Episode 30 - An Interdisciplinary Approach to Teacher Growth with Matthew Kraft, PhD

Episode Summary

How can an interdisciplinary research approach inform our understanding of the systems of education? This month’s guest, Matthew Kraft, PhD, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University, offers a research-based commentary of the macro-level trends in education that particularly impact large urban settings, including teacher growth and well-being, the role of school climate and context, and instructional coaching. Applying his expertise in various interdisciplinary research designs across urban settings, Dr. Kraft suggests innovative methods to repurpose resources and reform school systems for the benefit of all teachers and learners. The insights in this episode are intended to engage the listener to critically think about scalable and sustainable education solutions across broad education systems.

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.” 

1. Defining teacher effectiveness and teacher growth

Teacher effectiveness and growth is dynamic and complex, and changes over time.

"I am humbled by the work that teachers are doing in classrooms across the U.S. and even more so in the wake of all the challenges that have washed ashore in our classrooms during the COVID pandemic. We need to recognize that there’s no uniform, narrow definition of what is effective teaching or not… but we can all agree that we aspire to continue to improve the instruction that we deliver in classrooms across the country."

Dr. Kraft’s research has reconceptualized, “How effective is a teacher?” to:

  • In what ways is a teacher effective?
  • What skills and resources are needed for a teacher to become more effective?

Watch Dr. Kraft comment on these questions at the 2017 Educator’s Summit hosted by Character Lab.

2. Relationships and school context matter.

Various studies conducted by Dr. Kraft and colleagues seek to explain: “In what ways does the school climate and context promote or undermine teacher effectiveness, well-being, and growth?

"In the research, you see that teachers who are in more supportive schools, improve their practice and their contributions to student learning faster and longer over their careers."

Teacher quality and well-being vary within and across school contexts. Studies show that teacher effectiveness and well-being are influenced by the quality of their professional environment and school climate. These factors include:

  • Norms on behavior and discipline
  • Collective responsibility toward growth and continuous improvement
  • Supportive school leadership
  • Collegial trust and respect
  • Strong learning environments
  • Open feedback loops

"How does the school in which teachers work influence what’s possible for them? We know from both student and teacher survey data that working conditions vary dramatically across schools… [especially] the interpersonal elements, like the aspects of relational trust and cooperation, a collective effort toward improvement, and a culture of open-door policies. When you measure these elements across different schools, you end up finding that it’s those interpersonal elements that appear to be most related to teachers’ performance and students’ improvement."

Read more about the influence of the quality of relationships and school climate on teachers:

3. The successes, potential, and challenges of instructional coaching

On average, instructional coaching has shown promise as an effective professional development intervention to support teachers.

"In the case of coaching, my coauthors and I reviewed a body of literature that was narrowly defined as causal research designs. What we found was coaching, on average, improved student achievement to a degree that was rarely seen in education, writ large interventions."

Questions and challenges continue to exist that impact sustainability and scalability including:

  • Operationalization of coaching roles and responsibilities
  • Financial and structural resources
  • School climate and leadership

Read more about the successes and challenges of coaching models:

"We know that we need to do things better. We need to do things differently."


From Host Danielle Scorrano:

I enjoyed engaging with Dr. Kraft during this episode, especially as his insights provided opportunities for me to think critically about our education system at large and pose further questions for my own curiosity such as:

  • How should we define and operationalize teacher growth within a school system?
  • What do we need in our contexts to better serve our teachers and our kids?
  • How should we look to invest in learning opportunities?
  • How do we engage in a distributed leadership model to maximize expertise?
  • What resources do we have within the system and how can we overcome these barriers to learning?

"What is the system and culture of education we want to create to ensure that all teachers learn, feel valued, and experience continuous growth and mastery, so that all students can learn, feel valued, and reach the maximum of their potential?"

The bottom line: Investment in teacher growth involves the integrated approach to their well-being, learning, and agency.

It is the responsibility of the system and its leaders to define and guide this goal through a supportive, collaborative school climate and professional learning and for all teachers to become the best they can be throughout every stage of their career.

What does a supportive school climate look like? Professional development, a pillar of The Windward Institute, serves as a key vehicle to enact the research and practice, grounded in research. Some fundamental characteristics of effective PD include:

1. Multiple, varied learning opportunities
2. Clear connection between the presentation of research and theory and applicable classroom practice
3. Teaching and modeling from expert faculty across multiple disciplines in education and child development
4. Opportunities for practice and collaboration

Learn more about systemic implications of professional development for reading teachers in the latest articles in The Beacon: 


Connect with Dr. Kraft on Twitter     Read more about Dr. Kraft’s work

Or, download READ Podcast using your favorite podcast platform with direct links below:

TIP: In your podcast player, search for 'READ: The Research Education and ADvocacy podcast.' The show may not appear if you only type in READ.

Sign up for early access to each month's podcast!

Stay connected to future episode launches of READ podcast.

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: The Windward School, 40 West Red Oak Lane, White Plains, NY, 10605, US, http://www.thewindwardschool.org . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact.


READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.