June 2011 MY BEST TEACHER 26 STEVE HOLDEN talks with John Hattie about his research into teaching and his own best teachers, and discovers what high-impact teachers look like. John Hattie, the new director of the research institute of the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, is the man frequently quoted for his research findings showing that what makes the greatest within- school difference in a student’s achievement is their teacher. These are findings you often read or hear about in the Australian media and even in political discourse and policy. That’s a major achievement for an educational researcher, but has he achieved what he wanted in getting that message out there? The task, Hattie says, is to keep the central importance of teachers at the forefront. ‘As an optimist,’ he says, ‘I like to work with those teachers who consistently make the impact – and we need a profession that works with all teachers to get everyone into this group. ‘I’ve worked for the past 10 years in New Zealand building High impact a reporting system that helps teachers get “in front” of the issues – unlike in Australia where assessment is still what happens at “the end.” What are needed,’ he says, ‘are valid interpretations about “where to next.”’ Much of Hattie’s research focuses on the difference between experienced and expert teachers. The good news, he says, is that the characteristics of expert teachers can be identified and cultivated. ‘We can make a major difference to improving teaching,’ he says, ‘providing we concentrate on how we have a successful impact on students. We have too much discussion about how to teach, how to assess, when we need more discussion about how to know the nature and size of our effect on students. We need to consider how, as a profession, teachers can learn about this, otherwise they’ll learn little from experience except how to make their teaching more automatic, smooth and easy, which is the very source of failure for so many students.’ Asked whether he had any expert teachers who taught him, Hattie points out he asks that same straw poll question when he runs seminars with teachers. Usually, he says, four per cent say they were taught by someone they recognise as an expert teacher. For himself, Hattie identifies three high-impact teachers.