The spillover effect

Eric Ulas

Education Week features an insightful new study that finds excellent teachers tend to raise the performance of their peers.

We've known for a long time that great teachers matter hugely to student performance but showing a ???spillover effect' of teachers on other teachers has the potential to influence attitudes and practices in several important policy areas; primarily teacher merit pay and mentoring programs.

C. Kirabo Jackson, one of the study's authors noted:

If it's true that teachers are learning from their peers, and the effects are not small, then we want to make sure that any incentive system we put in place is going to be fostering that and not preventing it. If you give the reward at the individual level, all of a sudden my peers are no longer my colleagues-they're my competitors. If you give it at the school level, then you're going to foster feelings of team membership, and that increases the incentive to work together and help each other out.

A team-based performance incentive system is an intriguing idea that critics of individual merit-based pay might see as middle ground.

The results of this study can also be applied to teacher mentoring programs. Recent studies have shown that highly structured teacher mentoring programs have marginal effectiveness. But in seeing evidence that top-notch teachers affect peers, might it be possible that more informal mentoring programs would produce better results?

Having experienced a highly structured mentoring program in an urban school district myself, I can attest to informal mentors being more effective. Informal conversations with my peers were far more informative and time conscious than weekly two-hour group mentoring sessions. While the structured program was well intentioned, it consisted of large meetings that were not content area specific and dealt in generalizations. If I needed a practical tip on a particular issue, I sought out one of my more experienced colleagues. Our conversations were usually very short (often in passing) but they were always useful. Not to say that there isn't a place for some structure in mentoring programs, but hopefully the results of this study will help to ???personalize' these programs further. Many education policy researchers seem to be advocating for increased personalization in teaching practice, why not use the same principle when inducting teachers?

With the influence of excellent teachers empirically brought to the light, I hope that it can affect some sensible change on a larger scale.

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