More By Author
August 04, 2009
July 12, 2010
July 15, 2010
Steven Farr, Teach For America
With nearly two decades of data on more than 17,000 teachers, Teach For America has released its internal findings showing what distinguishes its most highly effective teachers from the rest. The book, Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap, outlines six principles embodied by effective teachers and builds the evidence base for an issue that author Steven Farr says has been far too long shrugged off as an ineffable mystery – what makes a great teacher?
TFA teachers and alumni will surely recall large portions of the “Teaching as Leadership” (TAL) framework from heart (or at least older iterations of it). My first encounter with TAL occurred during afternoon-long sessions at a coffee shop in 2005, between college graduation and moving to the East Coast to begin my teaching stint in Camden, New Jersey. I had just two weeks to ingest the formulas for extraordinary teaching before heading to Summer Institute (TFA’s five-week boot camp).
For me, TAL was memorable (you’ll see what I mean if you flip through it for yourself) because of its sense of urgency about closing America’s vexing achievement gaps, and because its anecdotes inspired hope that hard-working young people could achieve the seemingly impossible with their students.
But the contents of TAL aren’t just motivators. For TFA teachers, the six principles are guidelines for how to measure classroom success, signposts for knowing whether you’re on track to replicating the extraordinary achievements of teachers who’ve gone before you. The framework’s principles are wrap-around and multi-purpose – not only do they inform TFA’s selection process, they serve as evaluation tools and guidance for TFA in developing its teachers from neophytes into educators capable of moving their students ahead by one, two, three, or more years of academic growth.
TFA has found that highly effective teachers do the following:
Teach For America believes unequivocally in the power of quality teaching to transform educational opportunities for low-income and minority students who have been denied the excellent education they deserve. Through their organizational commitment to data collection, research, and constant self-improvement, TFA has refined these principles over time and has leveraged them to impact the lives of 3 million students. Five years ago when I first came across TAL, I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of these principles, or that only by living and breathing by them would I be able to succeed as a novice and live up to the difficult tasked placed in front of me.
I remain convinced by the power of Teaching as Leadership to recruit, evaluate, and develop extraordinary teachers, and am excited by a growing consensus that it is indeed possible to measure what makes a teacher excellent. Of course, the evidence around teacher quality is still partial at best, and the definition remains blurry (not everyone agrees that “effectiveness” should be the driving metric).
But in reading Teaching as Leadership, you begin to see at least a faint outline made possible by the successes of thousands of teachers in low-income communities – one with the potential to convince even the worst of skeptics that America’s achievement gaps are not inexorable. Policy makers, educators, and the rest of us must press forward in search of greater precision around defining, measuring, and building systems to attract and reward our highly effective teachers. For the 14 million children growing up in poverty in the US, our search for answers has never been more imperative. Buy the book here.