In Pursuit of Growing Competence

By Dave Pattison

Dave has been an associate pastor, an elementary and secondary teacher in US public schools and TCK schools overseas, a counselor, principal, assistant superintendent, and dorm parent. He and his wife Jane joined SIL in 1991 and have served in Indonesia, the Philippines, and other places in Asia. Dave has earned an MA in school administration and a doctorate in character education.

It was about 15 years ago that John Hattie* was publishing his team’s findings regarding the immense difference that teachers make in student learning. Well-designed school buildings, challenging and accessible curriculum, plentiful resources and technology all support student learning, but none of these have a greater influence on student learning outcomes than competent teachers.

While graduating with a teaching degree and earning a credential is a good start, becoming an increasingly competent teacher is a career-long endeavor. In our continuing quest to improve our craft as educators, I would propose five areas of competence in which we should focus our growth efforts: content knowledge, understanding our students, instructional methodology, emotional intelligence, and “applied Scripture.”

Content Knowledge

Research shows that a teacher’s content knowledge has more effect on student learning than a teacher’s knowledge of pedagogy.

The first and most important necessity is the teacher’s knowledge and deep understanding of what he or she is teaching. Research shows that a teacher’s content knowledge has more effect on student learning than a teacher’s knowledge of pedagogy. I can remember the first year I taught high school biology and struggled to explain the Krebs cycle. The high school textbook had taken a very complex biochemical process and simplified it for the students, but it had to leave out a lot of information. Since I didn’t remember or know the details, my attempts to answer my students’ questions only caused them greater confusion and mounting frustration. Those students deserved better. Before I taught that chapter the next year, I got a college biology textbook and taught myself the ins and outs of the Krebs cycle. The resulting difference in student understanding was amazing and reminded me that I need to know what I teach far better than my expectations of my students’ knowledge.

As teachers, we have an obligation to stay current in our field. The scope of change will vary by discipline; K-12 math would be on one end of the spectrum, while science and technology are on the other end. New literature is being added to the old standards taught in language arts, there are new ideas about fitness and training in physical education, and occasionally new findings are filling in gaps of history. Additionally, it is common in MK schools for teachers to be tapped to teach courses out of their discipline as colleagues go on furlough every 2-5 years.

So what are some resources for staying current and going deeper? Here are some ideas:

Certainly there are other options available for building your teaching knowledge. The students deserve your growing expertise in the subject matter. And as Proverbs 25:2 tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and it is the glory of a king to search out a matter.” So live like a king and learn.

* Hattie, J.A.C. (2003, October). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Building Teacher Quality: What does the research tell us. ACER Research Conference, Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved from