Experts: Teachers need to feel empowered to be effective

By Melissa Eichman, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, April 14, 2016, 5:06 PM EDT

The Pinellas County School District is trying to turn around five failing elementary schools.

One often-made recommendation has been for the county to recruit and retain highly effective teachers. But what kind of teacher does it take to succeed in an under-performing classroom?

  • Need highly rated veteran teachers
  • Also need teachers who can focus on child's strengths
  • Focus on social emotional learning

Dr. Tony Erben, Department of Education Chair at the University of Tampa, says it takes a highly rated veteran teacher.

"Those teachers have been rated in a whole range of different performance areas," said Dr. Erben. "Everywhere from how they manage class to how they plan for instruction to how they even engage with the wider profession and with parents to make that child successful in the classroom.”

Erben also says it takes a teacher who has already worked in classrooms filled with children from low socioeconomic areas, or those who are at risk.

USF Assistant Professor Dr. Rebecca Burns says a successful teacher focuses on a child’s strengths.

"It’s a teacher who can understand the strengths the child brings to the classroom and say, 'how can I meet with that child, work with that child and then help them move forward in their education?'" said Burns.

USF offers education students an urban teaching residency program, to help prepare educators for any challenge they may face in the field from the beginning of their teaching career.

"The students are in the classroom almost 2,000 hours by the time they graduate, so they spend an extensive amount of time working in schools elbow to elbow with their collaborating teacher," said Dr. Burns.

Erben says it’s important established teachers get the opportunity to develop professionally, and encourages training teachers to help the whole child.

"Social emotional learning is about helping a child grow in terms of their social competence, their emotional competence and what that means is helping them deal with all the curve balls that life throws at them in a mature way," said Dr. Erben.

Both experts agree teachers need to feel empowered to do their jobs and say support from their school and district is important.

"We need to find ways to empower teachers to recognize that they are hardworking," said Burns, "that they want to be there, they have knowledge, skills and dispositions and [figure out] how do we harness that to help them grow."