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Teaching is Both an Art and a Science

posted May 6, 2016, 1:07 PM by Brenda Williams
Media coverage over the past 5 - 10 years about assessing the effectiveness of teachers has often led me to ponder how this wonderful profession has become so oversimplified in the minds of the public and even in the minds of many educators. Most of us can remember a teacher or two that had a huge impact on our lives, and the emotional connection to that memory in our minds usually leads us to conclude that the person was a great teacher. In the same way, when our own child is struggling and doesn’t seem to get along with a teacher, we often find ourselves developing the opinion that the teacher isn’t very effective. As a school administrator, I frequently hear statements that are rooted in these emotions such as, “he/she shouldn’t be allowed to keep teaching” or “he/she is such an awesome teacher.” I cringe even more when I hear fellow administrators make statements that oversimplify the profession such as, “I know a good teacher when I see one” or “you can tell a great teacher in the first five minutes - you just know.” This kind of talk is akin to explaining calculus in a 140-character tweet, and it insults the incredibly complex work that teachers do every day. Unfortunately, we are just as guilty of these oversimplifications inside the profession as are those outside the profession.

A vast amount of research on the practices of highly effective teaching has been done over the past twenty years, and we now know more about what effective teachers do and what effective schools do than in any other time in history. We’ve witnessed the research slowly establish consensus, and the work of Charlotte Danielson, Robert Marzano, Michael Fullen, Andrew Hargreaves, and John Hattie in the past ten years sheds a great deal of light on what effective teachers do each day. In Pequot Lakes Schools, we have chosen to use Robert Marzano’s evaluation systems for instructional staff. The teacher framework has 60 separate elements organized into four domains to capture both the art and the science of teaching. Domain 1, called “Classroom Strategies and Behaviors” includes 41 of the elements to articulate the nuanced, prepared, and on-the-fly decisions that a teacher makes while delivering instruction. The work of both Hattie and Marzano includes the “effect size” of particular strategies on student learning helping us understand the “bang for buck” or “return on investment.” It’s important to understand that nearly everything a good teacher does is for student learning, but some approaches are naturally more effective than others. We want our teachers to do more of the strategies with a high level of impact on student learning and less of the ones with a smaller impact.

My challenge to the Pequot Lakes Schools community - including district staff - is to lead the way in honoring the art and science of teaching and to honor the real challenge of teaching each unique student. Inside the district, we are engaged in meaningful professional development to learn the research and to develop the resources and strategies that have a bigger effect size on student learning. Our investment in the development of our teachers to close the gap between our daily practices and those supported by solid research is a key reason that I’m proud to be a Patriot!

-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools