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5 Conditions for Leaders to Develop Teacher Expertise
By: Kathleen Marx
As schools dive deeper into this new school year replete with its own sets of challenges, effective leaders reflect on, revise, and create building practices and processes that positively impact student achievement.
The strongest school-related factor affecting student achievement is the teacher in the classroom (Opper, 2019).
So while all of a leader’s many responsibilities are part of creating a school that increases student achievement, one of the most important is developing teachers’ expertise.
In the coming months, each issue of this newsletter will focus on one of the five conditions for leaders to develop teacher expertise.
I’ll offer research, ideas, and specific professional development recommendations to assist building leaders to strengthen these critical areas and continue supporting teacher growth.
This issue will define and describe the five conditions and suggest ways school teams can identify and prioritize conditions whose improvement can reap big gains in teacher expertise.
How much does teacher expertise impact student achievement?
Figure 1 below depicts the expected percentile gain of a student who begins the year at the 50th percentile within classrooms taught by teachers of varying degrees of competence (Marzano et al., 2011, p. 2).
Students who have a teacher at the 50th percentile of instructional expertise will be expected to still be at the 50th percentile themselves at the end of the year.
But as teachers grow in expertise, students’ achievement increases as well.
If a teacher in the 50th percentile raised his or her competence by 2 percentile points each year, the average achievement of students in his or her classes would be expected to increase 8 percentile points over a 10-year period.
|Teacher Skill Percentile Rank||Predicted Percentile Gain for Student at the 50th Percentile||Predicted Percentile Rank for Students|
Figure 1. The relationship between teachers’ skill level and student gains and achievement. Adapted from Marzano, Frontier, and Livingston (2011, p. 2).
How do leaders help and support teachers to make continuous growth?
Is it talent, intelligence, or a gift of nature that predicts who will develop expertise?
Researchers like Ericcson and Charness note that these attributes, while helpful, do not determine who will or will not develop and grow in their skills.
Rather, individuals “dramatically increase their performance through education and training if they have the necessary drive and motivation” (Ericcson & Charness, 1994, p. 727).
How can school leadership teams create an environment that supports and encourages that drive and motivation, while also providing opportunities to learn and practice pedagogical skills?
Building leaders recognize the strong connection between teacher expertise and student achievement and seek to support teacher growth through feedback, professional development, and coaching.
As in any aspect of leadership, however, taking action is only part of the picture.
The other critical part of teacher development is measuring progress towards the goal and then adjusting plans to move in a positive direction.
Instructional leaders must know what factors impact teacher growth, examine data to determine where the successes are, and identify the opportunities that still exist.
How can school leadership teams create an environment that supports teachers’ drive and motivation, while also providing opportunities to grow in expertise? @Learn_Sci https://www.learningsciences.com/blog/teacher-expertise Click To Tweet
The 5 Conditions for Teacher Expertise
Marzano, Frontier, and Livingston (2011 p. 4) propose five conditions that must be met to systematically develop teacher expertise. They are:
- Common language of instruction (a well-articulated knowledge base for teaching)
- Focused feedback and deliberate practice
- Opportunities to observe and discuss teaching and learning
- Clear criteria and a plan for success
- Recognition of progress towards expertise
1. Common Language of Instruction
Dr. Robert Marzano and Dr. Beverly Carbaugh posit “an instructional leader must guarantee the implementation of rigorous instructional practices and actively articulate a vision for what instruction should look like in the school” (2018, p. 40).
It makes sense. If leaders and teachers cannot define or identify what good instruction looks and sounds like, and if they do not have a common set of terms they can use to discuss feedback, chances are good that there will be miscommunication and misconceptions.
Having an organized instructional framework strongly grounded in the research around teaching and learning, like the Focused Teacher Evaluation Model, allows a level of clarity that can increase teacher expertise.
Common Language of Instruction:
2. Focused Feedback and Deliberate Practice
When there is a clear, common language of instruction – an agreed upon instructional model – school leaders have the foundation for increasing teacher expertise, but it can’t stop there.
Effective school leaders consistently provide teachers with feedback. Generally, feedback needs to be combined with focus, support, and opportunities to learn new strategies before it has significant impact in growing teacher expertise.
Encouraging teachers to narrow their focus to one or two specific instructional strategies to deliberately practice over the course of a school year allows them to make incremental growth.
Focused Feedback and Deliberate Practice:
3. Opportunities to Observe and Discuss Teaching
“If teachers do not have opportunities to observe and interact with other teachers, their method of generating new knowledge about teaching is limited to personal trial and error” (Marzano et al., 2011 p. 7).
