What Every Teacher Needs
by Terry Heick
In Principles Of Student Learning, I offered that “Like any phrase, ‘student-centered learning’ is subjective and only useful insofar as it ultimately supports the design of learning experiences for students.”
Continuing, I said that “(while) arguing for a ‘student-centered approach’ to creating curriculum frameworks that center the authentic knowledge needs of each student makes sense, while creating a ‘student-centered’ classroom that gives students little choice in content, a voice in product, or a human necessity for creative expression does not. Student-centeredness uses an actual person as an audience and designs learning experiences backward from that point.”
I’ve also created Me Learning: A Student-Centered Learning Model that, while less about ‘catering’ to students and more about their role in the learning process, the theme of ‘student-centered’ pedagogy is an ongoing theme in our work at TeachThought.
However, while schools should center children in purpose, tone, structure, function, etc., it’s teachers that actuate it all.
In The Inside-Out School: A 21st-Century Learning Model (a post I wrote 11 years ago and needs updating–especially the graphic–I included sustainability as a core principle, something I did as well in Principles Of Sustainable Learning.
In considering what every teacher needs, I added brief commentary. My hope is to communicate the kinds of ‘things’ teachers need to excel and grow in an organic and sustainable way rather than an in-depth discussion of all 20 items. Let me preface by saying that very obviously this is hugely subjective and not close to exhaustive. It also depends on where and who you teach (country, grade level, the ‘kind’ of school you teach in, etc.)
Just ideas to consider.
What Do Teachers Need To Be Effective?
In my years as a teacher, by far the biggest challenge was time. For starters, good teaching (as I defined the term) is barely sustainable. To meet the needs of every student every day was simply impossible, yet was the implication in the ‘No Child Left Behind’ legislation.
Even meeting my own district and school’s ‘standards’ and expectations and ‘non-negotiable’ took prioritizing–ordering the tasks I was being asked to do versus what I was actually able to get done while supporting students–protecting them from the bureacracy and pressures and implications made by those above and always outside of the classroom.
Planning time was nearly non-existent. Even after a push to protect this time, eventually it was whittled away covering other classes, PLC meetings, etc. The time required to grade, plan, re-plan, plan again, never mind the notion of developing and polishing engaging and effective lessons and units that met the requirements of school and district administrators. Their little ‘walkthroughs’ and check of what I was teaching against the unit and pacing guide I was required to display in plain site with requisite similarly displayed learning targets–it is simply too much. Even taking the work home to grade, evaluate student growth, and adjust plans accordingly wasn’t enough, much less sustainable.
The presence of real trust of teachers to make decisions, vary off a planned course, or otherwise have agency to do what they feel, in that moment, is what a student or students need(s) varies depending on the school, district, and so on. It can even vary in the same school as principals change and district initiatives change. But a school that doesn’t trust its teachers, constantly ‘checking in’ on them, requiring extensive paperwork, proof of X or Y, etc., is going to have trouble building capacity in those teachers.
Less pressure, more support
From content-based national standards and state standards, to district and school standards, content-area standards, technology standards, and more, ‘standards’ are necessary and important. There are just too many.
It is often clear in a building who is where in the pecking order. ‘Teacher leaders’ versus teachers favorited by administrators. Teachers in ‘tested’ content areas (e.g., math) versus non-tested content areas (e.g., art). Teachers who the students loved and teachers who the parents were constantly questioning (which in and of itself can often be a good thing that’s a sign of a deficit), the hierarchy of teachers in schools never seems to make for positive results.
Climates that lead to positive outcomes (sustainability, efficiency, creativity, innovation, joy, etc.)
Often a school’s ‘climate’ is not conducive to meeting stated goals. Whether it’s simply academic success or more abstract notions like well-being and creativity, it’s difficult to establish and evolve these ideas in a school or department climate designed or functioning in direct conflict to these desired outcomes. For example, strict lesson planning requirements can often be at odds with creativity in lesson and unit planning while understaffed, high-pressure positions can rarely be considered efficient.
Emphases on well-being (for teachers, admin, students, etc.)
Well-being is an incredibly important and widely misunderstood idea on a global level, and the same misunderstandings exist in schools. Teaching isn’t sustainable (see above and below), and is even more inaccessible if teacher well-being isn’t valued and emphasized. There is crushing pressure in so many schools–pressure that ends up on the shoulders of teachers as they try to make it all work while simultaneously protecting students.
Fewer External/Achievement/Benchmark Assessments
In an effective school, there is more than enough assessment happening.
Effective literacy programs
If students can’t read or write well, everything else is exponentially difficult.
A lack of continuity–practices and ‘pushes’ and initiatives and curriculum–make it difficult to teach, much less teach well.
Professional Development that actually helps
So many PD sessions I attended were unhelpful–practices and strategies not related to my content area, ideas that were obvious, PD that was expected to meet a certain number of ‘PD hours’ rather than development that helped me teach and my students learn.
Manageable class sizes
Never mind Hattie’s effect size, class size, for me, mattered. It’s hard to meet the needs of 18 students and is twice as difficult to meet the needs of 36.
We expect a growth mindset from students. Regardless of how unreasonable the requirements of your job, a shut-down, fixed, and negative mindset will negatively impact students while making you miserable and teaching ultimately unsustainable for you.
School and District ‘Forward-Thinking’ Discipline Plans
School discipline can be a monumental challenge in some schools and districts while an afterthought in others. But any teacher who has taught in a school with engagement and discipline issues knows the significant effect they can have on everything from school climate to student achievement.
Some committees are useful and crucial while so many more are formed to be formed and rarely useful for teachers. They also cost the invaluable commodity of sufficient planning time.
Opportunity (learning models, units, outside the classroom)
Without this, the creativity and potential and curiosity and joy are impossible.
Every profession needs a sufficient budget to operate and no matter how much a nation spends overall on education, so many classes are constantly under-funded.
Tools that work together (edtech, assessment, curriculum, etc.)
If assessment or curriculum programs don’t neatly align with the district push for a certain curriculum, existing pacing guides, or the school’s recent purchase of Chromebooks and/or Google Classroom, ‘things’ need to not only work together but complement one another.
To see one other teach
As a teacher, one of the most effective forms of development (and source of countless ideas) was watching other teachers teach. In macro form, this can be considered ‘teacher-led PD,’ but even just observing a single teacher from time to time teach was endlessly beneficial to me.