Undermining Student Improvement

Originally posted on Figuring It Out by J. Bevacqua  

I am beginning to wonder if, in my earnest desire to to do what what's best for kids and their learning, I have inadvertently enabled complacency and undermined improvement.

Let me explain.

Recently I have immersed myself in John Hattie's book Visible Learning Visible Learning – a book, I believe, every educator, at all levels, must read.

The book is a culmination of years of research and analysis of what has the greatest positive impact on student achievement.

So let's cut to the chase. Hattie identifies a number influences on student performance and ranks them in order of positive impact.

In summary, the most positive  influences on student achievement put the individual teacher at the centre of the improvement. Whether it's providing quality feedback, understanding how different students think (meta cognition), how open a teacher is to the evidence of their impact on student learning and how they respond to this evidence or how a teacher enables students to become their own teachers – all of these “impacts” place the teacher and their actions at the centre of improvement.

On the flip side, some of the lesser “impacts” on achievement include those that I would label as “external” (to the teacher) changes and  include such things as: ability grouping, class size, problem based learning, inquiry learning, homework, school scheduling, web based learning and various other school based “programs” (Hattie, 2012).

So getting back to my point….

As a teacher and administrator I feel passionate about doing what best for students and their learning. I often talk about changing the system . As a school administrator I often meet other team members to solve various problems. I've looked at change timetables and calendars, lower class sizes, change teacher schedules etc.

 As administrators we talk about the importance of school growth plans, literacy and numeracy programs, we develop assessment and grading protocols and implement technology based programs in schools.

 I am the first one to speak about the need for curriculum reform in our post industrial, Internet driven world.

 I like system improvements.  They make me feel good.  They give me a sense of satisfaction.  They give me something to report out – “look at what we are doing now”,  “look at how innovative we are“!

 But what is the true impact of these system and “external” reforms on student learning and engagement?

 I surmise that Hattie would argue that these “external” reforms and interventions are needed and they do assist many students both in achievement and engagement.

 BUT, by placing the focus on various “externally” driven initiatives, have I inadvertently, caused teachers to shift their focus away from their own practice?

In so doing, have I unwittingly undermined student improvement by not explicitly placing enough focusing on teacher level improvements related to formative assessment, the teacher as learner and the meta-cognition of each student?

 Moving forward, in my desire to help students and as I consider school wide or system wide improvements, I need to ask myself this these important questions:

  • How is this initiative (school goal, program, initiative, intervention, etc.) empowering teachers to be at the centre of their own learning?  


  • How is this learning requiring teachers to be reflective and critically open about their own students' performance? 


  • How is this learning related to providing quality feedback to students and  knowing and understanding students as thinkers?

 Still figuring it out…..



  1. […] Originally posted on Figuring It Out by J. Bevacqua I am beginning to wonder if, in my earnest desire to to do what what's best for kids and their learning, I have inadvertently enabled complacen…  […]

    September 14, 2013
  2. Ron Sherman said:

    Thanks for this reminder. I too lose focus on teacher-level change, and begin adjusting other tools. Even worse, some of these changes actually de-emphasize the teacher and their powerful influence on learning. I’m very grateful for this post, I’ll muse on it for the weekend for sure!

    September 14, 2013
  3. Christian Elkington said:

    It has been an honor reading the various posts on Connected Principals! This is another example of the fine thoughts shared, which make us think. Systemic change is important and can be supportive, but will take us away from the work that WILL show the best results. Thanks again for making us think!

    September 14, 2013
  4. Like you, I LOVE Hattie’s book and it has served to both affirm and challenge my teaching in so many ways for the better. I’ve taken on “servant leadership” as my main leadership model towards children, and I think if admin took that leadership model with respect to teachers we’d really begin to make great progress in schools–teachers are often that last to have a say about anything. Thanks for your wonderful post. I always look forward to your inspiration.

    September 14, 2013
  5. Rich TenEyck said:

    I find great resonance with the power of teacher developed responses vs. those that “externally” directed. I sense that we have been making slow but steady progress in helping teachers understand the need to “own” the performance of their students. Could we consider that a further step might involve the things that teachers can do help students “own” their own learning?

    September 14, 2013
  6. steve fisher said:

    Well said Johnny – anything that is not focused on resiources to help teachers work together to improvee their personal pratice with students is a waste of time. I have always said that once you get the right systems in place as a framework for “how we do things around here” the teachers will do the rest on their own – that’s when the real fun of educating begins!

    September 16, 2013

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