Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Research for Better Teaching Continues....

I LOVE engaging in ongoing dialogue with fellow teachers. One of my favorite graduate classes from Harvard, T440: Learning and Teaching with my advisor, Professor Eleanor Duckworth, continues to have an email listserv that alumni regularly post to. I would like to share with you a series of recent posts about the Research for Better Teaching initiative in Acton, MA and the New York Times article I blogged about last week. 

I know these thoughts got the wheels turning in my brain, and I hope they do for you too!

Posting 1:

Hi folks,

We came across the Skilful Teacher from the Research for Better Teaching based in Action, MA. My district is keen to adopt this for our teaching framework.  have you come across schools or districts in the US or outside that are using the Skilful Teacher on a system-wide approach? Thanks.

Posting 2:

Stoughton High School distributes it (as well as the Wong's excellent "First Days of School" which many, myself included, view as a bible of practical advice) to all faculty. "The Skillful Teacher", in particular some of its charts, is referred to during year 1-2 mentoring meetings but not much integrated otherwise. During one casual lunchroom discussion, the book chanced to came up and I recall teachers both new and old disparaging it. I didn't feel that way (I'm a bookaholic). The issue as I see it is that you can't really learn to teach from a book. Teaching is a craft, observing practitioners, having time to talk with them about what they do, and one's practice especially in the presence of skilled mentors who can offer productive feedback (scarce indeed), is what really develops a skillful teacher.

Posting 3:

Along those lines, I just read an article from the NY Times, "Building a Better Teacher" that I think is quite interesting and worth the read. Teachers (new and old) might find Lemov's 49 techniques very helpful to develop and hone their teaching skills. Lemov also offers workshops on these techniques in the Boston area for those who prefer to see the techniques in action.

Posting 4:

I'm glad you brought up this article, because I would love to hear people's thoughts on it. On one hand, I agree that there are specific things new teachers can do that would enhance their ability to "manage" a class. I also appreciate the debunking of the myth that "those who can't, teach" implicit in the acknowledgment of the difference between content knowledge and content knowledge for teaching.  I also appreciate the attention given to the fact that teachers are taught and mentored, not born or "built" as in the article's title.  There's also acknowledgment of the implementation gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do.

However, I worry that the focus on raising test scores as a measure of teacher excellence overshadows other important goals of education, like fostering a love of learning and intrinsic motivation.  I'm also unconvinced that these strategies work for all students and in diverse classrooms.

Posting 5:

Hi all,

I recently looked that The Skillful Teacher and The NY Times article as part of an alternative urban teacher preparation program I am helping to develop. I think the points Bonnie outlines are critical. Raising student test scores seems a punitive rather than constructive approach to changing the focus from teaching to learning. I believe that a teachers should be taught to look for and to understand all the ways in in which student understandings should shape their teaching. I think teacher preparation needs to leave behind  "I taught it, they don't know it, I'll have to re-teach it" (we could have another discussion on what on earth re-teaching means) and become "What are all the ways I can help expand student understanding?" I think it is important to teach teachers how to assess student understanding - not for the purpose of grading, but for the purpose of gathering information to inform their teaching.  So my question  is, will it help teachers if we hold them "accountable" through a VARIETY of student learning assessments IF the point of those assessments is to provide appropriate intervention and support for the teacher? Is it possible to develop an accountability system that automatically feeds back to support structures for teachers such as opportunities that provide time to collaborate and to look at student work together? If there were regular LASW Rounds (ALA Steve Siedel) the schools would be a place that nurtured and empowered rather than criticized and immobilized teachers. IF the $ and the politics are after accountability - can we create the right types of accountability?

Posting 6:

Hello everyone,

I also read the NYST article with interest and, like Bonnie, thought there was much of use there.

I am glad to hear you voice these your thoughts, Susan. I have to admit to a little bit of frustration -- not with your remarks, but with what I think some of us on the left, educationally speaking, have to say about testing. Yes, if it is the ONLY measure of learning, and done only at the end of things, it is misleading and unfair and relatively useless when it comes to knowing about students' learning. BUT, if it is one of MANY measures, and is used as a means of ongoing assessment rather than, God forbid, teacher pay or rating of neighborhood values, then we can get some value from tests as A source of data that is useful if not definitive. Accompanied by other more reflective efforts (e.g. Carini's descriptive reviews of children and reviews of children's work, Collaborative Assessment, descriptive feedback with students, etc) then we might actually find ways of getting what we value funded by the government, out in the public domain and (could it happen?) valued by the powers that be.

Posting 7:

Nice dialogue and so much value in it.

I read the article right after I had heard Arne Duncan speak at Harvard.The hot-button" issue at his lecture
was teacher accountability. Specifically, thtension surrounded the government's initiative, "Race to the Top" and making schools compete for federal dollars. My big take-away from both is that student test scores are never, ever the only benchmark for teacher effectiveness, but they are certainly an indicator to be considered among other factors, especially when there is chronic low performance across the board.

I work in an urban public high school where low test scores are common and
student engagement and rigor are constantly strived for-less often attained. Teachers "freak" about being held accountable for all the contexts that influence student assessment:  no parent involvement, poverty, homelessness, drugs/alcohol, emotional and behavioral disorders, learning disabilities with no support, the list goes on and on.  I'm a new teacher, but I see those that work so hard to make even incremental difference and I see those that, quite honestly, use the aforementioned contexts to excuse their own rigor.

I feel the ultimate assessment of teacher effectiveness and student achievement is going to be data-driven, so it will be important for teachers to have a voice at the table to determine how we can collect data from the many types of assessment we know demonstrate the value of what we do.

Posting 8:

I am so pleased to see all the discussion here and elsewhere about teachers' views on teaching and teacher excellence and school reform and accountability, and I wish we could all be in the same conversation!  Right now in my inbox I have messages from two facebook groups devoted to this discussion, Teachers Letters to Obama and Rethink Learning Now, as well as several from T440.  We could have so much more power and so much more interesting a discussion if we all linked together!  So I am recommending that people join those two groups on FB and any others you want to recommend, and cross post anything that seems intriguing so we share and spread the word.

No comments:

Post a Comment