Michelle Rhee – Excellent Teaching

A teacher asked me last week if our focus on data, and our use of objective measures of students’ academic growth, means that we want to standardize teaching to one teaching style. Absolutely not. Such a practice would be a disservice to children and it would be a surefire way to strip the joy from teaching and lower student achievement levels. 

Excellent teachers do have things in common, some best practices that help teachers to advance student achievement in their classrooms. For example, excellent teachers clearly and consistently communicate high expectations to their students, and they are very clear about what students can do to meet and exceed these expectations.

The excellent teachers I have met believe that all of their children can learn, and they make it clear to students that the greatest factor in their success will be how hard they work, not “how smart they are.” Excellent teachers know how to manage their classrooms well, and they are consistent in sticking to the guidelines (often created with students) that promote learning. They respect their students and it shows. They are relentless in their pursuit of excellence, and they have the skills in their subject area and multiple successful teaching strategies to hold all their students to high standards for excellence.

This does not mean that all excellent teaching looks the same. Excellent teaching comes in as many styles as there are student needs, and it is truly inspiring to see the different ways that different excellent teaching styles can all resonate with students and challenge them toward success.

For example, we have a veteran teacher at one school who teaches 8th grade boys, and she is strict! Every student walking into her classroom knows he is there to learn, and that she is the one in charge of guiding them toward that result. On the day we saw her teaching, every child was not only listening to her with rapt attention, but every child was actively engaged, responding excitedly to her rapid fire questions that challenged them to respond with high energy in a lesson on fact vs. opinion. Throughout the lesson, they clearly knew what to expect from her, and the routines she had established clearly had taken much time and practice to develop.

Watching another teacher, “strict” and “discipline” were not the first words that came to mind. This teacher communicated the same high expectations as the first teacher did, but in a very different way. His voice did not boom as hers did, and it didn’t need to. His questions were challenging, but he smiled more, facilitated, mediated, was patient as he encouraged students to think before they spoke, and respected the silence it took to do so. Their responses showed the thoughtfulness and critical thinking he encouraged.

Based on what students produced in both classes, it was clear that both of these teachers had approaches that yielded results in student learning and motivation.

* I agree that Excellent teaching comes in many forms. My teaching style is more strict and focused. I teach all of the students in my school including special education computer skills. They have learned microsoft word, powerpoint, excel and we are currently starting to delve into movie maker. The students practice math and language arts skills so that they will learn more in the their regular classes and when you partner technology with  reinforcing foundation skills most children are very excited about learning.

Excellent Teaching: Does it all look the same?


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