Mapping quality teaching

Sidney Poitier in To Sir, with Love Source:

Sidney Poitier in’ To Sir, with Love’. Source:

This is the third post in a series of posts on quality teaching. You can also read:

Part 1, which explored the terms ‘teacher quality’ and ‘quality teaching’; and,

Part 2, which outlined those things that effective teachers have been found to do.

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If we accept that the quality of what teachers do in their classrooms influences student learning, and that quality teaching has some agreed characteristics, what can teachers, schools and systems do? How does the profession come to a common understanding of what good teaching looks like? Amid teaching debates like ‘traditional vs. progressive’, what is it that teachers should be striving to do?

Some question and warn against the itemising of teaching into a set of prescriptive elements, and many agree that attempting to quantify the complexity of teaching is fraught with difficulty. Many scholars and educators have nonetheless worked to identity what quality teaching looks like and what effective teachers do, trying to capture what teaching encompasses. These authors attempt to detail, describe, interpret, and evaluate the elements of teaching; to find what quality instruction looks like and the conditions necessary for developing the quality of teachers’ instruction.

Many authors suggest that in order to develop their teaching, teachers need a ‘map’ of where to go and how to get there. In his 2004 book Successful school change, Claude Goldenberg reflected on his work with a USA primary school over five years. He noted that the school and teacher change model he and the principal implemented was too abstract and unspecified. He added that “we should have been more nuts-and-bolts oriented, in the sense of specifying more clearly what teachers were to do in various settings, including their classrooms” (p. 173).

In order for teachers to improve, not only do teachers have to want to improve, they must know how to improve and on what aspects they would benefit from focusing their attention. Schools can benefit from frameworks that provide the knowledge base of what good teaching looks like, as well as processes that facilitate the improvement of practice. A map of teaching involves a clear set of agreed standards and a way to think systematically about the complexity of the task. Mapping teaching can be less about identifying quality and proving teacher performance. It can be about empowering teachers to improve, developing a common understanding and shared language of practice.

Examples of attempts to address the need for a framework or map of the intricacies of teacher practice include the Danielson Group’s Framework for Teaching, the Marzano Causal Teacher Evaluation Model, and the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) National Professional Standards for Teachers.

The Danielson Framework for Teaching, endorsed by Dylan Wiliam in his 2016 book Leadership for Teacher Learning, has been shown to: identify the most effective teachers and positively correlate their quality with student achievement gains; focus observers’ attention on specific aspects of teaching practice; establish common evidentiary standards for each level of practice; and create a common vocabulary for pursuing a shared vision of effective instruction. Students showed the most academic growth in classrooms with teachers who rated highly on the Framework, and the least academic growth in classrooms with teachers who received the lowest ratings.

Marzano’s model has also been tested in studies and meta-analyses, which report that using the instructional strategies of the model improves student achievement and helps teachers develop themselves professionally.

In evaluating the perceptions of the AITSL Professional Standards, AITSL has found that pre-service teachers were the most enthusiastic about the potential of the use of the Standards in their practice and their students’ learning, school leaders were most engaged in the implementation of the Standards, and non-pre-service teachers were least likely to perceive the Standards as useful in changing their practice or impacting their students. AITSL’s measures have concentrated on educators’ perceptions of their tool.

Frameworks such as Danielson’s, Marzano’s, and AITSL’s may have a place in helping teachers to achieve clear, measurable targets, but schools and systems using these tools need to be considered in their purpose and process of their implementation. My school uses the Danielson Framework (overlaid with the national AITSL Standards) as a third point in conversations, in order to help novice and veteran teachers to reflect on their lessons with specificity. It is a tool, as part of a large toolbox, for developing shared understanding.

My PhD study found that the Danielson Framework for Teaching, when used as part of a non-judgmental model of teacher growth, helps to develop teachers’ precision of reflection around teaching practice and a common language for talking about teaching and what it can look like. At my school, teachers who develop familiarity with the Framework and its descriptors find that while teaching they mentally aim for the descriptors of ‘Distinguished’ teaching; knowledge of the Framework shapes their decisions and their classroom practices.

