The challenge of making great teachers

Professor Donna Pendergast, School of Education & Professional Studies Dean.

What makes great teachers?

This is the question Professor Donna Pendergast, Dean, School of Education and Professional Studies, explored in a public lecture at the Griffith Film School this week.

“There is no single variable that improves student achievement more than a great teacher,’’ she said.

“Great teachers are known to have two key attributes: a well formed professional identity and being self-efficacious — confident and competent — which is the capacity to ensure learning of all students.”

She said schools are intended to prepare students for their future lives but based on what has been seen as successful in the past.

“This is increasingly challenging today where the acceleration of change is the most constant feature.”

Today’s teachers are teaching Generation Z (born 1995-2009), while the Alpha Generation born from 2010 are in child care centres, prep and Year 1.

“In the past, the role of the teacher was to deliver the curriculum and the role of the student was to learn. The teacher used assessment to establish how much the student had learnt.”

“Now, teaching has grown as a profession which has a high degree of accountability, is informed by evidence-based practice and subject to professional self-regulation.

“Teachers are expected to use data not just to determine student learning, but to inform, reflect upon, and modify their teaching practice.”

One of the key attributes of a great teacher, she said, is a willingness to undertake professional learning throughout their career.

Adding to the mix, a looming teacher and principal shortage in Queensland and nationally from 2018 will see the demand for teachers fall short of the supply. This will bring its own set of problems.

“The teacher workforce is about to undergo a literal facelift with an influx of mostly Y generation teachers, who will engage in portfolio careers. They are less likely to display the strong loyalty to employers that distinguished previous generations,’’ Professor Pendergast said.

“Keeping teachers in the sector — but potentially providing a range of opportunities related to teaching, will be important work in the decades ahead.

“Selection, education, induction and ongoing professional learning are the tools to ensuring we make great teachers.”