Want to raise the quality of teaching? - Start with Strategic Teaching

Want to raise the quality of teaching? - Start with Strategic Teaching

Quality of teaching is the primary factor that decides the effectiveness of any higher education system in the world. However, fostering quality in teaching is becoming one of the greatest challenges faced by academia today. Ability to raise the quality of education by raising the expertise of teachers seems to be the most strenuous task.

There is one factor that’s absolutely in the hands of educational institutions, which is the “Quality of teachers”. It is profoundly true that “quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”. But, the unfortunate reality is “there has been a considerable decline in the quality of teaching in recent years”. Primary reason for this decline is high performing students both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels move into industry, while graduates with lower levels of interest and passion for teaching ends up into academia as teachers.

More importantly, there is no systematic training or orientation in place to equip these young and fresh graduates with necessary teaching-learning tools and techniques before they end up inside classrooms as teachers. Lack of structured faculty training programs across the system is a major reason for lack of improvement in education quality.

So, the only way to improve education quality is by improving teacher quality. One of the definite ways to raise the quality of teaching is by embracing “Strategic Teaching” which is a form of “teaching excellence” framework.

What is Strategic Teaching?

Strategic Teaching is a plan of action for making fundamental decisions about a topic, a chapter, a subject or even an entire curriculum while considering various important factors involved in teaching. Once these key factors are identified and understood, well-informed long-term decisions could be made about the course content, teaching methods, assessments and other important components of teaching and learning. 

As an instructor one needs to make certain important decisions about the course contents, teaching methods, assessment tools etc. More often those decisions are not done with long-term strategic perspective instead are based on previous experiences or short term results. Hence adhering to strategic teaching will ensure that the teacher is considering all the key factors of teaching-learning before deciding on the course one is going to teach.

Why Strategic Teaching?

Research has proven that classroom instruction has the most lasting impact on student learning than any other factor. The single greatest factor that affects the student achievement is classroom instruction which contributes to the quality of teaching. Obviously it makes sense for a teacher to be more thoughtful and effective in designing and delivering their lectures that raises teaching quality. Therefore, analysing all the key factors related to teaching-learning and making choices based on that analysis will likely increase the possibilities of meeting learning objectives.

Strategic teaching is delivering a “teaching excellence” framework that will enable the teachers to consider, analyse all those key factors and help make decisions accordingly to raise the quality of teaching.

Strategic Teaching – how does it work?

Strategic teaching framework (Fig.1) fundamentally considers six important factors that greatly influence the teaching-learning process.

Those six critical factors to be analysed in strategic teaching framework are:

  1. Levels of Learning
  2. Learning Objectives
  3. Levels of Engagement
  4. Learner Characteristics
  5. Teacher Characteristics
  6. Teaching Methods

                                                                               Sivakumar Palaniappan’s Strategic Teaching Framework

These factors of strategic teaching are closely interrelated and therefore likely to influence each other strongly. Each of these six key factors should be discussed in length and detail. However, in this article let’s look at them briefly.

Levels of Learning:

Any teaching process should enable learning and one of the simple ways to measure learning outcomes is to measure the levels of learning. Each level of learning helps us understand at what levels of knowledge and skills have the learner acquired as part of the teaching-learning process. Bloom’s taxonomy best explains this with its six learning levels starting from lower order to higher order skills.

Specific learning levels according the new revised Bloom’s Taxonomy by Loring Anderson are given below from lower to higher in order.

  • Remembering
  • Understanding
  • Applying
  • Analysing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating

Learning Objectives:

Learning objectives here in strategic teaching framework not only looks at what students are expected to learn, but also at the overall expected outcomes by end of the chapter, course, or degree. It is the list of tangible outcomes intended for students participating in the course. Learning objectives should be measurable ability that a student should be expected to demonstrate as a result of that learning process. For example: ability to solve a problem or do a project or clear an exam or get an employment etc.

Levels of Engagement:

Level of engagement is all about creating learning environments that are conducive for raising the quality of teaching and learning. It’s about bringing favourable situations for both the learner and the teacher to jointly improve the quality of education. The necessary pioneer to high levels of educational achievement is student’s deep engagement in learning, and the teacher’s own engagement is the key to achieving that.

When a teacher is not engaged passionately with the course, students and institution then there is hardly any possibility of higher influence in the quality of education. Creating emotionally and intellectually safe learning environment should be primary responsibility of the teacher before even starting to teach.

Learner Characteristics:

Characteristics of learners could highly influence the effectiveness and appropriateness of all the other efforts taken in improving quality of education. Some of the intellectual and emotional qualities of the learners will surely decide the success or failure of the teaching-learning process. This is largely based on the school education, parenting, social upbringing, personal motivation and intelligence etc.

However, there could be diverse set of students with varied learner characteristics which makes the life of a teacher even more difficult. Learning characteristics could also vary based on age, cognitive ability, interest, etc. Learner characteristics could also be categorised based on the way they learn, understand and assimilate.

Teacher Characteristics:

Teacher characteristics largely depend on the individual abilities and qualities of a teacher. Highly effective teachers tend to demonstrate certain qualities while the ineffective teachers lack in them. Great teachers constantly strive to improve themselves in terms of subject knowledge, teaching methods and engaging with their learners.

Quality of any teacher starts with the levels of domain knowledge or subject matter expertise. Levels of expertise on the subject or course they teach will determine the fundamental characteristic of a teacher. Then comes, the communication skills and ability to connect deeply with the learners to influence and improve quality of education. Dynamism, enthusiasm, research focused attitude, genuine care for the learners are some of the other characteristics, which are equally important to be great teachers.

Teaching Methods:

Teaching methods is all about principles and practices used for instruction to achieve desired learning outcomes in learners, i.e. pedagogy. Basic objective of understanding teaching methods is to implement variety of teaching methods and techniques that will enhance the teaching-learning process. With the considerable decline in the attention span of today’s learners, it is more and more important that teachers use variety of teaching techniques in order to meet the learning requirements.

Commonly used teaching method in academia is lecturing. Lectures continue to be one of the most commonly used teaching methods in higher education. Lecturing that used to be effective earlier is no more and has become highly ineffective with the new age learners who are technology savvy.

However, today’s teachers are under tremendous force to move beyond lecturing to use some of the interactive and interesting teaching methods like Demonstrating, Role Playing, Flip Classroom, Active learning, Group Discussions, Brainstorming, Case Based Teaching, Storytelling etc.

Strategic teaching - the way forward:

With lots of changes in today’s learning objectives and learner characteristics, it’s critically important for a teacher to understand this strategic teaching framework. By understanding these six key influencing factors, a teacher should be able to take long-term strategic decisions with the aim of improving education quality. Analysing all these six factors beforehand and taking appropriate actions should improve the teaching-learning process and hence enhance the quality of education.

“A good teacher must know how to arouse the interest of the pupil in the field of study for which he is responsible. He must himself be a master in the field of study and be in touch with the latest developments in the subjects, he must himself be a fellow traveler in the exciting pursuit of knowledge”, said Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

It is imperative that “teacher quality improvement” is a low hanging fruit that is quite easily doable which also will give quick results in the pursuit of improving quality of education. Therefore, if you want to raise the quality of teaching in your institution, Strategic Teaching is the best way forward.

About the Author

Sivakumar Palaniappan is a Leadership Mindset Strategist, Keynote Speaker, Author, Storyteller, Expert Consultant and Coach on Mindset Strategies.

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