Tag Archives: Malcolm Gladwell

Does Experience Make You a Better Teacher? Should “Effectiveness” (Improving Student Test Scores) Factor into a Salary Increase?

I was chatting with a teacher who is regarded by all who worked with him as exemplary, he taught an inclusion class (2/3 general ed, 1/3 special ed).

“After a couple of years I figured out the discipline issues, then I began to deal with differentiating instruction, and, eventually started fine tuning lessons and assignments … checking each kid’s answers on tests and trying to figure out how to become effective in teaching and reteaching a particular skill or topic, each year I delved deeper into how to reach and impact my kids.”

As the teacher gained experience he mastered more and more skills – his toolkit expanded.

We only measure improvement by increasing test scores, most teachers slowly improve early in their career , the student test scores then flat line and may decline after fifteen or twenty years. What we can’t measure is the teaching of non-cognitive skills; however, over time, some teachers are clearly more effective than others, the old bell-shaped curve.

In the current set of contract negotiations the city probably has put a demand on the table that some part of any salary increase should be based on a measurement of growth – increasing achievement.

The conflict between the traditional seniority-based system (steps, longevity increases and differentials) and a system that includes some measurement of teacher effectiveness, especially in an era when charter school teachers see teaching as a brief stop in their career (see NY Times article here)

The case for seniority:

Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, refers to the 10,000 rule, “the magic number of greatness,” the idea that, “skills that appear to be predicated on innate gifts are often nothing more than the manifestations of thousands of hours of practice.”

Gladwell continues.

“No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, ‘achievement is talent plus preparation.’ But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that ‘the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.’ In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgeon.”

Chess players, neurosurgeons, musicians, experts in “cognitively demanding fields” require extensive expert guided practice.

Is teaching a “cognitively demanding field,” and, if so, does the 10,000 rule apply to teaching?

How do we assess expertise in teaching?

Are supervisory observations “expert guided practice”?

The answer is complex.

In some schools principals or assistant principals or coaches or “critical friends” guide practice – teachers work in collaborative settings – in many ways they work in settings that fit under the 10,000 rule. In most schools teachers are observed once or twice a year and work in isolation, the new teachers evaluation plan, in New York City called ADVANCE, changes very little, teachers will be observed more frequently, can the observations be called “expert guided practice”? Absolutely not, the observation will simply be a compliance activity.

Teacher contracts in Baltimore, New Haven (see contract here) and a number of other cities include salary increases based on metrics other than seniority.

Experience, in a guided practice setting, will make you into a more effective teacher; experience in an isolated setting may not. Will “rewarding” teachers who perform let us say two standard deviations above the mean motivate other teachers? There is no research. In fact, high performers may have inherent skills – that old nature/nurture argument.

Unfortunately APPR, the teacher evaluation system, is not encouraging a “guided practice” culture, it is creating a labyrinthine maze, a ziggurat, a modern Rubik’s Cube

Maybe the next guy or gal will get it right … see proposed list here

Getting Better: Teachers Hate to Be Observed and Principals Hate to Observe Teachers, and, They’re Both Wrong.

“I’m an experienced teacher, I know what I’m doing, why don’t they just leave me alone.”

A dirty little secret: teachers hate to be observed and principals hate to do observations.

The new principal-teacher evaluation plan, which begins this school year, requires every teacher in New York City to select an observation plan from two options, a combination of formal (pre-observation, observation, post-observation conferences) and unannounced observations. A lengthy, detailed manual spells it out in excruciating detail.

In theory, the purpose of the observation process is both a normative and a summative assessment process – to work with the teacher to improve their practice and effectiveness and produce an end year grade as part of the new system. Instead of the last line in an observation report, “This was an (un)satisfactory lesson,” the rating officer will “grade” the lesson using the Danielson Frameworks as a guide – (H)ighly effective, (E)ffective, (D)eveloping or (I)effective, translating to a numerical grade from 0 to 60. The combination of the supervisor grade (60%), the growth in student test scores (20%) and the locally negotiated tool (20%), the teacher will receive a composite score which will translate into a grade on the HEDI scale.

Based on previously calculated metrics, statewide, 7% of teachers will be highly effective, 6% will be ineffective and the remaining 87% will fall in the effective/developing categories.

Back to that dirty little secret: principals spend very little time in classrooms, and the time they do spend observing lessons is mechanical and compliance drive. Ideally principals will conduct “frequent cycles of brief observations with meaningful feedback,” the “ideal” is the exception.

