The Great Lie
9 May 2017
In this time of obsession with the ‘quality teacher’ as being the answer to all the ills of our modern education system it is prudent to look at a few statements and reconcile them.
The first two come from Professor John Hattie in the work that established his reputation. These are:
For learning outcomes:
- 50% - The Nature of the Student
- 10% - 18% - The Nature of the School
- 32% - 40% - The Nature of the Classroom
The four most influential factors cited are:
- Self-report grades
- Absence of disruptive students
- Classroom behavioural (conditions)
- Quality of teaching
Another statement that is relevant to the discussion in this paper is that studies in memory acquisition or learning have examined the procedural aspects of this process on individuals in isolation. This focus on individualised learning ignores the impact the social setting can have on the process for each student.
I am sure John Hattie is well aware of the interaction between these factors in the first point but since this finding, bureaucratic and some academic leaders have implied that the 50% the child brings to the evaluation is in isolation; as if Hattie’s second point was irrelevant. Practicing teachers are well aware of the impact one or more acting-out students has on the learning outcomes of others. In fact this condition is implied in the second and third of Hattie’s influential factors with the impact of the teachers down to forth place!
This slight of hand has allowed those ‘leaders’ in education to look at teachers as the only variable we can work on. Hence they feel ‘off the hook’ when it comes to taking responsibility for student performance – it's the teachers’ fault.
However, the reality of the classroom is not with the education leadership be that academic, bureaucratic or even political, the latter just imitations of the former; it is with the classroom teacher. It is the in the classroom that how much of the 100% (half the contributing factors) potential each individual student brings, depends on their engagement with the lesson. How much is accessed depends on the atmosphere of that classroom.
It is the teacher who is in charge of that atmosphere that determines the engagement of the student. No problems with that but, and here’s the point, classrooms are social gatherings where the web of personal interconnections establishes the learning climate of the classroom. Each individual brings to the classroom a contribution to that atmosphere through the social connections.
When a class has one, or more students with severe behaviours the impact of their actions has a devastating effect on the learning outcomes of all the children in the class. All humans’ pre-occupation with social networks is ingrained, it is important at a survival level and the threat these students create to everyone else in the classroom is unavoidable. The students and the teacher spend a significant amount of their learning potential psychologically or physically surviving! There is not much left for learning.
Even if a teacher is expert enough to deal with these severe behaviours to do so will take a considerable amount of on-task behaviour away from the lesson. If the teacher is not equipped to successfully deal with these students, any attention to the lesson is almost non-existent.
Back to the premise of this essay, the education elite who evaluate students, teachers and schools, through common testing such as NAPLAN, etc. ignore the environment in which the learning takes place. The distribution of these difficult students is not homogeneous, just as there is no equity in the distribution of all resources to schools. Teachers and students should not be judged unless the total learning environment is considered.
The answer is not to eliminate students with severe behaviours, the whole purpose of our consultancy group is to help all levels of the education community, academics, bureaucrats, schools, teachers and students to overcome conditions that are overwhelmingly the result of childhood trauma or neglect neither of which is the child’s fault. Their presence in any class or school will have a significant effect on learning and its time education leadership took some responsibility and dealt with the problem by appropriate training for staff instead of scapegoating the teachers.