Thursday, February 3, 2022

Do Teachers Make a Difference?

At the start of a new year I am learning a little more about teaching. This is not by choice, it is compulsory tutor training. But it is years since I have done a formal course, so a useful refresher, at least to remind me how hard being a student is. Otherwise it is easy for someone who teaches to forget how difficult, frustrating, stressful, and occasionally frightening being a student is.

One thing I have learned is that however experienced, as soon as I enroll in a course I start behaving like a student. One manifestation is to complain about readings: do I really have to read all this stuff? ;-)

Professor John Hattie, 
University of Melbourne

The first reading is Hattie (2003), who claims that teachers account for 30% of the variance in student results, the students themselves accounting for 50%, with home, school & peers each accounting for 5 to 10%. Hattie then presents a table (unlabeled), showing a long list of influences on student outcomes, the top ones being feedback, students’ prior cognitive ability, and instructional quality. The point here is that two of these are up to the teacher, along with most in the list. 

Hattie then goes on to argue that expert teachers make a difference, not experienced ones. However, the definition of what an expert was seems to mix up methods with results. As an example, expert teachers were said to be able to provide feedback, but also influence student outcomes. The former is something you could train a teacher to do, while they latter would be the outcome of successful training.

Having presented the case that teachers can make a difference, and that "expert" teachers make a bigger difference, Hattie does seem to have any useful advice on how to improve teaching. Perhaps the use of the term "expert" does not help. All teachers should be competent, in the sense they should have the required level of expertise, both in the field they are teaching, and how to teach. In Australia, school and vocational education teachers are required to have formal qualifications in teaching. University lecturers are only required to be qualified in what they are teaching, not how to teach. So it may be premature to worry about how to make them expert teachers, until they have reached the level of basic competence.

This paper is useful in giving university teachers some hope that they can make a real difference to student's education. But it doesn't help much with what to do. 


Hattie, J.A.C. (2003, October). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Building Teacher Quality: What does the research tell us ACER Research Conference, Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved from

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