Smarter Teaching: 10 Ways You’ll Know You’re Doing It Right

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smarter-teachingSmarter Teaching: 10 Ways You’ll Know You’re Doing It Right

by TeachThought Staff

Notice that we didn’t use the more vague “good teacher” phrasing.

That’s an important distinction, because here we’re talking about something a bit more clinical. Not entirely scientific and analytical and icky, but not entirely rhetorical and abstract and mushy either. Something somewhere in the middle–human, efficient, and hopefully happy and sustainable as a result.

1. You make frequent minor adjustments.

To curriculum, pacing, assessment design, curriculum materials, etc. This implies not a lack of planning or poor foresight, but the reality of a dynamic classroom where you, as an effective teacher, are constantly taking formal and information measurements, then making minor adjustments as necessary.

2. You have access to “good” data.

Fresh data. Data accessible in 30 seconds or less. Data that is visualized, easily skimmed, but also useful enough to study closely and extract takeaways. Data that is a product of timely well-designed assessments. (See below.)

3. You don’t teach, you design.

You know the pros and cons of project-based learning, scenario-based learning, learning simulations, and the like. You know the skills are perishable, transfer matters, and that assessment design can make or break everything. While others spend their lunch breaks swilling Diet Coke and counting down days until the weekend, you sketch out scope-and-sequences for fun.

Speaking of instructional design, the design of experiences that promote understanding of the most important content is a huge part of what an effective teachers do. You resist the temptation to simply implement passed-down initiatives and staid curriculum maps that are (probably) bunk. Instead, your mind can swing back and forth—even if not equally well—between the macro and micro.

Which is what design is about.

4. You plan backwards.

What you plan backwards from is up to you, but you start with a goal in mind—a standard, habit, assessment, indicator, or some other goal. How objective or subjective you are is up to you, but to begin with the end in mind is a habit of an effective teacher.

5. You don’t do what you’re told.

Because the best teachers never do.

6. You’re a learning feedback machine.

You know what useful feedback looks and sounds like. And feels like for the student. Most of your assessments are brief but insightful snapshots of what students understand. This makes it easy to give immediate feedback—often during the same class. You use technology (e.g., like Kaizena) to give in-depth feedback on writing without costing you your weekend. You design collaboration so that students can usefully provide one another feedback when you can’t—using sentence stems that scaffold the task for them, for example.

In short, you give students–or arrange for them to receive in some other way–consistent feedback that they can understand and use.

7. You prioritize endlessly.

Most important standards, most efficient data collection tools, most accurate assessment designs, most reliable apps, more flexible planning templates, etc. It’s impossible to do it all, so you instinctively start with what’s most important.

8. You change your mind.

Nothing you do is perfect. This implies the need for change. Students change as you teach them. This implies the need for change. You change—get better at some things, learn to prioritize, and also forget good practices along the way because you’re human. Your content area is alive with discoveries, trends, and progressions even if your “standards” only change every decade or so. Technology changes, curriculum changes, communities change.

This all implies the need for constant change.

9. You see each student individually.

It’s been said that Ted Williams could see the stitches on the baseball as it rotated towards the plate at 90 MPH. Where novice hitters see a ball, Ted Williams saw a cover separated by dozens of stitches. Novice, ineffective teachers see a classroom. Or even rows. You see students.

And then you see them not as “students,” but as human beings. Not shades of proficiency, or “Novices” to move to “Apprentice.” And you see them individually—each student, what that student needs, and what resources can help them the most. Even if you can’t always make it happen every day for every student, you see it—which requires you see them individually.

10. Your students are changing–all of them.

They’re taking ownership. Growing across assessment forms. Asking better questions more persistently. Challenging plans. Demonstrating curiosity outside of a given curriculum. Seem to be having fun, either with the content or their own performance. This can be vague–what does it mean that students “are changing?” Is change enough? Changing how? With what pace? This depends on your grade level, content area, and where the students started, and so can’t be standardized.

And smarter teaching produces learning experiences that change all learners, not just those that would’ve grown with you–that may even be growing in lieu of your teaching, which can be a rough pill to swallow. Murky as it may be, as far as smarter teaching goes, it all ends here, with the students and their growth as people.

Which makes it the best way to know if your teaching is actually smart–when it results in smart learning for all students.

Smarter Teaching: 10 Ways You’ll Know You’re Doing It Right

  • Gabby G

    Most of these are characteristics not habits. Perhaps a better title is warranted.

    • terryheick

      This is a good point.