What Makes a Good Teacher?

One of the more amazing conditions that I have observed through the years has been the public (and sometimes, private) teaching community’s longstanding, instinctive, and (until recently) effective resistance to efforts to evaluate and assess individual teacher effectiveness.

Resistance Factors
Want to touch a raw nerve among teachers? Ask about merit pay. Few teachers disagree that they would like to be paid more for quality teaching. Few, though, agree that administrators can be trusted to assess good teaching.

There is an inherent, perhaps legitimate, fear that teacher effectiveness will be measured through invalid or unfair means. Few would like to see student test scores, for example, used as a straight-up indicator of teaching skills. Teacher effectiveness measures should always reflect differences in class-to-class aptitudes and community-to-community opportunities to learn.

The landscape is beginning to change. Increasing numbers of communities are insisting that their teachers submit to accountability systems similar to those that most workers face in their daily workplaces. Workers in nearly every discipline know that they must produce or improve, or risk losing their jobs. Parents now ask “If teachers and administrators want us to trust their assessment expertise regarding our children’s academic achievement, then why can’t they use that same expertise to produce a legitimate means of evaluating their own effectiveness?”.

ECMM and the Private Sector
This discussion is less prevalent among early childhood music and movement teachers and music therapists because, in contrast to their public school counterparts, most operate in a free market system. Studio managers and/or parent consumers decide, year by year, whether the teachers will keep their jobs. This is an inescapable fact of life in the private teaching community. Teach well, or lose your classes.

Defining Good Teaching
Good teaching (and its reciprocal, bad teaching) can be defined, and decades of research and study are available to support gradually emerging definitions. Robert Marzano, an influential educational theorist, addresses this question indirectly in his book Classroom Management that Works. I will paraphrase several of his key ideas throughout the remainder of this article.

On page three, Marzano states that effective teachers perform many functions. These functions can generally be organized in three categories.
1.     Making wise choices about the most effective instructional strategies to employ
2.     Designing classroom curriculum to facilitate student learning
3.     Making effective use of classroom management techniques

One of the more amazing conditions that I have observed through the years has been the public (and sometimes, private) teaching community’s longstanding, instinctive, and (until recently) effective resistance to efforts to evaluate and assess individual teacher effectiveness.

Resistance Factors
Want to touch a raw nerve among teachers? Ask about merit pay. Few teachers disagree that they would like to be paid more for quality teaching. Few, though, agree that administrators can be trusted to assess good teaching.

There is an inherent, perhaps legitimate, fear that teacher effectiveness will be measured through invalid or unfair means. Few would like to see student test scores, for example, used as a straight-up indicator of teaching skills. Teacher effectiveness measures should always reflect differences in class-to-class aptitudes and community-to-community opportunities to learn.

The landscape is beginning to change. Increasing numbers of communities are insisting that their teachers submit to accountability systems similar to those that most workers face in their daily workplaces. Workers in nearly every discipline know that they must produce or improve, or risk losing their jobs. Parents now ask “If teachers and administrators want us to trust their assessment expertise regarding our children’s academic achievement, then why can’t they use that same expertise to produce a legitimate means of evaluating their own effectiveness?”

ECMM and the Private Sector
This discussion is less prevalent among early childhood music and movement teachers and music therapists because, in contrast to their public school counterparts, most operate in a free market system. Studio managers and/or parent consumers decide, year by year, whether the teachers will keep their jobs. This is an inescapable fact of life in the private teaching community. Teach well, or lose your classes.

Defining Good Teaching
Good teaching (and its reciprocal, bad teaching) can be defined, and decades of research and study are available to support gradually emerging definitions. Robert Marzano, an influential educational theorist, addresses this question indirectly in his book Classroom Management that Works. I will paraphrase several of his key ideas throughout the remainder of this article.

On page three, Marzano states that effective teachers perform many functions. These functions can generally be organized in three categories.
1.     Making wise choices about the most effective instructional strategies to employ
2.     Designing classroom curriculum to facilitate student learning
3.     Making effective use of classroom management techniques

Our methodology providers address the first two categories effectively in their training workshops. Teachers learn repertoire, class activities, business practices, theoretical frameworks, and many other important concepts when they train with a particular provider. Although the content and methods may change from provider to provider, each curriculum nicely manages the (1) wise choices about the most effective instructional strategies to employ, and (2) designing classroom curriculum to facilitate student learning.

However, the third area, classroom management, seems to be the most important. On page five, Marzano describes one study in which the researchers found 228 variables that impact student achievement. Later, 134 educational experts rated and ranked the 228 variables.

Classroom Management as King
In line with a host of similar studies, the clear and consistent winner among the 228 was classroom management. If student learning is to take place, then the teacher must be a good classroom manager. A large number of studies reinforce this claim, whether teacher effectiveness is being rated by student learning or by ratings.

Marzano goes on to describe a study by Jacob Kounin in which he concludes that classroom management is comprised of the following four attributes.
1.     Withitness (A sense that the teacher is on top of student attempts at mischief)
2.     Smoothness and momentum during classroom presentations
3.     Letting students know what is expected of them at any given moment
4.     Variety and challenge in activities.

Another study, by Brophy (cited on page six), adds that effective classroom managers should develop a set of “helping skills” to employ with different types of students.

Marzano further states that attention to classroom management details at the beginning of the year is one key to a well-run classroom.

Finally, Marzano incorporates an analysis of dozens of studies involving over 5000 subjects. The result of this meta-analysis was to provide four broad management factors having the greatest impact on quality classroom management. These include
1.     Rules and procedures,
2.     Disciplinary interventions,
3.     Teacher-student relationships, and
4.     Teacher’s Mental Set.

So… having said all this, I will follow up this post by expanding on Marzano’s discussion of each of these four factors.

We all know good teaching when we see it. Perhaps we now have some tools to discuss it.