ACER eNews

What makes a good teacher?

ACER Chief Executive Professor Geoff Masters examines what the research tells us are the characteristics of highly effective teachers.

The Australian Government's 10-point agenda for schooling begins by recognising the importance of strengthening the status and quality of teaching as a profession.   Proposed strategies for achieving this objective include the development of agreed professional standards that make explicit the knowledge and skills underpinning outstanding teaching practice; the introduction of ways of assessing high standards; and the recognition and reward of highly accomplished teaching, including through increased remuneration.      

The question of what it means to be a highly accomplished teacher is currently being addressed by professional bodies and statutory authorities around Australia.   This question also has been addressed through international research into the characteristics of effective teachers and their teaching.   The findings of much of this research were summarised by Professor John Hattie at ACER's Research Conference 2003 .

Hattie notes that, while almost every initiative taken in education can be shown to have a positive influence on student learning, excellent teaching is the single most powerful influence on achievement.   In contrasting expert teachers with merely 'experienced' teachers, Hattie observes that expert teachers are better at relating lesson content to prior lessons, other school subjects, underlying principles and students' interests.   They also are more flexible and opportunistic in pursuing the learning needs of individual students.  

Expert teachers work harder at collecting and analysing feedback on the effectiveness of their own teaching, and they make better decisions when planning lessons: developing general plans but allowing detail to be shaped by students' performances and reactions.

Outstanding teachers create classroom climates in which risks are encouraged and errors accepted.   They are more able than merely 'experienced' teachers to deal with complex situations while maintaining a focus on student learning.   In guiding learning they seek more information about students-their abilities, experiences and backgrounds-and want to know more about the contexts in which they will be teaching.

Importantly, Hattie reports that expert teachers are more adept at monitoring student problems and assessing students' levels of understanding and progress, and they provide more relevant, useful feedback to learners.   They more often develop and test hypotheses about individuals' learning difficulties and they have the ability to do all these things more or less automatically.

The picture that emerges from research into highly effective teachers is a picture of individuals who are passionate about teaching and learning, who respect students as learners and as people, and who demonstrate care and commitment.   They are more inclined than 'experienced' teachers to establish a closeness to students.

Outstanding teachers also work to enhance students' self-concept and self-efficacy as learners.   They set challenging goals and encourage a shared commitment to achieving those goals.   And while both 'expert' and 'experienced' teachers are successful in promoting surface learning of facts and procedures, expert teachers are more successful in promoting deep understanding of concepts and principles.

Finally, Hattie concludes that, while both 'expert' and 'experienced' teachers possess deep content knowledge of their subject areas, expert teachers have deeper understandings of how learning occurs and can be supported in a subject area (ie, deeper pedagogical content knowledge).

There is no single formula for outstanding teaching, but the many thousands of research studies that have investigated the characteristics of highly effective teachers provide a firm base on which to build world-class standards for the teaching profession.

By Professor Geoff Masters.

This article was originally published in Education Review, Vol 7, No 3 April 2004.


Download Paper:

Hattie, John (October 2003). Teachers Make a Difference, What is the research evidence? . University of Auckland, Australian Council for Educational Research

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