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How do Schools Achieve Excellence in Teaching?

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus

Schools and parents all want excellent teaching. However, how do schools create and support an environment to bring about outstanding teaching? There are a number of tools that are essential for schools to develop and use if they want to make excellent teaching part of their cultures.

If we care about excellence, we have to define what it means. Different schools with different philosophies or with different student populations will have different views of what constitutes outstanding teaching. Schools should consider developing a Characteristics of Professional Excellence document that articulates how they view inspired teaching.

A Characteristics of Professional Excellence document is a list of specific behaviors, values, and attitudes that illustrate how its faculty acts to meet the school's mission and helps develop its intended graduates. Each school's document is central to its unique mission, culture, and values. In this way, each school has unique attributes for its faculty to strive toward. Usually, there are between 5–8 characteristics that answer the question: What does a great teacher look like at our school?

Once a school has a characteristics document, the school can use that articulation to drive interview and hiring decisions, inform teacher orientations, develop mentoring programs, plan professional development and to align its evaluation systems with what it articulates as excellence.

The second major tool for inspiring excellence is a Supervision and Evaluation Protocol. This protocol lays out a regular schedule and approach to providing teachers with feedback in a formal manner. Aligning supervision and evaluation with the characteristics document provides a clear and consistent message about what excellence is and how a school will monitor progress in this area. Since achieving excellence is an ongoing process, both novice and veteran teachers alike benefit from an evaluation system that is tied to how a school defines good teaching.

The third area that is critical to excellence in teaching is robust professional development. Just as professionals in all areas do, educators need ongoing opportunities to develop and further their practice. When professional development emerges from both evaluation and a clear vision of excellence, it will reinforce each school's vision of outstanding teaching.

When a school aligns it's characteristics document, a formal evaluation system, and a serious commitment to professional development, it can begin to develop the foundation for a culture of excellence. None of these documents alone constitutes a culture. However, when these tools are related, they create the conditions to identify, supervise and grow excellent teachers who in turn build, reinforce and foster a school's culture of outstanding instruction.

Follow Mitch on Twitter @MitchMalkus.

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