A crisis-level shortage of qualified maths teachers, students’ shrinking confidence and interest in maths, and the growing importance of maths skills to the economy (AMSI 2019) mean that more than ever, Australia needs to identify characteristics of top teachers to build and share maths teaching expertise. 

New research by Pivot Professional Learning, in association with the Australia Association of Mathematics Teachers, responds to this vital need of sharing what makes a great maths teacher. 

The 2019 study involved 986 teachers from all states, territories and school sectors, as well as thousands of their students. The study – by Dr Bronwyn Hinz, Dr Lyndon Walker and MIke WItter (PhD Candidate and Director of Curriculum at Teach for Australia) – asked teachers about their qualifications and certifications, professional learning and teaching beliefs, and asked students about the learning they experienced, and followed up with a series of qualitative interviews to explore patterns and gain deeper insight. This was the first study to link these three key data sets together.

The study found that:

  • Excellent maths teachers can be early or advanced in their teaching careers, male or female, and possess a variety of qualifications, from a primary teaching degree with specialist post-graduate or bridging qualifications in maths, to PhDs. 
  • Maths-specific professional learning and courses enhance teachers’ confidence but don’t always correlate with higher student learning experiences. This suggests PL is not always relevant to teachers’ or students’ needs and priorities, and that teachers need more time to embed, refine and share their PL lessons.
  • Strong connections with students are a critical foundation for effective teaching practices and positive student learning and maths engagement. This connection involves mutual respect, high expectations and knowing how to stretch and support each student.
  •  Mathematics expertise (deep mathematical content knowledge) and teaching expertise (deep pedagogical knowledge) are different skills and that excellent maths teaching requires both. 

Duncan Rayner, Chief Executive of the AAMT, described the research as “highly informative” with “strong implications for teacher training and ongoing professional development.”

Lead author and Director of Research at Pivot Dr Bronwyn Hinz said “Australia has many excellent maths teachers. It is imperative that we learn from our top teachers, and listen to our students, if we are to build and spread maths excellence across all schools in Australia.”

For media comment please contact Dr Bronwyn Hinz: 0402 077 976 bronwyn@pivotpl.com 

You can read the paper here. You can also join our webinar on Tuesday November 26th you can register here.