As much of the world grapples with how to wrestle the octopus of ‘teaching’ into a small, rigid glass jar of pithy statements or political one-liners, we need to be wary of atomising teaching into disparate parts, but we can be equally open to tools that might help us deepen our professional understandings and practices. We can focus on dialogue, interrogation of practice, reflection, collaboration and growth, and on researching and critically appraising the frameworks and measures available to us.


7 thoughts on “Mapping quality teaching

  1. Pingback: Teasing out ‘teacher quality’ | the édu flâneuse

  2. Pingback: What do ‘quality teachers’ do? | the édu flâneuse

  3. Well, yes, I did kind of endorse the Danielson framework, but only because the correlation between teacher ratings and student progress is not zero. In “Leadership for teacher learning” I pointed out that the Danielson framework probably captures between 10% and 30% of teacher quality, so it certainly does _not_ identify the most effective teachers, except in the crudest terms, and only on average. My worry is that when frameworks such as those produced by Marzano and Danielson are used to direct teacher development, there is a real danger that teachers get better at things that raise their ratings, and not the things that benefit students. By definition, all evaluation frameworks have to be comprehensive, including all the things that teachers do; the things that benefit students, and the things that do not benefit students. I general, evaluation frameworks are bad development frameworks, because they do not prioritize between the various things that teachers might develop. To be effective in improving teaching, evaluation frameworks need to be focused on the aspects of practice that have the greatest payoffs for students


    • Thank you, Dylan, for your comment. It has me thinking.

      I can see how using a framework that covers everything can result in teachers and schools focusing their attention on that which is unproductive, rather than those things likely to be effective. At my school, it is the strategic foci and the school’s agreed principles about teaching and learning that drive organisational conversations about, and directions of, teams’ and teachers’ planning, instruction and assessment. This work, and continued work across the school, is based on interrogating those things that have been found to improve student learning.

      The Danielson Framework, in conjunction with non-inferential lesson data and coaching conversations, provides a frame for conversation and reflection, but I don’t think it is a driver for those things on which teachers are choosing to focus or reflect; these are part of the larger organisational fabric. I’m wondering, though, in what ways we might be more deliberate. I may have to read your book again!



  4. What you say seems sensible to me. You are clearly using your own ideas about what needs to be improved (which I assume takes into account, but does not slavishly follow research findings). Within such a perspective, a teacher evaluation framework such as Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, is the backdrop against which those improvements take place. The framework can create a shared language of description, and show relationships between different priorities, but does not tell teachers what to do.

    One minor point—I think labelling something as “non-inferential lesson data” may lead people to believe that the data is “objective”. For that reason, I prefer the terms “low-inference” and “high-inference”. Also, I think it is worth pointing out that starting out with “low-inference” data is a good idea, to make it clear that what is being collected is more likely to be agreed across observers. However, what you can learn if you stick to low-inference data may not capture the important elements of what is going on in classrooms. As trust develops across a school community, and as people agree more and more about the schools’s priorities, data can become more “high-inference” because although the interpretations are to a degree subjective, if all the people doing the interpretation think the same way, then the interpretations are inter-subjective and therefore a sound basis for professional dialogue.


    • Absolutely yes that our organisational directions for improvement “take into account, but do not slavishly follow research findings”, and that we aren’t using the Danielson Framework to tell teachers what to do. We are finding that the framework is helping teachers to articulate what they do, and what they might do, and increasingly helping us to have conversations about practice around common language and understandings. As you say it is a backdrop or contextual frame, rather than a driver or mandate.

      Our teachers have the opportunity to work with high-inference data through work with pedagogical experts and others, but as trust is so important when focusing on growth/development, we try to keep the lesson data for coaching conversations low-inference so that the interpretations can be made by the teacher, perhaps in collaboration with a coach or administrator.

      We’ve been working with Danielson consultants and each other in order to develop shared thinking about data. I’m interested in the idea of ‘inter-subjective data’ as we’ve been working to develop a shared data language across the school. Inter-subjectivity is a nice way to look at the increasingly shared organisational beliefs and practices.



  5. Pingback: Is teaching an art? | the édu flâneuse

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