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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to find the best teacher in a school

With all the talk and attention given to teacher evaluation, I have a method for quickly determining teacher effectiveness. Here is how to do it:

• Wait until November. This gives teachers time to establish relationships with students and get routines and procedures in place.
• Take a look at the curriculum’s scope and sequence so you will have a good idea of what the class is learning.
• Make sure you have popped into the class even briefly several times just to make sure that the students know see you as a familiar face. This will make sure that they will not be distracted by your presence.
This is the most important step: GO on a day when the teacher is NOT there; when there is a substitute in charge. Observe how the class is acting.
• At random pick out a few students and quietly squat down next to them and ask them the following questions: What are you learning? How are you doing? How do you know how you are doing? How can you improve? Where can you go if you need help?
• Talk to the substitute teacher at end of the day to get her reaction to the class.
I know that this is different from what principals are being told to do which is to watch a teacher every move and “scoring” them for what they say or don’t say. I think that this type of approach is detrimental to professional learning because it creates a gotcha environment that will ultimately suppress risk taking and experimentation. This approach is designed to basically give the administrator what he or she needs to fulfill the mandates. (This will be another great example of people focusing on following procedure and ignoring learning-“the operation was a success but the patient died.”)
My approach focuses on the influence a teacher has on his/her students that goes beyond being physically present. I compare this to the experience we had when our children went off to college. We had no control over when they studied and meet any of their responsibilities. If they acted responsibly it had to come from within them-whatever internal values or beliefs that guided them were hopefully nurtured through their 18 years with my wife and me. Of course they knew they had us as resources but they also knew that asking for help and using resources was a good thing to do. The rules for college life are unwritten and vague at best, so our kids had to figure out how to make it work. I think that if we were too controlling, too rule focused while they were with us, that they would not had done as well as they did. I also think they knew that we trusted them and had confidence in them without having to have a guarantee that they would make no mistakes or be responsible all the time.
The best teachers need to follow the same trajectory as parents whose goal is to raise children who develop the internal compass and guide for owning their learning and working responsibly. The teachers who take this approach “invest time” building community in the classroom in way that the students know why they are there and how their own learning and the learning of their classmates are interconnected. These students are given choices when appropriate, are used to discussing ideas with their peers, and have opportunities to contribute to the common good of the room by having jobs to do in the room. This type of teacher prepares the students to welcome and support the substitute teacher. They have had the opportunity to think about how hard it is to be a substitute teacher and have had input into designing plans for helping the substitute. These students know that learning is not equated with doing what the teacher says but something that the teacher supports them in doing.
Here is chart delineating the control approach evident in behavioral models like PBIS and the influence approach evident in classrooms like I just described;
External: Requires adult presence
 Rule focused: Right is following rules                    

Dependent on rewards and consequences            

Goal is compliance                                               

Adults in policing role                                             

No room for error / consequences for mistakes
Trust not necessary                                                 

Short term, environmental dependent


Internal does not require adult presence

Relationship focused: based on responsibility to others

Dependent on values, relationships with adults and peers

Goal is responsibility

Adults model by example, talking and learning together

Recognizes that kids are works in progress-mistakes are part of learning

Trust emerges from relationships is critical for internalizing values

Has lasting impact beyond the present environment
The best teachers have the most influence on their students not the most control. The best teachers are the ones that make every student feel that he/she as a special relationship with them. The best teachers are remembered for their kindness and caring when kids had trouble or made mistakes. The best teachers model the importance of every student being valuable and contributing to the community. Substitute teachers for these types of teachers will talk about how helpful the students were and how they continued to learn the way they would when their regular teacher was there. I believe that every teacher can be this type of teacher; this type of classroom culture can happen in every classroom.
For education to move in this direction educators will need to reexamine their assumptions about students how they learn and what teaching and learning are really all about. Unfortunately, this direction is not the one that most schools are not heading in. Current policy, regulations and funding are not promoting this direction: they continue to just try to make the status quo work better without real change.

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