Holding out for a Hattie

The hero teacher is a trope that has been around for many years. I first remember coming across it with To Sir With Love which seemed to frequently be the midday movie when I was growing up. That inspiring individual, usually fresh out of university, who by sheer strength of will is able to break through whatever social and systemic barriers exist and turn disengaged, marginalised and failing students into successes.

The hero teacher will be appointed to work in a disadvantaged school, staffed by that other teacher trope, the tired teacher: old,  experienced, jaded and uninspired.
Tired teacher knows that students in this school can’t be trusted, won’t learn and aren’t worth caring about. He shakes his head at Hero Teacher’s efforts, knowing they won’t work. But eventually, Hero Teacher overcomes all odds with nothing but passion and innovative teaching methods that no one has ever tried before.
Teach for Australia, a fast-track training program for teachers seems built on this fictional trope. It replaces a 4-year university degree with a short-term apprenticeship style model. The program recruits top graduates from other fields and parachutes them into needy schools to break the cycle of disadvantage.
And then there’s the discourse on Edu-Twitter. The heroic, innovative teachers, making a difference, but having to continually overcome the obstacles put in their paths by those old-school teachers, the laggards. Old teachers. The ones who are slow to adopt the new ideas, or worse, push back against them. Who sit their students in rows, use worksheets, kill creativity and prefer an industrial model fo schooling.
Everyone wants a hero.
In fact,  if one was to judge by the tweets that came from the Visible Learning conference in united states, John Hattie may very well be the hero that education has been holding out for. He channels Martin Luther King and inspires us to dream:

I mean education needs a hero, right?

These tropes may inspire us, but ultimately they divide. They encourage us to think of ourselves, of each other in binaries.  Good teacher/bad teacher, inspiring teacher/lazy teacher, quality teacher……
We’re more complex than that, education is more complex than that.
We each might harbour a private fantasy to be that hero teacher, or to find a hero to follow, but it’s a dream. Heroic individuals won’t overcome the systemic issues that create such inequity in education outcomes, and nor will quality teachers. We need to work together.

8 thoughts on “Holding out for a Hattie

  1. Hi Corinne,

    Interesting post on many levels but I’ll focus on 2.

    Firstly, this notion of heroes as not being helpful is actually an ‘old’ one for me. I first heard of it back in my IT career. Specifically, an organisation which attributes success to heroes and heroics is at the lowest level in the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capability_Maturity_Model That said, I do have my edu heroes and heroines and I admire their work. It is ironic, however, that their heroic actions may even prevent the systemic change that often drive their actions in the first place.

    Secondly, the mention of Hattie caught my eye as his name has been mentioned in nearly every session at our recent 2-day PD. In these sessions, I gave myself a piece of homework to read a bit more on student self-reporting grades with the biggest effect size of 1.44. I wanted to know what it meant. I found a video by Hattie explaining it and interestingly he said it should have been renamed to a less ambiguous ‘teachers expectations based on student self-concept’. Worryingly, however, further research led to this article http://researchnetwork.pearson.com/digital-data-analytics-and-adaptive-learning/biggest-influence-student-achievement-hattie which critically debunked this highest effect size thing. Click on the other articles shared and the Hattie thing is seriously crumbling in front of my eyes. Again, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard Hattie’s work criticised but this time it’s hitting home because the very warnings in the articles about having Hattie’s work taken as gospel is becoming true. This worries me.

    I have no answers but I join you in your questioning.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Malyn,

      Thank you so much for your comment. What you said about the capability maturity model and heroics is fascinating. I’ve also come across many reasons to doubt Hattie’s work. It’s interesting, but there are limits to what it can tell us, and unfortunately the way I see it being applied stretches way beyond its scope.


  2. The good/ bad teacher seems handy for tweets, brief quotes in “news” grabs, and simplistic presentations.
    When I teach I’m a good teacher on some days, with some kids, in some classes. And I’m probably drifting towards bad at other times. I’m, more or less, always the same teacher. What changes is my teaching, the students, the curriculum, and some other things.
    My less than well made point, is that I’m aware that my teaching needs to adapt, moment by moment. One of the things that seems to go missing in good/bad teacher generalisations is that teaching is not a fixed skill that always works in all situations. By focussing solely on teachers all the problems with education become the teachers’ fault. A parallel exists in the populist media. They like to portray “out of control” kids as destroying education. And therefore these kids need to change. Again, overly simplistic.
    I would like to think people in positions of responsibility such as Professors in Education, Heads of School, etc. recognise the complexity of education, schools, learning, etc. But more importantly they attempt to communicate that complexity to broader society.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Teach for Australia, a fast-track training program for teachers seems built on this fictional trope. It replaces a 4-year university degree with a short-term apprenticeship style model. The program recruits top graduates from other fields and parachutes them into needy schools to break the cycle of disadvantage.”

    From your vantage point Teach For Australia may seem to be built on the “hero teacher” trope, but I assure you that it is nothing like that when you are in the program. In no way did TFA ever say we were “hero” teachers, and in fact the program highlighted humility and teamwork as integral to improving learning outcomes for students and for professional growth. It is unfair to imply that people who do TFA are so arrogant to assume they are heroes!

    I know that many people don’t like the TFA style of learning to teach, but it is important to note that it doesn’t replace a four year degree. Everyone in the program has at least a 3 year degree, probably with Honours, and some with Masters or a PhD. In two years they complete the equivalent of a Post Graduate Certificate with the option to complete the Masters at a later date (as in my case), or a Masters (as it is now). I had three different mentors observing me every fortnight for two years and a reduced teaching load so I could meet and reflect with them, as well as complete my studies.

    Six years after I began teaching I still count myself as incredibly lucky – I almost ended up in a different career – Nothing can beat teaching!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s