Effective teachers are empowered—and so are their students

By Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer

Educator effectiveness and grit are trending across educational media. Is it coincidence or inevitability that these two concepts should dominate current discourse simultaneously? Perhaps it is the potential for these ideas to be unified toward a single purpose: to empower students through deeper understandings of the world about them, helping them develop skills and resources not only to survive but to thrive in it. This is the power of an effective educator—one whose teaching empowers students and recruits them in the effort.

A new Renaissance Learning white paper, The Power of an Effective Educator, explores the power of educator and learner effectiveness, and ways to implement these understandings in an Assess, Teach, Learn framework. This blog post provides a snapshot of key concepts in the paper.

To use physics as a lens, power causes an object to change through the application of strength. If we apply this analogy to educator effectiveness, we see that educators produce changes in students when they exercise these strengths:

  • Manage a classroom effectively
  • Show genuine interest in students and  their success in college, career, and life
  • Use assessment data skillfully
  • Present complex concepts in a logical, learnable progression

If we apply the physics analogy to learner effectiveness, we see that power produces shifts in a student’s attitudes about learning. Often this power is described as “grit,” or a learner’s passion toward goals and the resiliency to meet, or exceed, those goals (Duckworth, et al., 2007). Along similar lines, power can be measured in a learner’s purposeful decision to be engaged in learning opportunities at school.  Power, as evidenced by grit and engagement, is fully realized when learners exhibit a sense of personal responsibility for their learning.

Developing educator effectiveness is far from a new concept, and the same is true for student empowerment. Coleman’s 1966 report to the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Education) noted distinct differences in educational opportunities available to children based on race and ethnicity. Students from economically advantaged backgrounds, and those in the majority population, routinely outperformed their peers from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds.

During this same time period, a seminal study on language development found a correlation between socioeconomic status and early language acquisition (Hart & Risley, 1995). Students raised in poverty were less likely to have developed adequate vocabulary in their early years to be successful in school. By school age, the “word gap” between advantaged and disadvantaged children led some to conclude that what children lack upon entering school distances them from their more advantaged peers—a distance that grows wider with each passing grade level (Orr, 2012).

One potential take-away from these studies is the idea that educators must be realistic in working with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and set expectations appropriate to their socioeconomic status (Bernstein, 1970); however, establishing learning expectations based on what children lack, rather than how much they know, is counterintuitive to people who empower learners. As a result, those researching educator effectiveness over the past decade looked to the one consistent, universal, and controllable variable in student learning—the effectiveness of each educator.

In fact, as Coleman (1966) researched school characteristics correlated to student achievement, he noted that “variations in facilities and curriculums of schools account for relatively little variation in pupil achievement. . . . The quality of teachers shows a stronger relationship to pupil achievement” (p. 22). Further, Coleman states that the impact was progressively greater at higher grades, indicating a cumulative impact of effectiveness in fostering student achievement.

In other words, teachers matter. They matter a lot.

There is, however, more to the story. Empowering students begins with assessing their learning. Although we often associate assessment with measures of educational achievement, it originally belonged to capital gains. From the Latin assēssuswhich means to sit beside and make decisions as a judge, assessment was all about assigning value to existing property for the purpose of increasing its value.

They own it, and it becomes their capital for success in school, in college, in their career, and throughout their lives. Among the identifiable variables in schools where students perform equally well regardless of socioeconomic or majority status, two emerge as most evident: relationships and resiliency, or grit. This means that students understand that their teachers genuinely like them and want them to succeed. Further, they understand that grit, which, again, is defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals (Duckworth, et al., 2007), is a better predictor of success than IQ, talent, or socioeconomic status.

Across multiple studies, differences in grit accounted for variances in success beyond that explained by IQ or talent. Duckworth, et al., 2007). In other words, students matched in IQ for academic pursuits and/or talent for athletic and artistic endeavors, differ in grit; and the grittier ones surpass their equally talented, but less gritty, peers.

In other words, learners matter. They matter a lot.

In a study focused on mathematics achievement, the findings indicate that IQ does not predict growth in mathematics; it only determines a student’s starting point (Murayama, et al., 2012). Teachers who empower their students know that  a starting point is just that—a place to begin. Starting points are informative yet finite. Growth is infinite.

The next logical step toward building educator and learner effectiveness is to implement these findings in every classroom, empower every student. We invite you to download The Power of an Effective Educator to explore these concepts in greater detail and understand how they empower students in the Assess, Teach, Learn accelerated learning framework.

References

Bernstein, B. (1970). Education cannot compensate for society. New Society, 15(387), 344-347.

Coleman, J. S. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. Commissioned by the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Text available through ERIC. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED012275.

Duckworth, A., Peterson, C, Matthews M., & Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6): 1087-1101.

Hart B., & Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. University of Michigan.

Murayama, K, Pekrun, R, Lichtenfeld, S, & Rudolf vom Hofe, R, (2012). Predicting long-term growth in students’ mathematics achievement: The unique contributions of motivation and cognitive strategies. Child Development, (84)4: 1475-1490.

Orr, A. (2012). The thirty-million word gap. School Literacy and Culture. Retrieved from http://centerforeducation.rice.edu/slc/LS/30MillionWordGap.html

Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer
Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer
Jan Bryan has more than 20 years of classroom and university teaching experience. Her work at Renaissance focuses on formative assessment, exploring data in a growth mindset, and literacy development.

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