Teachers who have high levels of self-efficacy, or those who believe in their own abilities, have the biggest impact on student learning, a new University of Melbourne review shows.
Researchers at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) said it was well known that teachers have a bigger impact on student learning than factors such as class size and facilities.
However, they said that until now it was not clear what types of communication style, beliefs, attitudes and personality were common among high quality teachers.
The systematic review of 52 global studies, undertaken by the Centre for Program Evaluation, identified the key attributes of teachers that are most connected to effective teaching.
“We could categorise these characteristics into some broad areas such as those that are self-reflective, cognitive and more socially related,” lead researcher, Professor Janet Clinton, told The Educator.
“The more self-reflective or attitudinal characteristics include self-efficacy, self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation and these appear to have a sustained impact on the learning lives of students.”
Clinton referred to high teacher self-efficacy as a case in point.
“It was associated with a positive classroom climate, greater student participation and motivation, enhanced student achievements in science, technology, engineering and maths, and use of deeper teaching and learning methods,” Clinton said.
“High self-efficacy can also lead to teachers having higher expectations about what can be achieved from all students, and this is probably among the more critical beliefs that make real differences to students’ engagement, achievement, and growth.”
Teacher communication style, particularly in promoting an inviting classroom climate as well as motivating the collegiality of teachers to work together was also revealed as essential for teachers, students and the school, said Clinton.
“Developing collective efficacy is currently a very contemporary topic for schools, particularly given its very large effect on the learning of all within the school,” she said.
“How to develop this collective efficacy within a school is an area where more research is needed to understand how to best develop these skills and beliefs, and what school environments can do to support this development.”
‘Principals have a major part to play’
Clinton said a “core role” for principals is in supporting, developing, promoting these characteristics.
“It demands time, leadership, and skills to develop teacher collective efficacy, to ensure that the above skills are esteemed and enhanced, and to that there are the optimal resources to allow the defensible judgements about the impact on students to be the core mission of this collective efficacy,” she said.
“Overall, teachers who have an evaluative mindset regardless of context appear to have among the greatest impact.”
Clinton said this involves providing professional learning to develop teachers who consider themselves change agents, value professional growth, and who think critically about their practice while drawing on their own and their colleagues’ knowledge and skills in response to student needs.
“The greatest influence of a principal is to decide the narrative and focus of the school, and this is most powerful when the narrative relates to developing evaluative systems and mindset such that teachers welcome and actively seek evaluation as a key step to enhance student learning, and make schools inviting places for students and community,” Clinton said.
“Principals have a major part to play in helping their teachers to build confidence and ensuring they feel comfortable seeking out their colleagues to better understand and practice their evaluative thinking about the impact of their teaching.
“A key role for principals, therefore, is to create the narrative, time, resources and space to collectively build collaborative learning among the adults in the school.”