On ‘expert’ vs ‘experienced’

A few months ago I came across a very short video in which education researcher and professor John Hattie explains the difference between ‘experienced’ teachers and ‘expert’ teachers. This interested me as I have often felt that many people assume that older teachers are more effective than either the first-year teachers or those in the beginning years of their career.

I thought to myself, is it really only age and time that impact the skill level of a teacher? Surely the longer you do something your skill level should improve, right? It turns out, Hattie explains, “Years of experience doesn’t cut it. It’s not enough.” Instead, Hattie suggests that “Expert teachers do differ from experienced teachers – particularly on the way they represent their classrooms, the degree of challenges that they present to students, and most critically, in the depth of processing that their students attain.”

Hattie has identified that it is not the number of years you have been teaching that makes you an ‘expert,’ but a set of identifiable traits that every teacher can aspire to, whether they are first-year teachers or in the later part of their career. Essentially, ‘experienced’ means time, not necessarily expertise.

According to Hattie’s report “Distinguishing Expert Teachers from Novice and Experienced Teachers,” expert teachers;

  • can identify essential representations of their subject,
  • can guide learning through classroom interactions,
  • can monitor learning and provide feedback,
  • can attend to affective attributes, and
  • can influence student outcomes

Within these five categories, 16 sub categories are outlined– not to provide a checklist, but more of a ‘profile’ of an expert teacher. Some highlights from these categories for me include;

  •  Expert teachers can anticipate, plan, and improvise as required by the situation
  • Expert teachers are skillful in keeping the lesson on track and accomplishing their objectives, while also allowing students’ questions and comments as springboards for discussions.
  • Expert teachers are more effective scanners of classroom behaviour, make greater references to the language of instruction and learning of students, whereas experienced teachers concentrate more on what the teacher is doing and saying to the class and novices concentrate more on student behaviour.
  • The picture drawn of experts is one of involvement and caring for the students, a willingness to be receptive to what the students need, not attempting to dominate the situation. Too often experienced teachers tended to create more physical and psychological distance between themselves and their students than do experts.
  • Expert teachers can easily describe mental plans for their lessons. These mental plans typically include a general sequence of lesson components and content, although they did not include details such as timing, or pacing the exact number of examples and problems. These aspects of instruction were determined during the class session on the basis of student questions and responses.

Hattie describes that for the expert teacher, “It wasn’t a smooth process and they were prepared to live with that; classrooms needed to be open to welcome error,” whereas “experienced teachers were much more concerned with running a smooth, orderly show.”

To create a mental image, I think of the difference between a barnacle and a sea anemone – one is closed and attached like glue to its orderly ways, while the other soaks up those vibrant and valuable learning moments that so often cannot be planned, and frequently involve error. Term 1 is in full swing and for me this has been timely reading. If you’re feeling a little stuck, dislodge yourself. It’s never too late and the rewards are evidently profound.

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sea anemone

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2 thoughts on “On ‘expert’ vs ‘experienced’

  1. Interesting post. Sadly, I think everyone has had a barnacle before, if not many times. Sea anemones are much more rare, do you agree? Do you think that to be an expert that it requires talent and an innate ability, or how would a teacher develop those skills? Is there a way you would describe teachers who possess a combination of experience and expertise??

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    1. Thanks for the comment Mara! I think that all barnacles have the ability to pry themselves off (so to speak!) with sufficient mentoring, observation and reflection. Hattie’s guiding principles provide an excellent resource for all teachers, experts or not, to evaluate their own practice. I would guess that for all teachers the goal is to have ample experience and increasing expertise. A great balance!

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