School Leadership for Results (Marzano & Carbaugh, 2018) describes the need and purpose for teacher collaboration. In Domain 4 of the Focused School Leader Evaluation Model, element 1 states: “The school leader ensures that teachers work in collaborative groups to plan and discuss effective instruction, and address curriculum, assessments, and the achievement of each student” in order to enhance instruction and student achievement (p. 97).
Now, there is less isolation among teachers within a school than ever before. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are common structures for collaborative teacher work.
But could this collaboration be strengthened to more strongly impact instruction?
Teachers observing each other, providing feedback, and sharing ideas can lead not only to a stronger sense of trust and collaboration within the profession, but also positively impact teacher expertise.
Opportunities to Observe and Discuss Teaching:
4. Clear Criteria and a Plan for Success
Without a clear set of criteria, how will teachers know when they have achieved success?
Just as we want teachers to do for students in the classroom, leaders need to communicate what constitutes effective teaching.
If teachers don’t know what success looks like, it is hard for them to chart a path to it and impossible to tell when they are approaching.
The Focused Teacher Evaluation Model provides tools that assist leaders with communicating clear criteria for success.
The Focused instructional model itself provides a clear picture, with twenty-three specific elements organized into four domains. Each element has a protocol that includes descriptions, examples and a scale (i.e. rubric) that describe novice-to-expert use of that element.
Clear Criteria and a Plan for Success:
5. Recognition of Progress
According to many researchers, expertise does not develop quickly without significant support. A critical part of that support lies in helping teachers maintain their motivation and dedication to growth.
One key motivating factor for teachers is recognition of their efforts and their growing expertise. How do leaders communicate higher expectations while at the same time celebrating progress along the way?
Recognition of Progress:
Effective school leaders identify and prioritize each of these five conditions to reap big gains in teacher expertise - and ultimately, in student achievement. @Learn_Sci https://www.learningsciences.com/blog/teacher-expertise Click To Tweet
Time to reflect
How does your building or district measure up to these five conditions? Consider each and determine whether each condition is an area of strength, or one that needs to be addressed.
- Formally or informally, survey your leadership team and staff. What evidence do you have that this condition is currently in place and operating at strength?
- List specific evidence both for strength and for growth.
- In discussion with your leadership team or staff, prioritize the five conditions by utilizing a decision-making process like the one below.
Decision-Making Process Tool
|Criteria||The five conditions for teacher expertise:|
|Common Language of Instruction||Focused Feedback and Deliberate Practice||Opportunities to Observe and Discuss Teaching||Clear Criteria and a Plan for Success||Recognition of Progress|
|Enter 1 in the column if it does not meet the criteria well, 2 if it is marginal or in progress, 3 if it meets the criteria strongly|
|Currently our weakest condition
(importance score: 1)
|Easiest to address
(importance score: 2)
|Most potential for positive impact
(importance score: 3)
(add products of importance score and conditions score)
What can leaders do?
Leaders – create a customized evaluation plan:
- Expert consulting
- Side-by-side coaching for leaders: Refresh and calibrate – practice accurate scoring to increase teacher confidence and increase effectiveness of feedback
- Classroom walkthrough tools for actionable, daily data without directly evaluating teachers
Professional development for leaders and leadership teams:
Professional development courses for teachers:
- On-site or virtual Deep Dives: two-hour virtual sessions focused on a single component of the instructional model.
For instance, a “dive deeper” into strategies and how-to’s around:
- Identifying Critical Content
- Engaging in Cognitively Complex Tasks
- Revising Knowledge
- And more
- Onsite or virtual half or full-day sessions focused on topics like:
- Monitoring for Learning
- Creating Conditions for Learning
- Deliberate Practice
- And more
Book studies (four one-hour virtual sessions led by an LSI expert):
- Marzano leadership book:
- From the Essentials for Achieving Rigor series:
- Identifying Critical Content: Classroom Techniques to Help Students Know What is Important
- The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms
- Classroom Techniques for Creating Conditions for Rigorous Instruction
- Revising Knowledge
- Recording & Representing Knowledge
- Processing New Information
- Practicing Skills, Strategies, & Processes
- Organizing for Learning Classroom Techniques to Help Students Interact Within Small Groups
- Examining Similarities & Differences
- Examining Reasoning
- Engaging in Cognitively Complex Tasks
- Creating & Using Learning Targets & Performance Scales
Carbaugh, B.G. & Marzano, R.J. (2018). School leadership for results: A focused model. Learning Sciences International.
Ericsson, K. A., & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49(8), 725–747
Marzano, R.J. Frontier, T & Livingston, D. (2011) Effective supervision: Supporting the art and science of teaching. ASCD.
Opper, I.M. (2019). Teachers matter: Understanding teachers’ impact on student achievement. RAND Corporation. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR4312.html
Our vision for education is to close the achievement gap. Equip all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Expand equity by giving every child access to rigorous core instruction that empowers learners to free themselves from generational poverty.