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What Made Them Great? Study Polls Teachers of the Year on Their Experiences

By Sharon P. Robinson, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

A new report from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), in partnership with the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) at American Institutes for Research and five leading national education organizations, including AACTE, was released on April 30. This collaborative approach to research provided an opportunity for teachers and education partners to address the question, “How does the profession support teachers’ development overtime?” The Council of Chief State School Officers hosted a release event featuring a panel discussion by teacher leaders, researchers, and policy makers about the report’s findings

Insights in the report, From Good to Great: Exemplary Teachers Share Perspectives on Increasing Teacher Effectiveness Across the Career Continuum, are based on an exploratory survey of more than 300 national and state teachers of the year. This research identifies valuable professional experiences and supports that were essential to these exemplar teachers’ professional growth and effectiveness throughout various stages of their career. Teachers responded to survey questions relevant to four stages of the teacher career continuum, identified as the preservice, novice, career, and teacher leader stages.

By tapping the knowledge of teachers who are experienced and  recognized as effective, the report provides education leaders and policy makers with relevant information about state-, district-, and school-level professional learning experiences that help teachers develop from novice to teacher leader and from good to great.

Respondents identified several key experiences and supports that helped them improve as they moved across this continuum. The highest rated preservice experiences—of greatest import to most of AACTE’s member institutions—were high-quality clinical practice (especially with a strong cooperating teacher), content-specific course work, and applied course work on specific skills. Instruction by professors with recent, relevant PK-12 teaching experience also received a high rating. (Of note: Some 58% of respondents completed their preservice preparation more than 20 years ago, and 65% completed bachelor’s-level programs. Although the specific experiences cited might not reflect most of today’s preparation programs, they do convey a sense of what matters most to teachers.)

The report closes with four “considerations” for policy makers and education leaders:

  1. Support teachers teaching teachers. Respondents said connecting novices with experienced educators helps both parties.
  2. Act on what we know works. Many of the lessons from this survey confirm previous research on effective practices, yet policy makers have done little to incentivize districts or preparation programs to provide them.
  3. Reconsider the dialogue. For example, education master’s programs have become passé in the national narrative, but respondents to this survey cited such ongoing formal courses as beneficial to their professional growth.
  4. Prioritize and improve teacher development on many fronts. Although the report attempted to tease out the most influential factors for teacher development, survey respondents as a whole thought nearly all their supports were valuable—not giving a clear imperative to provide any particular experience.

A version of this post also appeared on AACTE’s blog, Ed Prep Matters.