When I started teaching in the ’90s, I was a bit like Tom Hanks in Castaway. I lived on my little island. I created my lessons independently. Sometimes those lessons were good, and other times not so much. How many learning opportunities were missed in my development as an educator?
As an administrator for 14 years, I have had the opportunity to walk into classrooms daily, and I’ve seen so many amazing lessons over the years. I have left many rooms feeling inspired and proud to have such talented educators in my school and district. It left me wondering if there were teachers who were that good when I was a new teacher.
The more we can spotlight great teaching practice and demonstrate that it can be done with the students in our school or district, the better all teachers will become. Here are a few ways to highlight the best teachers in your school to scale effective practices.
5 Ways to Promote the Best Teaching Practices
1. Model best practices at faculty meetings. If you haven’t done so already, stop using faculty meetings to pass along information. We have adopted the practice of emailing anything that can go out in this manner. During your meeting, remind staff that the email was sent and highlight anything critically important.
One week before each staff meeting, we sit as an administrative team and share some of the very best of what we have seen in classrooms over the last three weeks. After the discussion, we identify a teacher doing great things and provide them with an opportunity to share with their colleagues. We usually allow 5–10 minutes for this.
At first, I thought some teachers would be shy about sharing with their peers. We have seen just the opposite. This has become the highlight of our monthly staff meetings.
2. Encourage teacher-led professional development (PD). We have nothing against bringing in talented and knowledgeable professionals to lead PD in our district, but we also feel like we get the most positive feedback when we organize our own professional learning opportunities. Not only does it allow for professional growth, but also it empowers educators to strive to become experts in certain areas of their disciplines. It motivates further professional learning and can allow them to demonstrate exemplary performance levels in their evaluations.
To do this, survey staff on the knowledge and skills they need to feel more prepared to meet the needs of all students. Then, reflect on your all-star staff and ask them to propose PD for an upcoming session. Many teachers feel great pride in presenting to their peers. Others have indicated that being a part of the learning experience is professionally motivating. Allowing teachers to be the focal point of PD builds efficacy and helps develop strong teacher leadership.
3. Videotape teachers and share with others through professional learning communities (PLCs). Seeing is believing. We always encourage peer observations. Many of us have heard of pineapple charts, where teachers invite their colleagues into their classroom or learning environment. Having these opportunities is great, but it doesn’t make it easier for staff to get into other teachers’ classrooms. Many elementary teachers barely have time to use the restroom, never mind spending 30 minutes with their colleague’s class.
Some schools have started videotaping lessons to share with other staff members. This strategy will not appeal to everyone. It definitely requires permission and a talented and confident teacher to make it happen. No doubt you have some of them in your school. If you can establish a culture of trust with your teachers, you may find that more are willing to participate in this than you might imagine.
If you have folks who don’t love this idea, don’t worry about it. All can benefit from only a few participants. Using these clips during common planning time or through PLCs is a great way to engage staff in conversations about best practices.
4. Facilitate instructional rounds. Utilizing instructional rounds is yet another way for teachers to experience excellent teaching for themselves. Unlike pineapple charts, this is more formalized to get small groups of teachers into classrooms. This requires some organization on your part as an administrator, as well as appropriate budgeting for class coverage and identifying teachers to participate in the observations.
Getting groups of teachers in the same classroom to see the same lessons is a great recipe for rich discussions on classroom management, engagement strategies, Universal Design for Learning, social and emotional teaching strategies, and many other important topics in our profession today.
5. Create a newsletter with a “pedagogy corner” where you invite teachers to share their resources. In addition to the previous strategies, we can provide a digital or print means to access ideas for improving teaching. Creating a newsletter highlighting great educators and teaching methods can be a wonderful way to provide others with the inspiration they need to push their practice to the next level.
In addition to sharing the great work of exemplary teachers, you can add links through which teachers can get more information on specific teaching methods. You can share articles, podcasts, or even some of the teaching videos from your staff or other educators. Once you get this up and running, encourage others to share their own resources and ideas and be a guest writer for the next edition.
As building administrators, you are likely bombarded with emails and phone calls from vendors who have the next best PD opportunity for you. These can be great, and they can also be greatly expensive. Sometimes the best solution is to work from the inside out. We have found great success in partnering with our teaching experts in our own district to lead PD opportunities, and although we will sometimes utilize some great resources from outside of our district, utilizing our own staff will be our primary focus. Not only will you see positive growth, but also you can save some of those scarce budgetary funds for other important initiatives.