Re-examining and re-igniting teacher quality research in a post-COVID world

Year: 2021

Author: Witter, Michael

Type of paper: Individual Paper

In the midst of an unprecedented year of teaching and learning due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the discourse on teacher quality, including its constituent elements and best measures, is ripe for re-ignition and refinement.  Teacher quality has remained a recurrent focus of policy and practical efforts throughout Australia for at least the past few decades, eventuating in initiatives such as the establishment of the Australian Curriculum, AITSL, and the National Professional Standards for Teachers (Francis, Newham & Harkin, 2005).  More recently it shaped the Students First plan and the creation of TEMAG (Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group) to identify and provide recommendations to improve teacher quality through initial teacher education.  These efforts, while substantial, have been undertaken in the absence of definitional clarity regarding what we mean by the term teacher quality and based primarily on research conducted overseas.  While internationally, teacher quality research and conceptualisations are prolific, there are two significant gaps nationally: there is a paucity of teacher quality studies in Australia and a lack of definitional clarity and alignment that will limit the efficacy of these efforts.This paper addresses both gaps, providing a conceptual model and appraisal of teacher quality and its key dimensions and related measures, situated in Australian classrooms.  This paper advances extant conceptualisations of the multidimensional and complex nature of teacher quality and the need to employ robust, multiple measures to identify and evaluate it (Goe, 2007; Goe, Bell, & Little, 2008).  This notion has been underscored by growing resistance towards singular use of value-added approaches to characterising teacher quality as the ability to produce high achievement gains on standardised tests (Darling-Hammond, 2015; Petek & Pope, 2016) and research highlighting the array of student outcomes types that teachers can positively impact, which includes both cognitive and non-cognitive factors (Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff, 2011, 2014).  The paper highlights relevant results from a study of 68 participant teachers, which established theoretical constructs for four key factors of teacher quality and relevant measures.  The research examined over 30 distinct types of teachers’ beliefs (Witter, under review), eight non-academic capabilities recurrent in the literature on teacher quality (Duckworth et al., 2009; Klassen & Tze, 2014; Robertson-Kraft & Duckworth, 2014), 16 specific teaching practices supported by meta-analytic research as promoting higher levels of academic achievement (Hattie, 2008; Skipp & Tanner, 2015), and 7 key areas of quality measured by student perceptions of teaching (Ferguson & Danielson, 2015; LaFee, 2014).This paper will highlight the interaction between multiple aspects of teacher quality, noting key critical relationships, elements that were anticipated to but ultimately did not predict other indicators of teacher quality.   An emerging profile of teacher quality drawn across multiple dimensions and measures will be provided, concluding with implications and recommendations for future research, policy and practice, particularly with regards to the four facets of quality examined within this research, the particular measures undertaken, and potential limitations that should be addressed in future studies, noting some crucial ways the COVID-19 pandemic should reframe teacher quality research and discourse.