The Educators’ Work: Evaluating Impact

This week I have been monitoring the number of times I use the phrase, “what is your impact?”  For those of you who know me, you know the answer. A lot (I lost count early in the week).  Hattie’s phrase was introduced to us with his book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2011), and basically reminds us that it is the responsibility of all adults in a school to evaluate the effect of our instruction on learners.  School leaders, as those whose impact is on student learning is “second only to the teacher” (Leithwood, OLF), are instrumental in creating the type of culture in their school where educators are continually seeking the answer to this question and responding accordingly.  This piece is a critical step in shifting our school and board culture from one whose focus is on teaching, to one whose focus is on learning.

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An important message from Hattie’s book is the understanding that education is no longer about ‘rules’.  He teaches us that almost any intervention can make a difference for learners as almost every intervention has an effect size above zero (which means it has some positive effect on achievement).  So Hattie teaches us that we need to look at strategies and practices that have an effect size of over 0.40 as this is about the average effect we expect from one year of schooling and thus, will positively and significantly impact student achievement.

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I can recall years ago when a former principal insisted that I organize the desks in my classroom in neat rows as this prevented student conversation and thus, demonstrated order in the classroom.  When I became a teacher, I was of the mind that every class had to have their desks organized into groups of four, as this structure promoted conversation, and conversation fostered thinking and learning.  The piece that was missing from both of these narratives was the notion of impact. What impact did the organization of the classroom have on those particular students?  How did this explicit decision help to foster a learner-centered environment? How was I measuring this impact?  There was no right or wrong answer (just degree of impact), however I believe that I can find evidence that purposeful groupings have the potential to foster collaboration, discussion and engagement, and allow for student strengths to complement one another.  Note that classroom discussion has an effect size of 0.82, and cooperative versus individualistic learning is 0.59.

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For me, it about shifting my mindset away from a focus on my teaching decisions, to wondering about the impact of those decisions on learning in the classroom – or as Hattie says, to “evaluate” the impact of my decisions.  We must use this evidence to inform our next actions and to use of every possible resource to move our learners from where they are now to where they should be. It is when an educator has an appropriate mind frame combined with appropriate actions (in a trusting, risk taking environment) that these two work together to achieve a positive learning effect. We need to help all educators develop a mind frame in which they see it as their primary role to evaluate their effect on learning.

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In order to make these adjustments however, both teaching and learning need to be “visible” so that it is clear what teachers are teaching and the degree to which are learning what is being taught.   Hattie’s model of “visible teaching and learning combines, rather than contrasts, teacher-centered learning and student-centered learning and knowing (Hattie, Visible Learning, pg. 26); again reminding us that both of these methods are necessary for particular students at particular times. However, Learning goals and success criteria are models of teaching that are vital in making learning visible, as their use ensures that students can see the target, require educators to engage in deliberate planning prior to lessons, and that both the educator and student are actually measuring their impact on learning and their learning.  Students begin to gain an independence as they see themselves as “owners of their learning” (Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers, 2011).

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(remember that this is from Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers 2011), and we are using his thinking as a part of our SGDSB Theory of Action)

Questions such as those below can help to narrow the focus:

  • Did the students know the learning objectives? Did the students know the success criteria? • Could they articulate them in a way that showed they understood them? • Did they see them as appropriately challenging?
  • Are you aware of each student’s progress on the journey from her starting point toward attaining the success criteria? • How close is each student to attaining the success criteria? • What now needs to occur to help each student move closer to meeting the success criteria?

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In my conversations with principals, it is questions such as those above that frame our learning conversations around student work evidence. When we begin with the student evidence on the table and ask questions about the work, we increasingly determine our impact.  These professional dialogues must be occurring frequently/daily throughout the teaching and learning cycle in order to give educators time to adjust their approach in response to assessment data.  It will take us time to practice this approach and then to see it adopted by every educator, however I believe that with an explicit approach, we will see this mind frame become the culture of our district.

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As Fullan (2014) reminds us in The Principal, we all have a “class” of learners that we are responsible for teaching; for principals, they are not only thinking about the learning of the students in the school, but also about the learning of the educators.  When we take our prompts from the evaluation of our impact through evidence of student thinking, consider the gaps that exist, and then dig into the various research materials around high yield instructional strategies that are there to support us in closing those gaps, the learning of the educators begins to align deeply with the learning of the students. Educators begin to see learning through the eyes of their students. This is a powerful approach to professional learning yields not only student achievement results, but moves us further into the desired culture of learning for all. Through this process, when mirrored by the principal, the impact of learning on both the educators and the students is the focus.  Isn’t this what Robinson (2011) is referring to in the “Leading Teacher Learning and Development” dimension of leadership?   (Note the effect size of this Leadership Dimension is 0.82!)

Until Next Week…what evidence of  your impact on your learners are you currently evaluating? 

7 responses

  1. Nicki,
    Your blog post is, once again, a rather timely one as I engage in putting my thoughts together around my problem of practice. The points that resonated with me the most were that of how do we “help all educators develop a mind frame in which they see it as their primary role to evaluate their effect on learning” and the notion that “professional dialogues must be occurring frequently/daily through the teaching and learning cycle in order to give educators time to adjust in response to assessment data.” Your other notion around ‘explicitness’ also stands out for me, as I believe that it is our job to help our learners to see the connections between the work they are doing and the impact it is having on student achievement, and I think through questioning and conversations with them that continue to ask the many questions that you have embedded into your post, with the overarching one, of ‘how do you know what you are doing is having an impact?’ will help continue to push all of us, and in the end have an impact on student achievement.

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    1. Thanks Kath. I believe that we need to keep the notion of evaluating our impact at the forefront of everything that we do…from your Problem of Practice (thanks for making this connection), to our SGDSB Work Plans, to our School Learning Plans…it is all about knowing what the targeted learning is (the goal) and then thinking about what that goal will actually look like and sound like once we have reached it. I appreciate your post!!

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  2. oh…and the connection with …shifting from a culture of “doing” (let’s have a PLC, a meeting, a learning session) to a culture where learning is how we measure growth (what are our learning goals for that PLC, that meeting, that learning session? How will we know that the learners have achieved them?)

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  3. Nick – this has been my struggle. How does the work we do in PLCs transfer to the classrooms? It is always been hard for me to measure. I think building mini suppositions at each PLC will help. I am happy that we are sharing evidence again in teleconferences – helps me to recognize the evidence that is sometimes right in front of me! I am hoping that my learning curve is just as big as it was last year, but hoping that this time it is above the water’s surface! And I agree – this lends itself nicely as we are working on our own POPs and scheduling ALP conversations!

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    1. Hi Deb,
      Thanks so much for this post. I truly appreciate the connection that you made between the transfer of PLC work and the measurement of that. It is a key piece to our work! I am hopeful that our enhanced protocol for moderating work during our Thursday Morning teleconferences will help us to dig even deeper into the work. Again, thanks for posting your thinking!

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  4. This was a timely post for me because my staff engaged in learning about Hattie’s work and looking specifically at impact. His work is helping to frame our school SLP. It is important that we understand what work will yield impact for our students! Thanks for the blog and a consolidation of this topic. My plan is to share with the staff and use as a conversation piece as we move forward in our learning this year.

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    1. Thanks Heidi. So glad that this writing is useful – certainly capturing Hattie’s strong thinking has made an impact on my thinking. Hopefully there is discourse as we truly dig deeply into this thinking!

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