How Do You Know Extraordinary Teaching When You See It?

Salsa dancing, comparing communism and socialism, Spanish discourse on poetry, reading aloud to younger students and building online tour guides about international cities all occurred at Journeys School this week as I wandered the school. Students were not only engaged, but each was held individually responsible for his/her own learning. This is a common observation. As part of an ongoing dialogue at Journeys School, we continue to ask ourselves what makes an outstanding teacher and how do we know it when we see it?

It is clear from both research and observation that excellent teaching can come in many forms, but it is also clear that more and more research is defining what makes a classroom extraordinary. Just as this discussion of teacher quality is the focal point of many schools in the United States, Journeys School has embraced this idea of excellence through our faculty development program. The program consists of goal setting, peer observation, professional expectations, curricular discussion and professional development. Underlying all of these is the implicit culture of sharing and openness that permeates the school. As a faculty, we welcome feedback and know that we can always improve. This is a rarity in schools.

Each year, faculty are filmed with a follow up discussion, observed through drop-ins by the head of school, lead teacher, or curriculum coordinator, present a unit of curriculum for analysis by other teachers and engage in a number of weekly conversations with other faculty to ask questions such as, How do you plan? How do you assess? What is happening right now in your class? With the culture in place and rich academic discussion happening weekly, our next steps are to refine the expectations for the classroom.

Our practice is currently guided by four principles that define our instruction to be 1) student centered and differentiated to challenge all learners; 2) based on respectful relationships and a whole-child approach; 3) directed by authentic assessment and individual accountability; and 4) experiential, place-based, engaging and relevant. Recent suggestions in Doug Lemov’s text Teach Like a Champion and Educational Leadership’s devoted issue on the effective educator guide me to the next iteration of faculty development here at Journeys School.

First, a review of best practice to determine the specific evidence of extraordinary teaching one might see in the classroom; second, an integration of our current professional expectations with our planning and instructional expectations; and third, a discussion of how faculty goals can connect to specific growth (of all types) in each child. The seemingly insurmountable hurdle faced by many schools, the “privatization” and insular nature of the classroom, has never been present in our school. Our system is already good, and now our focus is to lead the way to greatness in how we pursue the paramount goal of extraordinary teaching in every classroom at all times. Feel free to visit at any time and see us in action!

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