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The Bottom Line How to Get Good Teachers: An Interview with Dr. Robert Pianta

We are pleased to launch Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education (ACTE) blog and newsletter. Here you will find The Bottom Line, with monthly stories of transformation in our public education system, including steps necessary to build a system which delivers personalized learning and results for every student. These brave teachers and leaders from around the country are creating cultures of success within the public education system.

The ACTE Game Plan for transformation of our education system is lead by Senior Fellow Donald Nielsen, author of Every School.  After a successful business career, culminating with being CEO of a NYSE company, Don has concentrated his time and effort in the field of Public Education.  In 1993, he was elected to the Seattle School Board where he served for eight years and now serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the University of Washington School of Education.

Don is supported by a highly accomplished advisory board. We will introduce you to our board members throughout the coming months. We start with Dr. Pianta. Following his introduction we go to Othello, Washington, where Wahitis Elementary threw away assumptions, rolled up their sleeves, and now defies statistics.

Dr. Robert Pianta, Ph. D.

Dean of the Curry School of Education; Novartis US Foundation Professor of Education; Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia; Founding Director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning

Dr. Pianta began his career as a special education teacher. He now is the Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and the Founding Director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning. Dr. Pianta is nationally recognized as an expert in early childhood education and K12 teaching and learning, with a focus on teacher-student interactions and relationships, to improve teachers’ contributions to students’ learning and development.

Dr. Pianta has developed the Classroom Assessment Scoring System™ (CLASS) to rate teacher-student interactions. Applicable pre-school through 12th grade, it is used (as an example), by every Head Start program in the country, affecting 50,000 teachers and over half a million students.

We sat down with Dr. Pianta with our questions, to understand how best to develop world class teaching and learning in P12 classrooms nationwide.

What should selection criteria for teaching programs be?

Work with every candidate who walks through the door. Improve training for all. Quality will be assured through high exit competency requirements.

Should teaching candidates hold Bachelor Degrees first?

A Bachelor’s degree does not ensure competency. Content knowledge is one of the requirements of course, and can be measured through assessments. Teacher candidates should pass the same exams, based on all K12 standards, required of their students.

Should we change teacher certification standards?

Taking on the politics of teacher certification would be a tough climb. Energy invested in developing choice for certification programs, and creating alternative models for teacher training, would lead to greater outcomes.

What should staff Professional Development be?

Districts spend a lot of money on ineffective PD. Professional Development should be evidence based, include markers and metrics, and should directly relate to classroom practice. The professional development should then be tied to follow up observational measurement, and works best if separate from the administrative employee evaluations.

How can you evaluate effective teaching?

The evaluators must be trained so the results are standardized, reliable, and valid. They work with the teachers, observing videos of lessons, and build awareness and consistent implementation. The evaluator is a coach and works at a granular level to observe teacher/student engagement in competency areas. (The professional development training program Dr. Pianta has developed, Teachstone Training, pairs with the CLASS evaluation system and yields a 10% jump in student achievement.)

What are some components of effective teaching which should be observed?

The three pillars of teacher student interactions which lead to learning are:

  • Emotional Support
  • Classroom Organization/Management
  • Instructional Support

To give an example, under Instructional Support we would include:

Quality of Feedback

Instructional Dialog

Student Autonomy & Control

What is the biggest hurdle to improving teacher practice?

Teacher behaviors matter. We can watch behaviors. 90% of the challenge we face nationally in moving teachers to be more effective, is that we are not employing validated rigorous measures connected to student learning:

  • Student Engagement
  • Teacher Response to cues
  • Classroom management

These can be measured and are tied directly to achievement.

What feedback do you receive from teachers who have experienced your professional development and observation system?

(Literacy Coach) “For years, we have struggled with how to define good teaching – it’s part science, part art – and we know it when we see it, but we can’t always find the language to describe it to someone new to our field. That’s why the CLASS is so valuable. It addresses the interactions between teachers and students, which we know are important for instructional effectiveness.”

More information about Dr. Robert Pianta and his work is available on our ACTE website. We are grateful for his participation on our Public Education Reform Advisory Board.

Are you concerned about educating the next generation?
The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?