The power of passion

There is a Japanese proverb which reads “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” Perhaps this year – more than ever before – the enormous value of our teachers has been made apparent to us all. Throughout the lockdown period there have been countless episodes of parents experiencing an epiphany and realising that the art of teaching is actually incredibly challenging. It seems that many parents have realised how indebted we are to the fabulous teachers whose saintly patience and positivity keeps our students happy and motivated to learn.

Every few years there is a major international survey produced called the Global Teacher Status Index (GTSI). It uses a range of datasets to measure the levels of respect for the teaching profession in 35 countries. Unfortunately, Australia has not been included in the study yet. In its most recent 2018 report, the GTSI ran a comparison of its index levels with the performance of the 35 countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. GTSI established a strong correlation between high levels of respect for teachers and high levels of performance amongst students in the PISA.

This is not surprising as it follows that a society that values its teachers is more likely to attract excellent candidates into the teaching profession and is also more likely to maintain their employment.

Perhaps the largest ever study undertaken into schools’ efficacy was undertaken by prominent academic, Professor John Hattie. Professor Hattie has spent 25 years collecting and collating data and claims to have nearly a quarter of a billion students included in his database. He has then conducted a large-scale meta-analysis in order to gain an understanding of the key factors that have the greatest influence on student learning outcomes. He was trying to answer the question: “If I could take all the influences from the home, from the family, from the principal, from the schools, from the finance, from the policies, from the curriculum, from the teacher, from the strategies … and I turned them all around, and I say, “Well, what’s the effect?”

Hattie’s analysis showed that a range of factors that many would consider highly influential in determining student success have relatively minor impact. These include factors like school structure, student attributes, programs, technology or class size. Each of these aspects had an influence factor below the average point of 0.4 in his studies.

Hattie identifies the largest determinants as being “the power of passion, and teachers’ collective expertise.” He includes in this: teachers working together to understand their impact, which has an influence factor of 0.93; using explicit success criteria, which has an influence factor of 0.77; embracing errors and trust as learning opportunities and maximising feedback to the teachers about their impact which both have a 0.72 influence factor; and getting the proportion of surface to deep learning right which has an impact of 0.71.

What one can see from Hattie’s analysis is that the Japanese proverb is incredibly wise. A self-reflexive teacher who knows their students well, builds a culture of trust, is explicit about what success looks like and communicates effectively has the capacity to have a massive positive influence on student achievement.

I truly believe that our school is blessed to have a cohort of teachers who match this description. I know our community feels deeply indebted to our educators and supporting staff who have worked so hard and given so much to ensure that our students can thrive in spite of this year’s considerable challenges.