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Engaged and Talented Teachers as a School Improvement Strategy

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By Richard L. Valenta, Ed.D., Board Member for the American Association of School Personnel Administrators (AASPA) and Director of Personnel Services for Birdville ISD

Several researchers have affirmed the importance of both the engagement of people at work (for example, see several meta-analyses and surveys done by scholars at and/or for Gallup) and the impact of talented teachers on meaningful school outcomes, specifically student achievement. Based on this research, it is appropriate to acknowledge the importance of creating great schools for educators to work and be engaged in. Likewise, it is paramount that students are taught by talented teachers who are effective in providing instruction that significantly and consistently affects achievement gains.

In a 2006 book, Gary Gordon proclaimed a need to ensure that teachers in this country work in environments that promotes their engagement in order to fully tap students' potentials. Teacher engagement refers to the individual teacher's involvement in and enthusiasm for teaching students in schools and reflects how well teachers are known and how often they get to do what they do best. Gordon also expressed the importance of valuing teacher talent and engagement more so than any other factor that leads to student success. He emphasized, "Identifying and leveraging the underutilized talent of students and teachers . . . should be the first consideration in improving outcomes for students" (p. 9). Yet researchers still see instructional methods and attitudes today that parallel what teachers provided to their student's grandparents. And too many reform efforts focus on steering improvement from the outside through mandates and policies, and too few look at changing school from within.

In addition, we all know that the role of talented teachers is fundamental in promoting student achievement. Numerous researchers have found that teacher quality is the largest school-based variable in student gains in math and reading. And because of the expectations of preparing students for the 21st century; the attention required of educators to master state mandated high-stakes testing and federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability; and research studies pointing to a need for effective teachers to affect student learning, the institutions charged with preparing educators are challenged with the task of producing "competent, caring, and qualified teachers . . . who can help all students learn" and have a "positive impact on student learning" (according to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education professional standards). But how do they know when they have succeeded?

As global competition continues to challenge America's educational system, our children must be provided with the most effective means to compete in a technologically advanced world. The most effective means may still come from a teacher who possesses both an unwavering desire for students to learn and dispositions that are inherent to only the best teachers working in the best atmospheres. To get both these things, future research in productive workplace environments and teacher effectiveness must continue.

School improvement ultimately comes from strategies that have been researched and supported with data that is statistically sound. Our forefathers understood that our democracy could not be sustained with an ignorant society. It is imperative that we continue our efforts to create educational institutions that propagate teacher engagement and pursue effective teachers. Our children deserve it and our democracy ultimately relies upon their success.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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