Do Great Teachers Make A Great School?


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

There are a lot of people who argue that the answer when it comes to transforming education is to start again. For some this is revolution, while for others it means starting again by building something new. Often the reason given is the opportunity to work with like-minded educators. The problem with this is that starting a new school is an exception to the case while revolutions are very rarely glorious. Another issue with this approach is that it often blames teachers for the state of education. If only we had the right people in the positions then everything would be ok, right?

This focus on the teacher could be construed as an influence of the work of John Hattie. For as Ivan Snook, John O’Neill, John Clark, Anne-Marie O’Neill and Roger Openshaw share in their analysis of Visible Learning:

There are; in fact, two different types of research on ‘school effects’. One compares the relative contribution made by social variables on the one hand and school variables on the other. The former includes social status, parental education, home resources and the like; the latter includes all variables within the school: curriculum, principal, buildings and the work of teachers. These studies typically find that most of the variance comes from the social variables and only a small part from the school (including the teachers).

As Snook and co explain, Hattie largely chooses to ignore socio-economic status and home background. This choice therefore places teachers front and centre.

So short of starting again with a bunch of like-minded teachers, here are five ideas for developing education without the blood and violence:

  • Student Action: So often people give credence to student voice, but as Nick Jackson explains that this is not enough, we need to be advocating for student action. For Jackson this comes in the form of the Digital Leaders movement, for Cameron Paterson it is involving students within faculty meetings.
  • Community Engagement: If a part of success is what happens at home, then one answer in regards to developing students is actually developing the whole community. Many schools offer literacy sessions to support migrant families, while others simply offer the means of gathering, therefore developing the school into a community hub.
  • Strong North Star: In many of the supposed innovative schools that I have either visited or read about, there is usually a strong vision that goes beyond the ‘learnification‘ of education. Grant Lichtman talks about having a strong North Star to drive change. This often starts with leadership, but goes beyond senior leadership to involve the whole staff school.
  • Distributed Leadership: A part of involving voices across the board is actually giving them some sort of autonomy. One model or method which does this is distributed leadership. This is not where menial tasks are delegated throughout the team, but rather where all members are given the chance to lead. This opportunity is as much about process and interaction as it is about formal titles.
  • Develop Capacity: To often I feel teachers stagnate because they neither know where to go next nor do they have the tools to get there. Fine we have standards to guide use, but they have their limits. They often lack context and nuance. It is for this reason that the Modern Learning Canvas is so interesting as it not only starts with a teacher’s own situation, but it also breaks teaching down into clear parts that can be developed further. Coupled with coaching, these the canvas allows for self-determined teaching.

Although working with an awesome group of like-minded teachers might seem like the best answer to fix our woes if this is not coupled with a clear understanding of the purposes associated with education them what is actually gained? In Good Education in an Age of Measurement, Gert Biesta explains how our focus on measurements has limited the conversation. As he states,

One effect of this redefinition process has been the depoliticization of the relationship between schools/teachers and parents/students, in that their interaction focuses primarily on questions about the “quality” of the provision (e.g., compared to other providers; an effect of league tables) and individual value for money (“Is my child getting the best out of this school?”), rather than on questions about the common educational good (“What is it that we want to achieve as a community for the community?”).

What is clear is that we are in a time of change and disruption with recent events only compounding this. So what about you? What steps are you taking? What dreams are you giving birth to? As always, comments welcome.


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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator whose life has granted a breadth of opportunities. I also have a keen interest in ICT and 21st Century pedagogies. My current role finds me supporting schools with the integration of technology.

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Do Great Teachers Make A Great School? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

11 thoughts on “Do Great Teachers Make A Great School?”

  1. I wonder what education will be like in 10 years? Homework, standardised testing, accreditation, university entrance requirements…will we be having the same conversations? Does our collective dedication and passion for learning and education make a difference? Sorry-more questions than answers! You always have me questioning Aaron.

    1. That is an interesting question. I am left thinking though that we need to worry about tomorrow before we worry about next week. The question that I touched on in my recent post on Breaking Edtech was that we have a responsibility to develop the education we want for tomorrow. For as Audrey Watters argues, “the best way to predict the future is to hold a press conference.” I wonder what you might say at your conference Andrea?

  2. As ‘school’ is such a complex whole idea – one person’s definition of a ‘great school’ may not look the same as another’s. When asked what attributes we would like for a new executive member of staff recently, we all gave various answers depending upon our experiences and positions. Most people wanted someone with whom they could communicate easily. When the executive put together their criteria the picture was much broader and more school plan oriented. Even as teachers our ideas of what a school needs is different.
    I think as teachers we are accountable for our students being given the greatest chance of falling in love with learning but it doesn’t all come back to us. Sometimes our students are determined to share their anger around and no matter what we try to put in place, it will not stop them from attempting to destroy the learning environment for themselves and others. We don’t stop trying but we mustn’t beat ourselves or others up for often failing either.
    Thanks for another thought provoking post Aaron.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I agree about the complexity of schools and fear that my post painted a picture of simplicity. My real point is that a great school involves teachers with different perspectives and points of view working collaboratively. It would be nice to work with all my friends etc … But that is not how the world works. I really liked your elaboration on the ‘North Star’ too.

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