Teacher classroom performance will be measured against the Danielson Frameworks, a combination of domains, components and elements that describe observed classroom behaviors, divided into the four HEDI ratings.

Charlotte Danielson’s other book, Talk About Teaching, is meant as a guide to supervisors on how to engage teachers in meaningful conversations about their instructional practice, a book that should be required reading for principals.

Sitting in a yellowing folder in my file cabinet is a folder entitled “Observations,” a career of supervisory observations and various letters I received from a variety of principals and assistant principals. Each letter begins with description of the lesson, makes commendations and recommendations and concludes with the one-liner rating the lesson.

No matter how long you’ve been teaching, no matter your level of confidence in your craft, you’re nervous, the kids are nervous, and breathe a huge sigh of relief when the supervisor leaves. To the best of my memory post observation conferences were only for the newbies, a few days after the observation two copies in your mailbox, sign and return one.

Did the process make me a better teacher? No.

What I later discovered was the antipathy with which the observer, the supervisor, viewed the process. It was time consuming, potentially conflict-riven, and in many schools was reviewed by the supervisor on the next step up the ladder. The observer was being observed.

I improved as a teacher as I interacted with other teachers, shared ideas and lesson plans, debated how to turn a topic or concept into a lesson, and practiced my craft. Luckily I worked in a school in which experienced and new teachers and assistant principals worked together in a collaborative spirit. In lieu of traditional observations teachers could choose to observe each other with the notes of the post observation meeting serving as the formal observation report.

We knew who were the outstanding teachers, the ordinary teachers and the weak teachers.

Back to that teacher who argues, “I know what I’m doing,” the core question: do the kids know what you’re doing?

In theory, for the first time, the employer will be assessing both teaching and learning – observers of the actual classroom practice and the extent to which the student “learned” the subject being taught.

In reality the excruciatingly complex system and the lingering animosity between management and labor leaves a foul odor. It will take a new mayor and a chancellor to sweeten the air.

Research on the use of the Danielson Frameworks is both positive and troubling.

The well-regarded Chicago Consortium on School Researched conducted a study of principal-teacher teams who observed teachers using the Danielson Frameworks,

The findings:

* Where teachers received the highest ratings on the Danielson Frameworks … students showed the most growth in test scores, and students showed the least growth scores in classrooms where teachers received the lowest scores.

* Principals and teachers said that [post-observation] conferences were more reflective … and were focused on instructional practice and improvement, however, many principals lack the instructional coaching skills required to have deep discussions about teacher practice.

* More than half of principals were highly engaged … principals who were not engaged tended to say it was too labor intensive.

Two or three years down the road, with many bumps and potholes we will have data that identifies teachers who are consistently highly effective and ineffective.

How should we use the data?

To fire low performers, to reward high performers, to validate what experienced principals already know?

Let’s focus on the “highly effective” category.

What makes these teachers highly effective?

Have teachers moved up the HEDI ladder – from Developing to Effective, from Effective to Highly Effective, and, if so, why?

If not, why not?

Why are some teachers more effective?

A superior college preparation program? Intensive mentoring by supervisors and/or teachers? Higher intelligence? Ability to listen, reflect and respond? Or, are there genetic reasons; aka, is there a “teaching” gene?

The massive three-year Gates funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project is hugely disappointing. The report tells us we should use multiple measures to assess teachers, including a heavy percentage of student scores and, preferably observations by multiple supervisors and peers.

Gates (MET) does not answer: why are Mr. Smith and Miss Jones great teachers, measured by observations and student achievement?

In the sports arena the quest for the answer is ongoing. With billions of dollars at stake the motivation to “predict” success in sports has encouraged research project after research project.

David Epstein in “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance (2013)” takes a deep look at the question: why do Jamaicans from the same tiny town dominate the world of sprinting? Why do Kenyans and Ethiopians dominate the distance races? Is Malcolm Gladwell’s premise in “Outliers” correct, the 10,000 hour rule, “the magic number of greatness,” as Gladwell calls the rule, “skills that appear to be predicated on innate gifts are often nothing more than the manifestations of thousands of hours of practice”?

Maybe that grizzled veteran was right, years of teaching did make him better – the 10,000 hour rule?

Then again, are children of teachers more effective teachers themselves – that stubborn nature – nurture controversy?

Teachers, and principals, have a moral obligation to strive to get better, from year one to the year they retire. We should be lifelong learners, lifelong searchers, the challenge never ends, nor should it.