In the past 40 years, the U.S. has made enormous strides in the arts, technology, and manufacturing, but our educational system has stagnated. Although a number of factors contribute to the quality of education, one crucial factor is the quality of teachers.
James Surowiecki recently wrote an interesting article (http://www.newyorker.com/?p=2879513&mbid=social_tablet_t) in The New Yorker comparing teachers in the U.S. education system to NBA athletes. He explored how training for professional athletes has evolved to transform basketball from a clunky “sink or swim” game into a meticulous science. To make gains, he argues, U.S. schools should take advantage of advanced training techniques that other industries and other countries’ educational systems have mastered in the past few decades.
Surowiecki stresses that high performance isn’t based solely on natural talent but “getting better at getting better.” I couldn’t agree more: Constant improvement and evolution is necessary in every field, from professional basketball to teaching.
How Teachers Can Constantly Improve Like Professional Athletes
Today, every performance-based profession uses coaching because it’s extremely difficult to improve in a profession that is both an art and a science individually. Teachers need to understand the content, the scope, and sequence (the science of learning), but they also need to hone their skills in delivery, classroom management, and gaining inspiration (the art of teaching).
Fostering an environment of constant improvement is necessary to keep a classroom from going stale, and teachers can sharpen their skills using three innovative methods:
1. Implement Video-Based Coaching
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant spend a large portion of training time analyzing game footage of both themselves and their opponents. The team has offensive and defensive coordinators who coach the players on what to look for and how to improve. This helps them identify minor mistakes, learn what works in the game, and refine their skills.
Just as coaches make players “review the tape” after a game, teachers also need to see themselves in action. We work with both the Harvard Graduate School of Education and The New Teacher Project to implement similar video-based feedback programs for educators.
These feedback processes allow teachers to watch how they perform and how their classes interact with them, providing a third-party perspective on how they can refine their teaching methods. Video-based coaching is now commonplace in prep programs, and most teachers who have observed themselves on video say it’s one of the most powerful professional learning experiences they have ever participated in.
2. Take Advantage of Peer Coaching
Teamwork is an important skill in any industry. In professional sports, the team is easy to see because everyone is wearing the same uniform. But in the classroom, teachers might forget they’re part of a team, too.
In her book, “Building a Better Teacher,” Elizabeth Green writes how Japanese math teachers rely on observing their colleagues and discussing the curriculum material to improve. According to Green, “no teacher worked alone,” which echoes the constant feedback that professional athletes now depend on.
Implementing a system of peer-based reviews fosters an environment in which teachers know how their peers operate. This allows the best of each teammate’s skills to benefit the entire team. In Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado, several of our partner schools have adopted a peer-coaching model, which provides great feedback to teachers and helps them pick up helpful practices from their peers.
3. Train Virtually
Professional athletes have nearly unlimited training resources at their disposal. British cyclist Chris Hoy practiced in wind tunnels at the University of Southampton, and professional tennis players such as Novak Djokovic have entire teams of tennis gurus at their beck and call.
Meeting the needs of 3.5 million teachers (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372) across the country isn’t quite as simple, but technology can provide a critical missing element by managing the complexity associated with personalizing support to meet educators’ individual needs.
Districts vary greatly in terms of the resources available to support high-quality training for educators. But there are plenty of low-cost and free resources they can use to help teachers refine and improve their skills, including the District of Columbia Public Schools’ IMPACT resource library (http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/In+the+Classroom/Ensuring+Teacher+Success/IMPACT...) and free videos through the Teaching Channel (https://www.teachingchannel.org/).
Taking a page from other performance-based professions and leveraging the tools and knowledge available can help make dramatic improvements to our overall education system. It’s simply a matter of prioritization and perseverance.
Ultimately, though, it’s not about making more money, winning a gold medal, or even boosting test scores. It’s about doing everything possible to help our kids succeed.
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