What makes a good teacher?

January 29, 2015

(Photo: Center for Inspired Teaching)

Written by Aleta Margolis, Inspired Teaching’s founder and Executive Director, this piece was first published in Inspired Teaching’s January 2015 newsletter

At Standing Ovation for Teachers, held earlier this month at the Kennedy Center, many Inspired Teaching alumni were among the teachers honored as highly effective educators and leaders in DC Public Schools. The evening prompted me to consider a crucial question: we all agree that students need good teachers in order to succeed in college, career, and life. But what makes a good teacher?

In DC, a good teacher earns a “highly effective” ranking on IMPACT, an evaluation system that measures student achievement, instructional expertise, collaboration, and professionalism through a combination of standardized test scores and in-class observation.

At Inspired Teaching, we agree that the best way to measure a teacher’s effectiveness is through a portfolio approach. Test scores provide useful information, but cannot begin to capture all the work that a teacher does. We also focus on three key domains that experts have directly correlated to student achievement: instructional support, classroom organization, and emotional support. We measure this through CLASS: Classroom Assessment and Scoring System, an observation tool developed by the University of Virginia and validated in over 6,000 classrooms nationwide. Teachers trained by Inspired Teaching outscore the national CLASS average in all three domains, with the greatest difference seen in the score for instructional support.

This is important because good teaching is about sparking students’ curiosity and building their critical thinking. It’s about giving students an opportunity to explore, and supporting them in their quest to learn.

Maureen Ingram, a preschool Master Teacher at the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School, gets students excited about learning new words by involving them in the largest vocabulary lesson ever recorded by the Guinness Book of Records. Monica Rizo, a 2014 Inspired Teaching Fellow, uses carefully scaffolded questions to prompt her students’ attempts to prove that air exists even when you can’t see, taste, or touch it. Rhonda Humphries, a Teacher Leader in Inspired Teaching’s BLISS: Building Literacy in the Social Studies program, drives her students’ engagement, teaches them about production and global markets, and builds their research and argumentation skills by guiding them on a journey that traces the production process of a chocolate bar.

Good teachers are also good leaders. A recent survey found that over 60% of Fellows trained through our Inspired Teacher Certification Program went on to assume leadership positions in their schools. One Inspired Teaching alum, Stephen Lazar, recently provided expert testimony to Congress as the Senate reconsiders the testing requirements in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Stephen is the founder of Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, which “engages students in the natural process of experience, questioning, and the pursuit of precision.”

Inspired Teaching strives to shift the norm, so that all children can experience Inspired Teaching. Join us, and become an Inspired Teacher. If you’re an aspiring teacher, apply to our Inspired Teacher Certification Program and earn your DC State teaching licensure. If you’re already a teacher in DC, apply to be a Teacher Leader in social studies or science through our professional development programs BLISS and SCALE: Science Curriculum Advancement through Literacy Enhancement. Or invite us to your school to lead school-wide transformative teacher training to build a better classroom experience for all students.

We hope you’ll join us in our quest to support good teaching. Together, we will ensure that every student has an Inspired Teacher.

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