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Sunday
Oct172010

Focus on the Teacher

A lot of talk lately has been focused on education reform, especially teacher quality.  The best place to focus reform would be to help teachers be the best they can be.  Working with teachers to find the teaching style that works best for them and maximizing it is the best approach, not cookie cutter programs. According to John Hattie's article Teachers Make a Difference reform must begin with the teacher.

"I therefore suggest that we should focus on the greatest source of variance that can make the difference – the teacher. We need to ensure that this greatest influence is optimised to have powerful and sensationally positive effects on the learner. Teachers can and usually do have positive effects, but they must have exceptional effects. We need to direct attention at higher quality teaching, and higher expectations that students can meet appropriate challenges - and these occur once the classroom door is closed and not by reorganising which or how many students are behind those doors, by promoting different topics for these teachers to teach, or by bringing in more sticks to ensure they are following policy."

There is a lot of focus on differentiation for students.  What about differentiation for teachers?  I have observed teachers with widely varied styles who were equally effective at their jobs. When teachers are able to teach to their strengths they are most effective and are able to create the best learning environment.  This allows teachers to focus on students' needs without worrying about adopting a technique or program that may be ineffective, given their teaching style. 

In an interview with Robert Marzano about his book Designing and Teaching Learning Goals and Objectives: Classroom Strategies That Work for the School Leadership Review podcast, he discusses that his goal was never for teachers to implement all nine strategies in their classroom, but to pick and choose what works best for them.  School districts have a tendency to read about an effective strategy and roll it out district or school wide.  This information would better be disseminated through the principals to help teachers who need strategies to improve their teaching.

Principals need to be freed up to spend time nurturing teachers and helping to develop their craft.  I've seen this occur.  In a lesson-study that was implemented at my school last school year, all of the fourth grade teachers, the principal, and an education professor from University of Las Vegas came to observe a math lesson.  This was followed by an extensive discussion.  I found it beneficial; the discussion wasn't focused on my teaching but on the lesson itself.  This was a positive experience; through evaluating the lesson I was able to reflect on my teaching.  I was able to see what worked and what didn't. 

By creating an environment where teachers are able to excel, students will achieve.  Each school, teacher, and classroom is unique.  We already have reformers ready and willing to change the system; teachers.  Give teachers a supportive atmosphere with the guidance they need to reform the classroom and everyone will win. 

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