An Exploratory Study of Factors Related to Effective Teaching in SAIS Member Schools
Patterson, Lenora Cherese
Edwards, Michael A.
Independent schools are private schools not dependent upon any outside organization for governance or financing. They are truly independent with regard to operations and finances, and they follow a mission that drives the school's decision-making and operations. Because independent schools are not beholden to local, state, or national education policies and guidelines, they are free to determine their own criteria of effective teaching and to employ noncertified teachers and teachers with non-traditional educational backgrounds. In addition, they control decisions regarding professional development for their teachers. Without requirements to use certification and state or national guidelines for teacher quality, and without external requirements for teacher preparation and professional development, the following questions arise: What factors related to effective teaching, teacher quality, and professional development are important to independent schools? What are independent schools' priorities for hiring teachers and providing professional development? This exploratory study is designed to provide The Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) with data and findings related to how its member schools define effective teaching, teacher quality, and professional development. Because of the lack of research in independent education, this study will provide new baseline data to SAIS - data that are not currently available - that can be used to inform the services they currently provide to member schools. SAIS would like to know the factors related to effective teaching that are important to SAIS Heads of School when hiring teachers and the extent to which their current faculty demonstrate those factors. In addition, SAIS is interested in the nature of and priorities for professional development in their member schools so that they can evaluate and refine their current professional development offerings. A substantial body of research exists, primarily based on research in the public sector, on effective teaching, qualities of effective teachers, and how professional development contributes to teacher effectiveness. As part of this research project, this report contains a comprehensive review of the literature on effective teaching that can be found in Appendix A. Based on the literature, a survey was designed for SAIS Heads of School to address the following project questions: 1. What factors related to effective teaching are important to SAIS Heads of School when hiring teachers? 2. What are SAIS Heads' perceptions of the extent to which their current teachers demonstrate effective teaching practices? 3. What is the nature of professional development related to effective teaching in SAIS schools? 4. What are SAIS Heads' priorities for teacher professional development? 5. To what extent are Heads' priorities for professional development aligned with their perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of their teachers? Key Findings After analysis, the data gathered from the 163 SAIS Heads of School who participated in this study revealed the following key findings: Factors Contributing to Effective Teaching - When hiring, respondents prefer candidates with an undergraduate degree in a content area with graduate degrees in either content areas or education. However, Heads reported they frequently hire candidates who only have undergraduate degrees. - Undergraduate degrees in education are preferred at schools with lower school divisions. - When asked about the importance of certification, almost half of respondents indicated a preference for teachers with either current or previous certification. Many Heads see certification as an important consideration in hiring. - SAIS Heads' survey responses indicate that teacher certification is more important in rural schools than suburban schools. Professional Practices - Heads rate the following areas as very important considerations in hiring teachers: mastery of subject area, creating an environment of respect and rapport, demonstrating enthusiasm and a positive attitude, and communicating clearly and accurately with students. Less important to Heads, but still important overall, are demonstrating knowledge of teaching resources, integrating technology instruction, and organizing physical space for optimal learning. - Respondents indicate that their teachers do well in the following areas: displaying mastery of subject area, creating an environment of respect and rapport, and communicating clearly and accurately with students. What teachers do less well, according to respondents, is integrating technology instruction, organizing physical space for optimal learning, and growing and developing professionally. - Integrating technology instruction is one of the lowest areas of importance according to respondents and is also rated the lowest area for teacher performance. Professional Development to Support Effective Teaching - Respondents indicated they are providing professional development in areas critical for effective teaching: content knowledge, assessment, pedagogical knowledge, instructional delivery, and planning for instruction. - Heads' priorities for professional development are closely tied to instructional concerns. - Development of content knowledge is a priority for professional development despite the fact that Heads reported that their teachers demonstrate strong content knowledge. - Professional development is most often planned by administrators and support staff. However, larger schools are more likely to involve teachers in the planning of professional development. Heads with higher levels of education are more likely to allow teachers to plan professional development activities. - Professional development activities are not frequently evaluated for evidence of improvement in teacher practice or student achievement. Recommendations General Respondents categorized their location as rural, suburban, or urban. SAIS does not categorize its schools using these terms, so we were unable to match the reported data to the entire population of SAIS member schools. However, several significant findings were related to school location location, leading us to our first recommendation for SAIS: - Begin categorizing and tracking schools based on location - rural, suburban, and urban - in order to have the ability to evaluate the needs of schools based on location and provide differentiated services when needed or appropriate. - Use existing school size and type categories to evaluate the needs of schools based on location and provide differentiated services when needed or appropriate. Hiring Although respondents in this study indicated a preference for content area degrees over degrees in education, they also indicated that they often hire teachers with degrees in education. With regard to hiring, we recommend that SAIS: - Provide guidance and support to Heads with regard to hiring and recruiting teachers that match their hiring preferences. One way SAIS could help with this is to assist member schools in developing marketing materials to continue to attract effective teachers to independent schools. Messaging could focus on the benefits of teaching in independent schools, and schools should be encouraged to find ways to offer competitive, comprehensive benefits packages for teachers. - To address the Heads' stated preference for teachers with subject area degrees, we recommend that SAIS explore partnerships with universities with the goal of creating opportunities to identify and attract teachers with strong content knowledge. A partnership with a university could allow for the creation of specialized subject area professional development and graduate degree programs, which could be used by SAIS member schools to strengthen the subject area knowledge of its teachers. Professional Practices With regard to professional practices, we recommend that SAIS: - Encourage its member schools to stay current on educational research and provide the comprehensive literature review to Heads and member schools. - Develop workshops and training materials for schools to use with teachers that emphasize research-based effective teaching practices and the integration of technology to enhance instruction. Professional Development Participants in this study clearly value content knowledge for their teachers. Therefore, we recommend that SAIS: - Communicate the literature on the value of both content and pedagogical content knowledge to its member schools. Because SAIS member schools prefer to hire teachers who have strong subject matter knowledge and degrees, we recommend that SAIS: - Design and offer professional development opportunities to support pedagogical content knowledge and instructional methods for teachers in its member schools. Professional development for SAIS Heads could also prove valuable, particularly regarding the characteristics of effective professional development. Heads indicated their influence and involvement in decision-making for professional development, but also revealed that they seldom evaluate professional development activities for their effect on student learning. We recommend that SAIS: - Provide training for Heads regarding the value of involving teachers in professional development decision-making and on methods for linking professional development to student learning and evaluating its effectiveness.