Note from Dave: I just had a thought. We should do PD together at your school next year, on student motivation and the five key beliefs!!! Wouldn't that be AMAZING!? I think so, too. If you're a PD decision maker or have the ear of one, start the process by being in touch here.
Onto the show! -DSJR
PS I've got a nerdy explainer about today's article title at end of this post.*)
Here's the thing — we can talk about strategies for signaling Teacher Credibility to our students, and we should! But we also need to acknowledge that the proof is in the pudding, too.
That's right — let's talk about getting good at teaching.
What's a lightning fast method for gaining competence as a teacher?
(Not seeing a video? Click here.)
JK — there's no such thing as a lightning fast path to competence. It takes lots of practice.
But — but! — there IS something that gets you to competence a heckuva lot faster than most folks: focusing your practice on the work that matters most.
Now, I've written a whole book on that very idea. But for the sake of speed, let me give you a few quick tips right here.
Areas of teacher competence to focus on
- Can you cultivate student motivation? This isn't about being a cheerleader; it is about understanding and doing something about the five key beliefs.
- Can you manage classroom behavior? This is about gaining a functional understanding of group psychology.
- Can you provide useful instruction? This means not just knowing your content, but knowing how to help your learners master it.
- Can you provide helpful and timely feedback? The timeliness part is something teachers often miss. To help with timely feedback, I've written posts on stopwatches, purposefulness, and single-tasking.
- Can you help students when they're stuck? This means growing familiar with common student hang-ups and the most effective and efficient solutions. It DOESN'T mean trying to be the savior teacher or being capable of solving every problem of student learning that you encounter — it just means knowing how to help students progress toward mastery.
- Do you know how to explain things clearly and succinctly? I've seen more than a few highly talented teachers lean too heavily on their verbal acumen — this can feel like productive teaching, but whoever is doing the talking is doing most of the thinking.
- Are you organized? I'm no paragon here and this isn't about being perfect. But is there a time each day when you prepare lessons? Is there a time when you OHIO-process your email?
I'd focus on these areas first. They'll reap the largest benefits.
Areas to avoid
The simple answer for this section is anything that's not on the list above.
But if you're looking for more specifics…
- Whatever's trending on social media. Modest is the hottest — er, the non-buzzy stuff is typically the most important, and the super-buzzy stuff is typically the least.
- Complicated systems that someone else created. We all need systems for things we do a lot as teachers: lesson planning, giving feedback, managing our time, organizing digital resources. (Actually, I take that last one back — I have zero folders for my digital resources and instead just archive everything and search for it when I need it.) But — using someone else's complicated system will almost always shortchange you in growth in competence and cost you a lot of time. Instead, either:
- A) develop your own systems, being biased toward simplicity, or
- B) use someone else's system, so long as it's biased toward simplicity.
- All the parts of your teacher evaluation rubric. I get why these exist. I've just never been able to gain a lick of competence by focusing on them. Too much gobbledygook for me.
- Mindless use of strategies. You should seek to add strategies to your tool belt as you work on building competence. But you should never treat the strategy as if it has some inherent power. The power is in the intelligent use of the tool.
How to get better
Three things that work best and quickest:
- Watch lots of teachers. When you're observing, look at how they are handling the list of focus questions that we started this article with.
- Practice in front of a video camera. And sometimes, watch it.
- Pick a few good sources and exhaustively explore them. E.g., the hinge point in my career was when I resolved to read and apply nothing but Mike Schmoker's Focus for the whole school year. You could do the same thing with this blog or with my book. The goal is to internalize the way that the author of the source thinks; you want to create a little AI version of this person in your mind.
You'll never regret investments made in the focused development of teacher competence. Nothing's more predictive of an impactful career.
*Nerdy appendix note on the title
Over the holiday break, I began the fantastic recreational journey of reading through the Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (here are the first three books). As a long-time lover of the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth and long-time-ago-far-far-away galaxies and the MCU, I'm finding myself right at home. Game of Thrones never appealed to me — too dark — but Wheel of Time? Verrrrrrrrry cool, in a nerdy way.
Anyway, in the first book, there's a kingdom (Andor) in which there is always a queen as monarch. And in the words of my high schoolers, I think that that is dope. So, at first I wrote “Competence is King” for the title of this blog post, but then I switched it. End nerdy appendix.