Hattie leaves educators with much to digest in analyzing their own approach

November 29, 2019

John Hattie

By the time John Hattie had finished his double-pronged keynote presentation to a full house at the Visible Learning Plus Foundation Day Institute in Saskatoon, he had doubtlessly left some of the educators in the room with much to contemplate–if not somewhat bewildered at times.

While Hattie suggested that every school deserves at least one lead (or highly accomplished) teacher on staff, he made no bones about the fact that there are too many schools who are “cruising”–somewhat mischievously suggesting that “if you have low expectations, you will succeed.”

Yet, he also suggested that despite a myriad of changes in education, teachers for the most part manage to get it right. In an interview afterwards, it was his assertion that in general, teachers are guilty of selling themselves short of the impact they have on students.

In Hattie’s world, impact is an often-repeated phrase. During his presentation, he offered that “I don’t care about how you teach; I care about the impact of your teaching to your students.”

That was just a snippet of what Hattie had to share this day. And, if he opined that teachers might be too modest, he personally is the anomaly of that particular character trait. Backed up by his international acclaim established over several decades and a ubiquitous resumé of books and reports, the native of New Zealand is not shy to share his views, even if his devotion to Visible Learning has drawn criticism in some circles.

“I will defend my research to anyone and if they are uncomfortable with it, that’s all right. I’m not here to win a popularity contest,” he said quite candidly in the interview.

As the cornerstone of his zealous belief in the Visible Learning model, Hattie reiterated a phrase often associated with his work when he insisted that the real litmus test of this approach is “that every student should experience at least one year’s growth over the course of one school year.”

Utilizing a seemingly infinite set of slides and data to back up his extensive research work, Hattie is unapologetic about his belief in assessment, albeit not in the context many would deduce such as standardized testing, for example.

Always at the root of his views on the effectiveness of teachers and their respective schools is how the teaching is reaching the students. Utterly synonymous with assessment in Hattie’s view, is collective efficacy and collaboration, which he says is too often missing in schools.

Hattie is adamant that the narrative has to change, and an integral way to accomplish this is to get away from the notion of teachers having autonomy.

In a perfect world Hattie would like to see teachers come out of the classroom more often to interact with colleagues and outside experts in order to have greater access to feedback of their own teaching methods. He concedes this would be very expensive and it would require buy-in from parents and the general public if such an extensive measure were to be introduced.

He also underscored the increased benefits teachers can experience if connected to international colleagues via the internet, which has been a passion of his through his partnership with Corwin, a SAGE Publishing Company.

“Teachers too often sell themselves short, and perhaps it’s because their expertise is not recognized in the way it should be in many places around the world. We have to strive for building a strong community of excellence among teachers. As a profession, we haven’t sold it well enough and I want to change that. Look at the huge difference teachers can make in the lives of kids.”

Although not unfamiliar with politics himself in his roles with New Zealand’s Ministry of Education and as the director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, Hattie said that the overall tendency of government is to look for easy answers. They also want to see results today, which is not going to happen with a long-term proposition like the education of a child.

Hattie reminded educators of the importance of providing authentic student voice in a way “that we can help those students become their own teachers. We need to focus on the learner,” he said. Hattie was referring to the statistics he presented, which indicated on average kids get about three seconds per day to
talk while 90 percent of a typical lesson might be the teachers talking.

“That’s not having an impact; we need to look at how do we get more dialogue, which leads to engagement. Don’t get in the way; be part of the solution. It’s critical to any kind of collaboration that you are collaborative and that you respect others’ viewpoints in those conversations,” Hattie said.

As he contemplated what he had hoped to accomplish on the latest stop in his global speaking schedule, Hattie reminded teachers that they are good change agents, “but one of the hardest parts is to get teachers to stop and smell the roses and stop denying their own expertise. If you need to, know when you should seek help.”

While well aware that he had left much for those in the room to digest, Hattie indicated that “I want at least three percent to come back for more and I want them to follow up on what we talked about. I want them to genuinely commit to making an impact for their students,” he said, adding that he plans to continue with his tireless schedule of sharing his strongly held views.