Monday, August 5, 2013

What is Good Teaching?

Google the question above and you will get thousands of hits. There is no shortage of opinion and no shortage of research into the topic. Most recently, the most comprehensive study of what makes for effective teaching was conducted by the Gates Foundation. Millions of dollars were spent to pin down the answer and the results were published in the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET). The Gates Foundation claims to have figured out what makes a good teacher (Washington Post, January 8, 2013). It should surprise no one that, even with all that time, energy and money, the MET got it wrong. They made the classic researcher mistake; they went in with a presupposition and then they proved what they wanted to prove.

            While the MET project has brought unprecedented vigor to teacher evaluation research, its results do not settle disagreements about what makes an effective teacher and offer little guidance about how to design real-world teacher evaluation systems. (Rothstein and Mathis retrieved from  

            Although we don’t question the utility of using evidence of student learning to inform teacher development we suggest that a better question would not assume that value- added scores are the only existing knowledge about effectiveness in teaching. Rather, a good question would build on existing research and investigate how to increase the amount and intensity of effective instruction. (Gabriel and Allington, Education Week, November 2012 | Volume 70 | Number 3)

            So, rather than having figured out what makes a good teacher, the Gates Foundation has learned very little in this project about effective teaching practices.  The project was an expensive flop.  Let’s not compound the error by adopting this expensive flop as the basis for centrally imposed, mechanistic teacher evaluation systems nationwide. (Greene, J. retrieved from    effective-teachers-project/)

So what is good teaching? As Jeffrey Mirel (2009) has said, “Teaching is an incredibly complex and difficult enterprise.” Establishing a universal set of criteria is extraordinarily difficult. Here is my list, open for debate, of course, but based on a reading of the research and 40 years of experience watching teachers teach.

·         Good teaching causes all children to learn
·         Good teaching helps all students to learn how to learn
·         Good teaching helps all students believe in themselves as learners
·         Good teaching is informed by deep content knowledge
·         Good teaching is informed by deep pedagogical knowledge
·         Good teaching is engaging
·         Good teaching is nurturing
·         Good teaching communicates a passion for learning
·         Good teaching communicates ideas clearly with relevant and memorable examples
·         Good teaching communicates high, but appropriate, expectations for learning
·         Good teaching happens in well-managed, orderly classrooms
·         Good teaching is well-planned
·         Good teaching provides on-going formative assessment of student learning
·         Good teaching provides occasional summative assessment of learning
·         Good teaching is made better through the  information gained from assessments
·         Good teaching is driven by skilled questioning
·         Good teaching is about caring for students as learners and as human beings
·         Good teaching is about attending the sporting events, concerts and activities of students
·         Good teaching is informed by good listening
·         Good teaching is about flexibility
·         Good teaching is about good humor
·         Good teaching is about sharing expertise with colleagues
·         Good teaching is about constantly improving teaching ability through reflection
·         Good teaching is about constantly improving teaching ability through professional development
·         Good teaching is about constantly looking for ways to improve
·         Good teaching is about including parents in the educational lives of their children
·         Good teaching requires training and experience

For anyone to think that this complex task can be reduced to a number that measures a person’s “value” as a teacher is absurd in the extreme.  I would like to see a measure of the “value added” of a caring teacher who attends her students sporting events, or the teacher who spends all weekend designing engaging lessons, or the teacher who provides a kind word to a child having a difficult day. These things are the “stuff” of teaching and they cannot be measured simplistically.

What do you think? I would love to hear what you would add to the list above.

In my next post, I will outline my thoughts on a teacher "valuation" approach that aims not only at assessing practice, but improving it. Yes teaching does matter and good teaching matters a great deal. Assessing it should be in the hands of people who know something about it.

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