Supporting Teachers as They Grow From Good to Great

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Katherine BassettBy Katherine Bassett

How do good teachers transform into great ones? What are the experiences, supports, and motivators that drive good teachers into continually evolving, seeking out meaningful learning experiences, and leading such learning for others?

These questions are central to states’ efforts to ensure that all students have great teachers. They also are the crux of a survey study report recently launched by a collaboration of partners: the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Council on Teacher Quality, and the National Education Association. (The study webpage offers more details.)

On National Teacher Day, and every day, it is critical to ask teachers their views on these fundamental questions about the profession. Our study did just that. The study surveyed more than 300 National and State Teachers of the Year and revealed some expected and some provocative results that state leaders ought to consider when developing strategies to improve teacher effectiveness across the career continuum. To share a few, these expert teachers tell us that:

  • In terms of preparation, the clinical experience―and especially the cooperating teacher in whose classroom the preservice educator serves—was seen as most effective in preparing them for teaching. What may be surprising to some is that they rated their content coursework almost as highly.
  • In terms of experiences in the early years of teaching, having a mentor was most highly valued. But strong school principals also were viewed as critical to the success of beginning teachers.
  • At the career stage, engaging in rich, reflective practice―such as that encountered in National Board Certification and other such exercises―was valued by those who experienced it. But interestingly, the pursuit of a master’s degree or other advanced degree was seen as deeply impactful as well, despite what other research tells us. In addition, ongoing pedagogical coursework was noted as a contributor to continued development of expertise.
  • As teacher leaders, serving as a coach or mentor was meaningful for these educators. The experience of helping someone else grow enabled growth for the coach or mentor as well.

How can state education agencies promote professional learning experiences that reflect this new teacher-led study and other research about the supports that matter? To begin, states can prioritize:

  • Strong supports for mentoring, coaching, and teacher leadership
  • Ample opportunities and release time for teachers to observe one another, model teaching strategies, and provide feedback for improvement
  • Respect for ongoing coursework, particularly pedagogical, through continued credit acceptance
  • Provision of support for reflective practice through increased professional learning built into the school day, so teams of teachers can come together to discuss practice and examine data
  • Release time for teachers to observe and model one another teaching
  • Clinical experiences, early and often, in teacher preparation
  • Implementation of the tenets described in the Teacher Leader Model Standards
  • Stronger partnerships between teacher preparation programs and schools
  • Professional learning that is driven by actionable feedback and is designed and delivered by teachers during the school day

How else can states work to grow teachers from good to great? Using the study’s Discussion Starter Tool, state leaders can spark more conversations with teachers (and encourage districts to do so). Such conversations can help state leaders gain a deeper understanding of the supports that work in their context so they can target resources with that in mind. Engaging teachers in these policy discussions is essential because it offers an opportunity for them to share on-the-ground insights for increasing teacher learning and also provides a leadership experience for them. The surveyed teachers tell us that they continually learn and grow in practice―and that the most meaningful experiences are often those in which they engage with others, rather than in isolation. They also tell us that leadership opportunities provide intensely valuable learning experiences.

In thinking about working with teachers to help them move from good to great, state policy leaders can consider these questions:

  • Can we work with our preparation programs to develop more meaningful “early and often” clinical experiences for preservice teachers?
  • Might we strengthen our mentoring and induction programs to include more time for peer observation and modeling?
  • How can we work with district staff to reform scheduling so that it includes release time for on-the-job professional learning and model lessons?
  • What can schools and districts do right now to provide roles for teacher leaders?

How do we grow more teachers from good to great? By listening to what teachers tell us about that growth and the experiences that most effectively feed it. By extrapolating experiences from the surveyed teachers, we can help all educators to strengthen their practice.

Now it’s your turn. What other suggestions do you have for helping teachers move from good to great?


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