Thursday, October 27, 2011

What Great Teachers do Differently...

Todd Whitaker is a great educational thinker and an experienced Educator. He has written several books, and his thoughts seem to resonate with Educators from all levels in all positions. Here are my book club notes from his book, "What Great Teachers do Differently." Todd is also on Twitter (@toddwhitaker)

1. Why look at great?

- What are the characteristics of “great” teachers? 
- Most administrators believe they would be better teachers if they ever returned to the classroom…why?
- Should we have the opportunity to observe the “great” teachers? – how do we determine who is “great?”

2. It’s people, not programs

- School districts put a lot of emphasis on new programs and initiatives?  Do school districts put the same amount of emphasis on developing teachers into “great” teachers? 
- Can you think of any examples where two identical programs were being led by two different leaders with two different levels of success?  Why was one program more successful than the other?

3. The power of expectations

- Are student expectations clear in your class? 
- Are teacher expectations clear at your school?  Do teachers need clear expectations? 
- What strategies do you use to make sure there is transparency, as well as clear expectations in your class?

4. Prevention versus revenge

- What are the most successful classroom management strategies you use?  Why are they the most successful?
- Do all teachers really have the same “bag of tricks?”

5. High expectations – for whom?

- Are your expectations higher for your students than for yourself? (think about the lens and mirror principles from Maxwell’s Winning with People)
- How do you know if your expectations are too high or too low?  Is it possible they can be too high? 

6. Who is the variable?

- When something goes wrong in your class (behavior, homework completion, quiz scores) who do you blame?
- Passing blame also passes power… are you prepared to give your power away?

7. Ten days out of ten

- How can we make sure we treat all students and colleagues with respect and care?
- How do you cope with a bad day in the classroom?  How do you hide your true feelings from the students?

8. The teacher is the filter

- How do you set the tone in your classroom?  Do you realize how powerful your attitude is?
- “When the teacher sneezes, the whole class catches a cold.” Pg. 56 Do you agree with this?
- Do you agree with Whitaker’s take on the teacher’s lounge?

9. Don’t need to repair – always do repair

- Building strong relationships with staff and students is essential to being a “great” teacher. 
- Is the “highway patrol example” applicable in the education setting? 
- Do we always reinforce appropriate student behavior in our classrooms?

10. Ability to ignore

- How do you determine which comments or behaviors to ignore, or not to ignore?
- Is it appropriate to ignore one student and recognize the behavior of other students to teach what behaviors are acceptable?

11. Random or plandom?

- Do you plan to use all 50 minutes of class every single day?  Does this require more work on your part?
- What strategies do you use to be proactive instead of reactive in terms of classroom management?
- What did you think about the faculty meeting example?  Do you see this at your school?  Positive/negative effect?

12. Base every decision on the best people

- “Great” teachers worry about what their best students think.  Should we only worry about our best students? - Are you guilty of using blanket statements with your students? 
- Why do most teachers/students/administrators use blanket statements? 

13. In every situation, ask who is the most comfortable and who is least comfortable?

- When dealing with students and staff members do you consider the ramifications of your words on others?
- Do you feel comfortable in your current position?  Do the “great” teachers at your school feel comfortable?
- Do your great students feel comfortable when you are addressing an issue with your class?

14. What about these darn standardized tests?

- Whitaker sees some value in standardized testing… how can we use standardized testing as a tool in our classrooms?
- In your particular class, do you feel that standardized testing is emphasized more than actual learning?

15. Make it cool to care

-  “Great” teachers teach all students to care, and as long as the teachers are acting in the best interests of the students, they can do no wrong… how can we make this applicable in the classroom setting?
- “The heroes are not the contract negotiating team that got the teachers a raise, but rather the teachers that had an impact on the lives of their students.” Pg. 119

16. Clarifying your core

- “Every teacher has an impact.  Great teachers make a positive difference.” Pg. 126
- Are you prepared to accept the responsibility of making your school a “great” school?

 “Students care about great teachers because they know great teachers care about them” Pg. 122