Max Kusters & Arjen de Vetten
How often have you referred to a teacher as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in your school career? When assessing teacher quality, we often struggle with subjective judgments and varying criteria. Is a teacher considered good because they explain well? Or because the teacher’s students obtain high scores? Perhaps it depends on positive evaluations from students. In this research blog, we aim to redefine the way we assess the quality of university educators and propose a shift toward embracing teacher agency. We argue that educators should be seen as experts in their field, who can not only meet the needs of students but also foster innovation. Educators’ willingness to take responsibility and contribute to institutional progress can significantly foster a transformative educational environment. In this regard, educators transcend their traditional role as mere providers of education and instead become facilitators of educational innovation and development.
Shortcoming of current methods
The current methods of assessing the quality of university educators have been widely criticized. For instance, several studies raise concerns about the interpretation and usefulness of Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) ratings. These studies revealed that SET ratings were significantly influenced by students’ perceptions of their educators, thereby calling into question the validity of this specific assessment tool (see Shevlin et al., 2000 and Spooren et al., 2013 for examples).
There are also educational concerns, for example, that current assessment methods do not contribute to educators’ professional development. Among other things, assessment methods are often criticized for providing little or no constructive feedback. Without this, educators may find it difficult to improve their teaching methods or address weaknesses. Moreover, critics argue that current assessments often fail to take into account the teaching context, such as subject matter, class size, level (bachelor’s or master’s), and student diversity and background. Each of these factors can significantly affect teaching methods and outcomes and should be considered when assessing educators. Moreover, current assessment methods neglect broader purposes of teaching, such as the value of mentorship and creating an inclusive learning environment.
In some institutions, however, there is already a focus on a more holistic approach that integrates different sources of feedback, such as peer evaluations and self-reflection, to gain a more accurate understanding of teacher effectiveness, for example during the University Teaching Qualification track. The ability to reflect on what works and what does not work, and to understand why, is invaluable to teacher quality. Therefore, universities play a crucial role in promoting these skills, as these skills must be recognized and valued by policy makers by reflecting them in assessments. A change to holistic assessment of educators emphasizes effective teaching and the long-term effect educators can have on student growth. Educators need to actively pursue their own development and make informed choices in any given situation, highlighting the significance of teacher agency in discussions about teacher quality.
Embracing Teacher Agency
Embracing teacher agency in the evaluation of teacher quality is crucial for fostering a culture of innovation, growth, and student-centered education. Teacher agency refers to the ability of educators to make intentional choices and take purposeful actions in their teaching practice. It involves educators’ capacity to initiate and control the learning environment, make informed pedagogical decisions in any given situation, and collaborate with colleagues and students. Teacher agency is often seen as a key factor in promoting effective teaching and learning in higher education. By recognizing and valuing teacher agency, universities can tap into the expertise and unique perspectives of their educators.
Moreover, teacher agency encourages continuous professional development. When educators have the autonomy to explore and experiment with different instructional strategies, they are more inclined to seek out new research, attend workshops, collaborate with colleagues, and reflect on their own teaching practices. This proactive approach to professional growth ultimately benefits both educators and students, as it promotes a culture of lifelong learning and innovation within the educational institution.
Embracing teacher agency also cultivates a sense of trust and collaboration between faculty members and administration. Rather than imposing rigid evaluation criteria, universities can create opportunities for open dialogue, feedback, and collaboration, allowing educators to take an active role in shaping their own professional growth and the overall direction of the institution.
In conclusion, embracing teacher agency is a powerful facilitator for elevating teacher quality in universities. By empowering educators to exercise their expertise, make informed decisions, and engage in continuous professional development, universities can foster a dynamic and student-centered educational environment that nurtures innovation, growth, and excellence in teaching and learning. It is essential to engage in an active debate about the assessment of educational quality and challenge the predominant reliance on quantitative evaluations such as SET. Recognizing the complexity of assessing teacher quality, we propose a paradigm shift towards valuing teacher agency in universities. By fostering a culture that empowers educators, promotes collaboration, and encourages continuous learning, we can unlock the potential for lasting educational reforms. Embracing teacher agency is crucial for assessing educators’ quality effectively. By involving educators in the assessment process and valuing their expertise, autonomy, and professional judgment, we can create a more meaningful evaluation system. Practically, this can be achieved through collaborative goal setting, self-reflection and self-assessment, peer observations and feedback, diverse assessment methods, and continuous professional development. By recognizing educators as professionals and empowering them to take an active role in their own assessment, we create a comprehensive and empowering process that benefits both educators and students. Embracing teacher agency thus not only benefits individual educators, but also fosters an educational environment characterized by its dynamic and student-centered nature. It promotes innovation, encourages growth and strives for excellence in both teaching and learning. And that’s what we call: good teaching!
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