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An Interview with Janie Feinberg and
Delia Stafford:

On-going research stresses that the single most important factor in the classroom is the quality of teacher

By Michael F. Shaughnessy, Senior Columnist EducationNews.org
Published 06/29/2008

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Dr. Shaughnessy is currently Professor in Educational Studies and is a Consulting Editor for Gifted Education International and Educational Psychology Review. In addition, he writes for www.EdNews.org and the International Journal of Theory and Research in Education. He has taught students with mental retardation, learning disabilities and gifted. He is on the Governor's Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council and the Gifted Education Advisory Board in New Mexico. He is also a school psychologist and conducts in-services and workshops on various topics.

View all articles by Michael F. Shaughnessy Senior Columnist EducationNews.org

Eastern New Mexico University
On-going research stresses that the single most important factor in the classroom is the quality of the teacher. Teachers being the most important variable, have a major impact on a student's success or their failure. Delia Stafford and Janie Feinberg have spent the majority of their professional lives ensuring that students get the best teachers.Ms. Stafford, president of the Haberman Educational Foundation, teaches research-based strategies to assist school districts identify teachers and principals of excellence. Ms. Feinberg, president of JP Associates,provides ongoing staff support in classrooms to assist teachers via her exemplary coaching strategies.In this interview, they respond to a number of questions about teacher quality, teacher evaluation and alternative certification.

  1. Your organizations share a common vision. You both deal with the issue of teacher quality. JP Associates and the Haberman Foundation are headed up by women who began their career in education as classroom teachers.Both have built individual organizations into businesses that now have national presence.What prompted each of you to leave the classroom and start your own groups?

    JF: Leaving the classroom was an extremely difficult decision for me and I thought about it for several years before I actually did it.I did not want to leave my children until someone quite wise said to me that I was only going to affect 30 children a year.If I left the classroom and started working with those teachers who taught those children, I could affect so many more lives.That was the deciding factor for me.

    I served as classroom teacher, reading consultant, teacher supervisor and the director of the first school based alternative certification /education program in the United States. I was introduced to Dr. Haberman via the Texas Education Agency leaders. He taught the state department school leaders and alternative certification directors how to conduct his interview for our teacher candidates. After time, more and more educators inquired about his interview, and asked about the training. It was apparent that his research was in such demand that in 1994, the Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc., was chartered in behalf of Dr. Haberman and his lifelong research of selecting star teachers. I was asked to be president of his foundation and I joyfully accepted the opportunity! The rest is history as the saying goes.
  1. Can each of you tell us a little about your organizations? What is your mission and what kind of service do you offer?

    JF: JP's mission has many different facets to it.Our top priority is professional development.The abundant research about the dramatic effect that the quality of the teacher has on student achievement dictates that JP trains our teachers to be of the highest quality.Teaching Reading Really is Rocket Science by Louisa Moats indicates just how complicated the reading process can be for our most challenged youngsters. JP's on-site, individualized side by side coaching process is unique and designed to accelerate behavior changes on the part of the teacher.JP also is adamant about the kind of instructional tool we implement in a district.We bring in only those SBRR programs that have extensive data as to how they have closed the achievement gap.

    The Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc., is a 501(c) 3, not-for-profit organization. Our vision and mission is providing America's children and youth the best possible teachers and administrators. We teach Dr. Haberman's research-based interviews to accomplish these goals. We provide free training and other services to school districts that have lost their accreditation, taken over by state departments, or schools with large numbers of children in poverty with limited resources. We also provide alternative certification scholarships to outstanding teachers coming through national programs, to list a few of our gifts.
  1. Let's take a closer look at the issue of teacher quality.Delia, why is the process of hiring/choosing new teachers such an important one?

    DS: We have learned from the Haberman research that the core beliefs of star teachers differs greatly from those who may not be suited to teach children, more specifically, the children and youth who live under resourced lives. We must select only those teachers who can relate to children. If teacher candidates can't do that, it doesn't matter how much content or pedagogy they bring to the table. Selecting individuals who can match the "star teacher" ideology is the number one goal when using the Haberman Star Teacher Selection Interview. Janie?

    The most significant factor affecting whether a child achieves in school or not is the quality of the teacher.Sanders and Rivers discovered that students matched in performance at the third grade were separated by more than 50 percentile points in comparable assessment by the end of the fifth grade as a direct result of the quality of teaching they received in intervening years. Children of poverty who have a poor teacher two years in a row never catch up. A poor teacher can doom a child for life.Our neediest of children deserve those teachers who have high expectations and intend to stay with our children on a long term basis.

    On the other hand, their results also showed that good teaching always produced student achievement gain and that when good teaching continued year after year the affects grew steadily. When good teaching followed ineffective teaching student achievement gain also increased, but not to the level it would have been if the teaching had been consistently good.
  1. What are some of the qualities each of you look for in a quality teacher?

    DS: We look for persistent problem solvers who know that good to great teaching is a matter of life and death for many students. Life and death fervently suggests that teachers must do everything possible to ensure children have an opportunity to learn and grow in their particular school environment. The teacher makes the difference! Most everyone would agree! Relating to the learner in a professional manner is paramount to the success of both the teacher and the students. The idea is this, "whatever it takes" there are no exceptions; none.

    : I totally agree with Delia about the essential qualities an effective teacher must have.High expectations; a sense of urgency that this is a life and death question as far as our kids are concerned; indepth knowledge of what the reading process demands and how to individualize based on children's needs are all qualities we look for.In addition, teachers, as with other professionals, need to be open to the concept of continual learning. Our most successful teachers are those that are open to training, mentoring and coaching. They understand that ongoing professional development is integral to their success and therefore to the success of their students.
  1. Question: Is simply making sure the right people are hired enough?
    What else needs to be done?

