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The Best Teacher in You: How to Accelerate Learning and Change Lives

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What does teaching look like at its very best? How are great teachers able to ignite a love of learning and change students’ lives? In this book you’ll learn from seven remarkable teachers who stretch beyond the conventional foundations of good teaching to transform their classrooms into exciting, dynamic places where teachers and students cocreate the learning experience. Based on six years of extensive work, the book outlines a framework that identifies four dimensions of effective teaching and learning that are integrated in these highly effective teachers’ classrooms—and that all teachers can use to recognize and release the potential in themselves and their students.

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Introduction: Learning from Highly Effective Teachers

ePub

Learning from Highly Effective Teachers

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essays: First Series

IN MOST SYSTEMS THERE ARE ONE OR MORE POSITIVE OUTLIERS—PEOPLE who are subject to the same constraints as others but who exceed expectations. This means that they, in some way, think and behave differently. Their thinking is somehow more complex than conventional thinking, their behavior is somehow more adaptive than conventional behaviors, and their outcomes are more generative than conventional outcomes. Some of these people work in our public schools. They are highly effective teachers who accelerate learning and change lives.

In recent years our education system has been under great pressure. There have been calls for expanded accountability, particularly through standardized testing and more-rigorous teacher evaluation processes. Attention has been turned to the use of value-added scores to assess how much student progress a given teacher stimulates. These scores have been at the center of much controversy. In this book we use them in a different way.

 

Chapter 1: Becoming the Best Teacher in You: A Process, Not a Destination

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Becoming the Best Teacher in You: A Process, Not a Destination

No punishment anyone lays on you could possibly be worse than the punishment you lay on yourself by conspiring in your own diminishment. With that insight comes the ability to open cell doors that were never locked in the first place.

—Parker Palmer         
The Courage to Teach

IN OUR INTERVIEW WITH KELLI, A VETERAN TEACHER WITH 24 YEARS of experience, she told us about her goal of “reaching every student.” While this sentiment is laudable, it also sounded unrealistic, so one of our interviewers decided to push back. He took on the persona of a skeptical colleague and argued that it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that a teacher can be successful with every child. Kelli quickly got into the role-play, becoming more passionate as she spoke. She confronted the interviewer: “Why do you have such a negative outlook? It is about you and your expectations for them. You have lowered your expectations. You have given up hope in those kids. What did you think your job was in the first place? It is not about teaching math. It is about getting them to want to learn.”

 

Chapter 2: Embracing Connections: Integrating Essential Elements

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Embracing Connections: Integrating Essential Elements

Paradoxical thinking requires that we embrace a view of the world in which opposites are joined, so that we can see the world clearly and see it whole. Such a view is characterized by neither flinty-eyed realism nor dewy-eyed romanticism but rather by a creative synthesis of the two …. The result is a world more complex and confusing than the one made simple by either-or thought—but simplicity is merely the dullness of death. When we think things together, we reclaim the life force in the world, in our students, in ourselves.

—Parker Palmer             
The Courage to Teach

DIANA IS AN EIGHTH-GRADE SCIENCE TEACHER IN A RURAL SCHOOL district. She has been teaching for more than 25 years. From the moment our interview started, we knew that we were encountering someone who “thinks things together.” In our interview Diana used the word connection over and over. She believes that making new connections between ideas has many important payoffs. She told us it provides a sense of control over your life, a sense of peace within yourself, and a sense of life satisfaction.

 

Chapter 3: Opening the Mind: Embracing Deep Change

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Opening the Mind: Embracing Deep Change

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.

—Alan Alda                       
Commencement speech at
Connecticut College, 1980

AARON HAS BEEN A TEACHER FOR 15 YEARS AND NOW TEACHES JUNIOR high math. What he loves most about his profession is interacting with kids. He seeks to draw out their enthusiasm and give them a vision of entering into a math occupation when they grow up. He uses that vision to draw his students into the world of mathematics:

As we enter a much more competitive global marketplace, there are a lot of students overseas who are willing to do a lot more work for a lot less money. What is going to separate my students from those other students? What is going to get my students careers and the ability to support their family and to contribute to society? It all rests on what happens in my 42 minutes …. So [I] come in, do the best [I] can, and [I] hope it’s enough, and if it’s not, [I] look for ways to get better.

