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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What it Means to be a Skillful Teacher: Experts Share Their Thoughts

Linda G. Roberts | Linda Darling-Hammond | Bob Chase | Sandra Feldman | Mary Hatwood Futrell

Linda G. Roberts

Consultant

When I think about the teachers that I've known who are really good at what they do, it seems to me that they, first of all, have a tremendous understanding of the content of what it is they're teaching and they never lose that expertise. So knowledge about the subject matter and really feeling comfortable with that is very important.

But, at the same time, they take that subject matter knowledge and they link it to a sense of how kids learn -- the variety of ways that they can engage children in learning and have them really achieve the full extent of their capabilities. And then I would say that today's really competent teachers -- skilled teachers -- also have a whole new set of possibilities, or resources, that evolve around their use of technology. But the technology's not separate. It's very much a part of how they think about content, how they think about learning, and how they think about teaching.

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Linda Darling-Hammond

Professor, Stanford University: School of Education

In the last ten years there's been a lot of research done about what makes a difference for student achievement, and it's now clear that the single most important determinant of what students learn is what their teachers know. Teacher qualifications, teacher's knowledge and skills, make more difference for student learning than any other single factor.

Clearly that means if we want to improve student learning, what we have to do is invest in teachers' learning. We have to be sure that teachers understand not only their content area, which is very important, but also, how do students learn? How do different students learn differently? How do students acquire language? How do second language learners need to be taught? How do we organize curriculum in ways that are effective?

Almost every study that's done that looks at these factors sees significant substantial effects on what students learn. Interestingly, well-qualified teachers make more difference for students who have struggled more. So it's the most important for the students who have had the most difficulty in school in the past.

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Bob Chase

National Education Association

There are really two important criteria for any teacher. First of all, he or she must know a subject area and must know it well. And secondly, most know pedagogy, most know how students learn in order to teach that which they know. And I guess we should add a third component to that and indicate that integral to all student learning today is technology. Not as an add-on but as an integral part of how we teach young people, as an integral part of their gaining the kind of knowledge that's necessary to make sure that they can in fact really exist in a world that's filled with technology.

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Sandra Feldman

American Federation of Teachers

To have a really skillful teacher who knows what to do in the classroom you need, first of all, someone who's totally committed to teaching and who loves children. I don't think you can be a really good teacher without giving your entire heart to the children. And then you have to be very well-educated. We like teachers to have a degree in a subject matter and have a deep knowledge of content and also to have a deep knowledge of how to impart that content to children.

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Mary Hatwood Futrell

Dean, George Washington University: Graduate School of Education and Human Development

I remember a kid one time saying, "Well, why do you care so much about kids? We're from the ghetto. And the kids from the ghetto aren't supposed to be able to learn." And I said, "Who told you that?" And so the child looked at me and said, "Some of my other teachers told me that. My parents told me that, people in the community. ..." I said, "Well, you can learn, and where you're from doesn't make any difference."

Part of all of that is motivating students and encouraging students and giving them the confidence and emotional and mental ability to do the kinds of things that they want to do. And let's face it. They have it. They just have not learned to admit or to agree or to acknowledge that they have it. And so a lot of times simply what we're doing is we're cultivating, we're nurturing, and we're encouraging. And we're saying, "Yes, you can. Yes, you can."

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