    DS: Understanding full well that a teaching certificate "doth not a teacher make," our Haberman Foundation trainers ask school leaders to, say no to nice people who do not possess the core beliefs that star teachers demonstrate in their classrooms every single day, especially if the candidate is not the right fit for their particular school.

    Perhaps the candidate could teach in another school or district.Children and youth are the victims who have no voice if we as professional educators make mistakes when hiring teachers.Further, I would add, star teachers are able to learn from on-going staff development provided by school districts. Getting the right people is what every business and industry in America establishes as their major goal. Schools should have the same mindset, especially since we are charged with shaping America's future while educating the masses!

    : Ensuring that high quality teachers make it to the classroom and, equally important, remain is a two-tier process: hiring and support. The Haberman Educational Foundation and JP Associates each address one of these tiers—Haberman the interviewing and hiring and JP the support.

    The right people hired is the beginning.Continuous professional development that focuses on the latest reading research is essential.Teachers need hands on professional development in the form of coaching so that they are actually taught how to teach reading to the many diverse learners teachers have in the classroom.Academic skills must be augmented by behavioral training so that teachers are aware of how to increase students' self image.
  1. What does each of you think is the most effective way of supporting a teacher? Why is good support important?

    JF: Without a doubt, ongoing professional development is the answer. Joyce and Showers' research clearly shows that unless that initial professional development is followed by a teacher being coached in their classroom while they are teaching their children, effective change in a teacher's ability to teach a new program will be minimal. For JP, the initial professional development which is so characteristic of many implementations as the sole form of professional development is not the kind of support that will make changes in the classroom.

    JP has, therefore, in our twenty years, perfected the coaching scenario where we accelerate the needed knowledge on the part of the teacher.In addition, our staff of School Improvement Specialists works with the administrator and teacher-leaders to form effective and productive leadership teams.Research shows that this form of school management is especially significant for our schools of poverty.

    I would agree with Janie that ongoing support in the classroom onsite is an essential element of a successful support system. I would also add that teacher support means different things to different educators.Supporting teachers can be done by listening to their concerns, developing teams, creating a common vision and then working with the teachers so that the children get the most benefit from the curriculum. Good principals do just that! Providing theory that can be put into practice for increasing learning is essential. JP Associates provide school districts with this very important skill set for teachers.
  1. How do you deal with an ineffective teacher or worse with a teacher that is harmful?

    JF: If a teacher is ineffective because of a lack of knowledge, then it is JP's responsibility to train that teacher.As long as a teacher has the desire to work to better themselves for their children; as long as they have high expectations and a respect for their students, JP will work tirelessly to perfect those teachers' skills.If, however, the teacher is harmful towards children; does not believe that what they do will make a difference in their childrens' lives; unless they have a sense of urgency for closing the achievement gap, these teachers have no business being in a classroom with children whose very life depends on what they learn in school.JP works closely with school administrators in the application of these strategies with the realization that the principal is the Instructional Leader of the school and along with their Leadership Team must take ownership of professional development of their teachers.

    If the harm is from poor teaching strategies or shortcomings in dealing with the emotional well being of a child, I would ask that the teacher be given an opportunity to explain the circumstances. Ask the teacher to talk about the students; explain his/her situation. Provide assistance such as the coaching from JP Associates.And if considered necessary, after discussion with the school leader, summarily removed an individual to prevent further damage to the students. However, this is not as simple as one would hope. It takes time and energy if a person is hired who cannot do the job! One more example of why research based hiring is imperative.
  1. If you could implement a process of hiring and professional development for schools what would it look like?

    DS: I can speak for hiring. We would always suggest teaching school leaders an interview to select their staff using research based instruments. Of course, for me, it would be the 50 years of research from Dr. Martin Haberman! When large numbers of school leaders in a single district are taught to use the Star Teacher/Principal Selection interviews, the culture of hiring in a particular district begins to change drastically. The research drives the hiring practices. Schools can be no better than the teachers and principals who are there to serve their clients; i.e. the clients are the children. We support the efforts of Janie Feinberg and her staff of exemplary coaches.

    : I would use the Haberman interview!
  1. I understand that both of you are founding members of a group called SAFE (Strategic Alliance for Education). Can you tell me something about it?

    DS: JP Associates, Haberman Foundation and Project ACHIEVE believe that by joining exemplary programs and proven practices such as those in this Strategic Alliance For Education (SAFE) we will have the power and means to provide school districts an avenue for major reform. This alliance has promise and will be providing valuable resources which can develop individuals who will make a difference for the children and youth of America. It is a new alliance with fresh ideas, readily available to the 15,000 districts serving millions of students.

    JF: JP has been a leading implementer of instructional programs that are supported by scientifically based research for over 20 years. Over those 20 years, we have consistently identified a variety of interconnected school needs—hiring practices, behavior, instructional, etc. We knew that we did not have all the answers, but that the answers were out there.The strategy is simple — identify service providers that base their approach on real research and data and invite them to be part of an alliance that could be easily accessed by schools.By creating such a network, schools can create an individualized action plan that addresses the specific needs of their schools. Just as important, they will be working with organizations that have a collaborative relationship so that the implementation of the different programs is seamless and without conflict.

    DS: People can learn more about the members of SAFE by visiting the individual websites:
    The Haberman Educational Foundation: http://www.habermanfoundation.org/
    JP Associates: http://www.jponline.com/
    Project ACHIEVE: http://www.projectachieve.info/

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