 

Chapter 4: Opening the Heart: Enhancing Relationships

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Opening the Heart: Enhancing Relationships

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.

—Carl Jung            
The Gifted Child

SARAH IS A HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER. SHE HAS SEVEN YEARS of experience, yet she speaks with the wisdom of someone who has been teaching for 30. Since the beginning of her career, she has taught in a large urban district. She knows her content well but, as Jung suggests in the epigraph, her content is just the “necessary raw material.” It is an excuse to form relationships that grow children. She is particularly aware of the students who have been damaged by life.

In speaking about her practice, Sarah often uses the word mediation. She sees herself as a facilitator and a catalyst, someone who, like Diana, makes connections so that new things happen. Her most immediate concern is how to negotiate the rift between the content she must teach and the real-life experiences of her students.

 

Chapter 5: Empowering the Soul: Developing Yourself

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Empowering the Soul: Developing Yourself

Educational institutions are full of divisive structures, of course, but blaming them for our brokenness perpetuates the myth that the outer world is more powerful than the inner. The external structures of education would not have the power to divide us as deeply as they do if they were not rooted in one of the most compelling features of our inner landscape—fear …. Fear is what distances us from our colleagues, our students, our subjects, ourselves. Fear shuts down those “experiments with truth” that allow us to weave a wider web of connectedness—and thus shuts down our own capacity to teach as well.

—Parker Palmer            
The Courage to Teach

LAURIE IS A HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER WITH 18 YEARS OF experience. She began her career in a rural community and now teaches in a suburban school district. In many ways she personifies the epigraph by Palmer. She does not give away her power. She is not divided from her subject, her students, or herself. And her focus is on the relationship between teaching and learning and on weaving “a wider web of connectedness.”1

 

Chapter 6: Empowering Others: Teaching That Transforms

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And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson
A Return to Love       

VICKI IS A VETERAN FOURTH-GRADE TEACHER IN A SUBURBAN SCHOOL district. For her the most rewarding aspect of teaching is the results. But she is not talking about test scores. As Vicki explains, “It’s more the results of the change in students themselves and the growth in confidence …. Over the year you just see them blossom from timid or being afraid to try, to a ‘bring it on’ type attitude.”

Vicki then shared an example from the previous school year. On the first day of school, she announced that it was time to begin math. Suddenly, a student named Ella burst into tears. Vicki took Ella into the hall for a private conversation. As they talked the young girl shared, “I can’t do math. Numbers don’t make sense to me. I hate math.”

Vicki made Ella a promise. “You know what? You don’t know me very well, and I don’t know you very well yet, but I’m going to trust that you are a mathematician. You just haven’t figured it out yet, and I need you to trust that I can get you to see that.”

 

Chapter 7: A Process for Development: Embedding Self-Reflection

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What’s needed, in my view, is a perspective that allows us a fresh look at our most basic assumptions about teaching and learning, a perspective that takes nothing for granted and focuses on the simple but crucial questions of what works, what doesn’t work, and why.

—Salman Khan                        
The One World Schoolhouse

MICHELLE IS A NO-NONSENSE HET WITH 14 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE. In addition to teaching high school English, she coaches the girls volleyball team. In the middle of the 2011–2012 school year, she and others joined us in a pilot program to improve the overall effectiveness of their teaching. The experience changed her.

The goal of the pilot was to apply what we had learned about HETs to catalyze and support teachers’ professional growth. We asked HETs from several schools to form professional learning teams (PLTs) with three to five other educators at their schools. PLT members assessed their individual strengths and growth opportunities relative to the quadrants of the Connect Framework. The members then used this information to develop a professional growth plan that stretched their practice from an area of strength into an area of growth with the support of their peers.

 

Conclusion: Strategies for Moving Forward

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Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

—Anonymous

THIS BOOK IS AN INVITATION TO BECOME THE BEST TEACHER IN YOU again and again.

As you continue to reflect on what you have read, you have the opportunity to open new paths to your own development. To help clinch the learning, let’s quickly review the key storyline of the book.

