Are teachers’ relational skills a key leverage for their effectiveness? Results from a large scale randomized controlled trial?
(G. Argentin, G. Assirelli, T. Gerosa e M. Moscatelli)
International comparisons show that an effective school system is a powerful tool for human capital formation and for contrasting social inequalities. Researchers widely agree that the quality of the teaching force is one of the key factors explaining the success of educational systems. Literature shows, indeed, that a crucial role in determining student achievement is played by teachers. However, the sources of this effect aren’t clearly explained and teachers’ characteristics linked to effectiveness have still to be identified. As a consequence, teacher quality remains mainly a black box, making it hard to design policies in order to increase it.
The aim of this project is to test in a rigorous way whether teachers’ relational skills play a role in defining their effectiveness and whether it is possible to increase this kind of skills through large scale interventions. This approach has not been developed and rigorously tested before mainly because of the disciplinary boundaries among economics, sociology and pedagogy. Our aim was to pull together these three disciplinary perspectives, trying to obtain a measurable improvement in teacher quality, as measured by educational economists, manipulating it from a sociological/pedagogical perspective.
We developed a light-touch self-training intervention focused on the improvement of relational skills and addressed to lower secondary school teachers in Italian schools. The intervention took the form of a brief booklet and short online videos dealing with several relational issues that teachers are called to face every day at school. In particular, it provides a set of practical tips to better manage the relationships with colleagues, students and parents. In line with an action-research analytical framework, teachers have been asked to apply the tips and return feedbacks on online diaries on their efficacy for the entire course of the school year.
The adoption of an experimental setting allowed us to estimate the impact of the intervention, on both teachers’ and students’ attitudes and on students’ achievement. We designed a cluster randomized controlled trial, which involved almost 198 lower secondary schools, located in eleven Italian provinces (four in the North-West, two in the North-East, three in the Centre and two in the South of Italy). The schools have been randomly assigned to the control or to the treatment group: teachers from the latter received the intervention in the school year 2016/2017. To assess the impact of our intervention we relied on three data sources:
– Data collected among 2300 teachers before and after the intervention (i.e. CATI at the beginning and at the end of the school year)
– Data collected among more than 23,000 7th graders after the intervention
– INVALSI data (still ongoing).
We found that the intervention was effective in producing a statistically significant impact on teachers’ self-efficacy, which is indeed a relevant predictor of students’ achievement. Moreover, preliminary results show that our treatment improved also students’ interest and achievement in the main subjects (Italian and mathematics). Overall, results suggest that teachers’ relational skills are a relevant leverage for teachers’ effectiveness and that also light-touch interventions may produce relevant impacts.