Increasing Teacher Effectiveness

Toronto High School faces the challenge of creating a collegiate and collaborative school environment that supports and enables teachers to translate theory to practice. Supported by Social Ventures Australia, the school is expanding an existing Collaborative Peer Learning Program for teachers, in an effort to enhance teaching and learning, and has achieved significant student outcomes in the first year of the partnership, with an average of 28% improvement on the ACARA literacy continuum for the Year 7 student cohort.

Toronto High School is a 7-12 Secondary School in Toronto, New South Wales. The school has the equivalent 77.9 staff, and a student enrolment of 884 students, including:

  • 45% of students in the bottom quartile of socio-educational advantage
  • 2% of students from English as Second Language backgrounds
  • 11% of students from Indigenous backgrounds

Teacher effectiveness is a critical influencer of student outcomes, and to this end, it is imperative that schools support teachers to continually improve and increase effectiveness. However, professional learning for teachers is typically isolated from the school context, and teachers struggle to translate and implement pedagogical practices in the classroom. This is exacerbated by a lack of time and consistent support for teachers to understand, interpret and implement these practices. Toronto High School faces the challenge of creating a collegiate and collaborative school environment that supports and enables teachers to translate theory to practice rapidly and effectively, and to sustain and embed these improvements, aligned to a whole school focus.

Toronto High School is using the resources and support from Social Ventures Australia to develop and expand an existing Collaborative Peer Learning Program for teachers, in an effort to enhance teaching and learning. This involves providing teachers with opportunities to observe and reflect on each other’s teaching, to structure and exchange meaningful feedback, and to reflect on student surveys in regular evaluations of pedagogical practices.

The research and information regarding professional learning that increases teacher effectiveness and impact on student outcomes indicates that learning should incorporate the following elements –

Peer collaboration and learning

Teachers work in groups to review samples of student work against standards, collaborate to develop lessons and assessments, and support each other through lesson observations and feedback. The shared knowledge generated promotes shared understanding and consistency of practice, and continuous improvement in a supportive environment.

Embedded in day to day practice

Professional learning that is embedded in the classroom rather than isolated ensures that teachers are applying and reflecting on the learning in real time, and therefore provides an opportunities for teachers to accelerate and consolidate improvements in pedagogical practices. Embedded learning also ensures a complete focus on student outcomes, with student assessments offering immediate feedback on teacher effectiveness.

Ongoing and sustained with a clarity of purpose
Continually implementing new changes leads to teacher fatigue. Rather, research indicates that anywhere between 14-50 hours of direct specific practice is required for changes in instruction to be adopted, and providing teachers with specificity and consistent opportunities to develop is essential.

Supported by a facilitator, mentor or coach
Support from a facilitator, mentor or coach is critical to provide teachers with tailored support and feedback, and to enable teachers to reflect and act purposefully. Facilitators, mentors or coaches must be chosen carefully to align with the specific knowledge and skills required, and should be allocated adequate time to support teachers meaningfully.

The Collaborative Peer Learning Program is based on a professional development model from the Ontario Education District in Canada. Toronto High School has adapted this model to drive professional practice amongst its teachers, through participation in professional learning that is collaborative, supportive, relevant and related to their effectiveness in the classroom and its impact on student outcomes. The program aligns to current research which shows that a significant impact can be made on teaching practices when professional development is undertaken in-class, collaboratively rather than in external one-off hits (Ingvarson, Meiers & Beavis 2005).

Accordingly, teachers are grouped in triads and work with a trained facilitator, each with well-defined roles and responsibilities. Each teacher has time release to participate in the program, to conduct classroom observations, reflection sessions, and collaboration sessions. In the first phase of the Collaborative Peer Learning Program, Toronto High School is adopting a whole school focus on improving literacy outcomes, and is using the program to enhance teacher effectiveness in this area.

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