In chapter 1 you were introduced to Kelli’s story and to two overarching perspectives associated with teaching and learning: the directive and co-creative perspectives. These are not black-and-white, either/or choices. The co-creative perspective grows out of the directive perspective but asks more of us, as it includes students as real partners in the teaching/learning process. Said another way, the co-creative perspective transcends but includes the directive perspective. In Kelli’s story we see how a pivotal moment in your teaching experience can help you move toward the co-creative perspective.

In chapter 2 we introduce the Connect Framework, which further differentiates the directive and co-creative perspectives into four distinct quadrants of effective teaching. Each of the quadrants represents a different orientation toward effective practice:

 

Resource A:The Reflect Assessment

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NOTE THE 12 PRACTICES LISTED BELOW AND THINK ABOUT HOW THEY frame your orientation to teaching and learning in your classroom. Rank each practice based on how central that practice is to your work in the classroom. Begin by putting a 12 next to the item that is most prominent in your practice and a 1 next to the item that is least prominent in your practice. Continue until you have ranked each of the practices.

A _______ Adapting lessons in response to student cues

B _______ Empowering students

C _______ Communicating clear expectations for behavior

D _______ Cultivating creativity and spontaneity

E _______ Challenging students to do their best

F _______ Establishing a culture of accountability in the classroom

G _______ Organizing learning activities and resources

H _______ Setting clear goals and monitoring progress

I _______ Building trust

J _______ Making learning relevant to students

K _______ Facilitating teamwork and cooperation

L _______ Maximizing instruction and learning time

Reminder: 12 = most prominent, 1 = least prominent

 

Resource B:Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument for Classrooms

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THE PURPOSE OF THE ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE ASSESSMENT Instrument for Classrooms1 (OCAI-C) is to assess six key dimensions of classroom culture. In completing the instrument, you will be providing a picture of the fundamental assumptions on which your classroom operates and the attributes that characterize your classroom culture. There are no right or wrong answers. Every classroom will most likely be described by a different set of responses. Therefore be as accurate as you can in responding to the items so that your resulting cultural diagnosis will be as precise as possible.

The OCAI-C consists of six items. Each item has four alternatives. Divide 100 points among these four alternatives, depending on the extent to which each alternative is similar to your classroom. Give a higher number of points to the alternative that is most similar to your classroom. For example, on item 1, if you think alternative A is very similar to your classroom, alternatives B and C are somewhat similar, and alternative D is hardly similar at all, you might give 55 points to A, 20 points each to B and C, and 5 points to D. You may use any combination of points; just be sure that your total equals 100 for each item.

 

Resource C:Appreciative Inquiry Protocol

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IN OUR EARLY WORKSHOPS WITH HETS, WE ASKED EACH TEACHER TO conduct an appreciative interview with another teacher who taught a similar grade level and subject area. We then asked teachers to assemble in small groups and share the most inspiring things they learned from their partner. As teachers shared what they had learned, we began to hear the themes that ground this book. Appreciative inquiry is a great tool for research and professional development. It allows you to focus attention on the positive aspects of the current situation rather than just on what is broken. It also allows you to reflect on what is good and should be preserved as you move forward toward excellence. Below you see the appreciative inquiry protocol that was used over the first two years of this project. You may want to partner with a colleague and use this protocol to explore the strengths in each other’s practice.

1. Think back over your entire career as a teacher—from your earliest memories to today. Now think about a peak experience or a high point, a time when you experienced yourself as most effective and most satisfied as a teacher.

 

Resource D:Interview Protocol

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AS PART OF OUR RESEARCH FOR THIS BOOK, WE CONDUCTED THREE rounds of in-depth interview with 30 of the highest-performing teachers in the state of Ohio. For each round, we used a semistructured interview format. In other words, we created an interview guide with the key questions that we wanted to ask, but we allowed the interviews to flow like a conversation. When an interviewee made an intriguing point or shared a powerful story, we followed up with additional questions rather than use the interview guide as a formal script. In this section we share the interview guides from each round of interviews.

1. Please tell us who you are and give us a two-minute history of your career.

2. What do you most love about being a teacher?

What are you like when you are at your very best?

What for you is the essence of excellent teaching?

What do you find most challenging about being a teacher?

3. What is unique about your school context?

4. Over time a teacher can move from novice to master.

How are you different now from when you first started?

 

Resource E:Online Tools and Resources

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