The more I visit classrooms around the country and observe different types of teachers, the more I notice a series of shifts. In fact, when I interview well-regarded teachers who appear to have consistently positive results with students, I hear them describing a rather consistent list of shifts in their habits and thinking throughout their teaching career. Here is what I hear.
1. From teaching groups of students to teaching individual students in a group. The first leaves the teacher picking some middle ground and teaching all students the same way at the same time. That works for some, but it bores the advanced students and overwhelms the struggling learners. The solution, in part, is to find ways to design a classroom where each student gets what they need, and these high-impact teachers have found a way to do it.
2. From assigning grades to providing feedback on learner progress. Many teachers still talk about “grading papers” but some of these highly effective teachers seem to talk more about giving students feedback that they can use to improve. This is not just semantics. This is a 360 shift in one’s assessment worldview.
3. From having a voice and making the choices to helping students find their voice and make great choices. Some new teachers approach the classroom as their stage, and they perform in front of the students. They are the dominant voice in the class, and they make almost all the choices about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. I’m seeing really effective teachers flipping this, where students speak more than teachers, and where the teacher is helping the students learn to make choices that help them learn and accomplish the learning goals. Students are the ones who perform.
4. From helping students learn to helping students learning to learn. Of course, they still want and need students to learn certain things (numeracy, literacy, scientific literacy, etc.), but I’m seeing more high-impact teachers spend significantly more time facilitating activities that are intended to help students become more reflective about how they learn and develop study/learning/thinking skills. These teachers give opportunity for students to build habits that will more likely lead to a lifetime of being able to accomplish one’s learning goals.
5. From increasing student knowledge to increasing student competence, confidence, clarity, and conviction. Initially, some teacher describe their early years as trying to cover the content and make sure students knew the information for the test. Others, however, made the shift toward helping students become genuinely more competent and confident about the discipline / subject / skill; and to be able to think with clarity, and act with conviction. They are interested in transformational learning as well as applied knowledge and skill.
6. From speaking really well to listening and observing really well. Some teachers note that they used to think about being a great teacher in terms of the great analogies, illustrations and statements they provided in the class. Then they describe a shift, noting that the important part is what students have and have not learned. So, they started listening and observing students as they work; trying to get a clear understanding of student’s understanding of the subject. Then they can provide the necessary guidance or direction to help students progress.
7. From controlling the class to helping each learner develop self-control. The first is the teacher who feels a need to direct each aspect of the class to make sure students don’t get unruly. The second is about working with students over time to grow in the desire and ability to self-regulate. It doesn’t happen overnight…we are not talking about some sort of Mary Poppins-eseqe event. It is hard work, messy, and takes lots of time and patience.
8. From adjusting to the increasingly diminishing attention span of students to finding ways to help students learn to enjoy long and deep learning experiences. The first assumes that brains today are wired for 15-minute sound bites and nothing else is possible. The other teachers have discovered that this is a myth, noting thousands of situations where students spend hours lost is an activity. These great teachers strive to figure out how that can happen in the classroom as well (of course, the common 45-minute bell schedule does not help with this task).
9. From folk wisdom to data and research. While great teachers still often speak about the value of experience, intuition and the art of teaching, I’m finding far more teachers (those who see consistently positive student learning gains in their classes) speak about informing their teaching by current research on best and promising practices, as well as adjusting their practice based upon ongoing “data” they are getting by observing and listening to each student.
10. From problems to possibilities. There are teachers who consistently focus on and talk about the many problems in the school and among the students. There are others who, while not ignoring the reality of the problems, they seem to be far more animated by talking about the possibilities and solutions to problems. And when they try to solve problems, I see them realizing that solutions are not always quick are easy. They often take multiple attempts, patience, reflection and experimentation.