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Support Teachers to Increase Learning...Duh!

07 Dec 2016 by Guest Blogger


Personally, I get tired of the knee-jerk teacher bashing that often occurs when people compare U.S. student achievement to that in other countries. It is true that by many measures, U.S. education results lag behind those of other developed nations. But, guess what? There are good reasons for that, and those reasons suggest tangible, attainable solutions for education leaders.

Linda Darling-Hammond writes in To Close the Achievement Gap, We Need to Close the Teaching Gap, “Now we have international evidence about something that has a greater effect on learning than testing: Teaching.”

Take a look at her article, and you’ll see that Darling-Hammond presents a compelling case that—beyond teaching—it’s the context within which we ask teachers to work that is the key to student achievement. She bases her conclusions on the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), recently released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Key influences on student achievement include:

  • Time to think and plan together—U.S. teachers spend 27 hours per week directly instructing children versus the TALIS average of 19 hours. This leaves fewer hours for teachers to plan, collaborate, and to focus on their professional development.
  • Socio-economic challenges—The U.S. has the highest rate in the world (nearly two-thirds) of middle-school teachers working “in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This is by far the highest rate in the world, and more than triple the average TALIS rate. The next countries in line after the United States are Malaysia and Chile.” She goes on to explain, "that one in four American children lives below the poverty line and a growing number are homeless, without regular access to food or health care, and stressed by violence and drug abuse around them."
  • Feedback and professional development—U.S. teachers receive much less feedback and “less useful professional development than their global counterparts.”

So, what’s an education leader to do?

Drawing on TALIS findings, Darling-Hammond suggests:

  • Provide time. When school staffing and schedules permit time for teacher collaboration, children perform at higher levels. Consider implementing an online aspect to your program's professional development plan, so teachers can consume resources in short pieces, rather than having to attend a full day seminar.
  • Address inequities. Countries that “offer universal health care and early childhood education, as well as income supports for families” nurture students that “achieve and graduate at higher rates.”
  • Respect teachers and their learning. In countries where teachers feel valued, are paid as well as other college-educated workers, and provided funds for professional development, children learn more.
  • Provide meaningful feedback—U.S. “teachers found the feedback they received to be less useful for improving instruction than their peers elsewhere.” Ensure that your professional development plans include cyclical approach (such as practice-based coaching) that gives teachers ongoing opportunities to be observed and receive feedback. Learn more about providing feedback to teachers, check out our free webinar, Give It To Me Straight: Providing CLASS Observation Feedback to Teachers.

The reality is that nearly 25 percent of children in the U.S. live in poverty and suffer from all the related stressors. Within this context, it’s up to education leaders to advocate for—and provide—what’s needed.


Marla Munter has spent most of her professional life supporting teaching and learning—inside and outside of the classroom. She’s worked for newspapers, nonprofits, public schools, and education companies. As the former Marketing and Communications Manager for Teachstone, she thrived on creative work through designing instructional programs, managing complex projects, leading creative teams, and designing engaging communications materials.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in August 2014, but has been updated for accuracy and interest.

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