How much influence do teachers have?

How much influence do teachers have?

I recently had a conversation with some teachers where the question was asked, “How much influence does a teacher really have on student achievement?” The answer may be a surprising one.

In my experience as a teacher and administrator, I’ve seen different levels of influence and varying degrees of success. These depend on a variety of factors. Recognizing them and understanding where to focus our energy and our limited time and resources can help us achieve the best possible results.

The fact is, in the lives of our students, the classroom teacher has a surprisingly high amount of influence. The only area where a teacher’s influence is limited is in the area of home atmosphere or the student’s home life.

There is also research to support this assertion and it can be found in What Works in Schools Translating Research into Action by Robert J. Marzano. After a thorough research review, Marzano outlines 14 factors affecting student achievement, which he then divides into three groups: school-level, teacher-level and student-level factors. School-level factors include a viable curriculum, challenging goals and effective feedback, parent and community involvement, a safe and orderly environment, and collegiality and professionalism. Teacher-level factors include instructional strategies, classroom management and classroom curriculum design. Student-level factors include home atmosphere, learned intelligence and background knowledge, and motivation.

Here in Regina Public Schools, factors at the school-level include division-led initiatives and curricular direction that comes from the Ministry of Education. Other factors include the level of school community council and parent involvement and the effectiveness of LIP goal setting. They may also be tied to provision of feedback to both students and teachers, and the opportunities for focused interaction and professional collaboration within the school.

Teacher-level factors are more directly controlled by teaching staff and rely on teacher experience, expertise, and lesson planning. These factors could include decisions about instructional strategies and classroom management. Teacher-level factors rely on the expertise of the individual teacher to tailor Ministry curriculum expectations into classroom-based instructional design that is appropriate for students in a particular classroom. Only a teacher, working with his/her colleagues can truly influence these factors. There is no cookie-cutter formula that will work in every classroom in every school across the province.

Student-level factors include what students bring into the classroom from home:  their overall knowledge and learned intelligence, their motivation and the atmosphere of their home. A classroom teacher has very little influence on home environment, but can influence learned intelligence and student motivation. That same teacher has limitless influence on what students take away from the classroom—their general knowledge, their self-concept, and their ability to absorb and synthesize new information.

So back to the original question:  how much influence does a teacher have on student achievement? Plenty! You have great power to make a difference in the learning and the lives of your students. You can make a difference at the school level by working with your colleagues and with administration. You can make an obvious difference in your classroom by your choices of teaching strategies. Ultimately, you can influence whether your students view themselves as learners or perceive that you expect them to succeed. THE POWER TO MOTIVATE, INSPIRE, AND SUPPORT STUDENTS IS YOURS ON A DAILY BASIS!

I certainly do not make the assumption that this is easy work. The most rewarding work is usually the most difficult. Classroom teachers have a myriad of expectations placed on them from administration, from the Ministry, from their principals, from parents/guardians, from students and even from their own families. You can’t do this alone, and there is no expectation that you should.

However, in working with your colleagues, principals and superintendents, as well as through some of the Results Teams that have been formed, the implicit expectation is that if we collaborate, if we share our expertise, and if we truly believe we can help all children, regardless of their starting point, we can make them and ourselves successful.

My respect for Regina Public Schools’ teachers, in particular, and the teaching profession, in general, has its roots in the understanding that we all need to have a sense of efficacy—that what we are doing can make a difference. When I look at Marzano’s work, I see 13 of 14 factors that teachers have the capacity to influence positively.

The power of a teacher may not always be obvious to the public and to those who entrust their children in our care, but I certainly appreciate and recognize your efforts and your influence. And although I can’t speak for all parents, I am quite certain that the majority of parents of both current and former students also appreciate the positive instructional and personal influence you have on each and every one of our students. On their behalf, I thank you for your efforts and invite you to continue to focus on those elements of life in school that you have the power to influence, as opposed to those you can’t.


Julie MacRae

Director of Education