We recently concluded interviews for a high school principal position. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the interview team. Many of the questions were predictable, but there were a few that caught the candidates by surprise. One such question was when we asked, “As a leader how would you ensure all students were able to discover and explore and their strengths and passions” (special thanks to Chris Wejr for that one). Another question that caused some surprise revolved around having the candidates describe a time they used courage in their professional career. Each candidate did a great job and I was thankful to have been a part of the day.
As with most days, I found myself reflecting on what had happened. I thought about our process, the questions we asked, the responses from the candidates. I thought about how I would have answered some if I were interviewing for the position. Upon giving the day more thought, the following question really stood out for me, “What key concepts do exemplary teachers include in their instructional practice?” It didn’t stand out because the candidates felt it was difficult or it surprised them. It stood out for me due to the variety of answers that were given. This person will be hired as the instructional leader of the school. Each of the candidates were current administrators, yet none of the answers were consistent. I thought to myself as the perceived instructional leaders of a school, shouldn’t we be able to explain what strategies an exemplary teacher uses on a day to day basis? Shouldn’t we all have some consistency in our thinking? I think we should, and as I thought about it a little more I tried to figure out what my answer to the question would have been.
Here is what my response would have been regarding exemplary teacher practices (in no particular order):
1) Clear Learning Targets: Learning should be transparent and attainable for every student in the classroom. The use of learning targets that are shared visibly and through discussion allows all students to know what they will be learning. An exemplary teacher does not and should not create a “gotcha” scenario for students through instruction or assessment. An exemplary teacher conveys what it is that a student is expected to know, understand and be able to do at the conclusion of a lesson. They also create targets that are specific, student friendly, and action oriented. Every student wants to know what it is they are supposed to do and an exemplary teacher understands this and provides this for their students.
2) Responsive to Students: An exemplary teacher responds to the learning needs of their students. They do not teach as they best learn. They teach how their students learn best. An exemplary teacher honors students’ preferences in learning and adjusts content to meet those needs. They also actively seek to understand their students’ skills and talents so they can match an appropriate strategy for the learning needs. An exemplary teacher is responsive in that they close the gap between knowing what to do and really doing it. Being responsive is doing what is fair for students and exemplary teachers understand this.
3) Intellectually Challenging: An exemplary teacher has the technical expertise and content knowledge appropriate for the class. They create multiple opportunities for students to engage in the material and ask questions. An exemplary teacher works at not being the “sage on the stage” and assumes the role of facilitator. They get out of the way of students and their quest to learn. In doing so, they create a classroom environment of engagement that fosters intellectual stimulation and curiosity. The exemplary teacher is able to organize their lessons and create pathways for this to be possible.
4) Builds Relationships: We can’t teach what we don’t know. We also can’t teach if we don’t know our students. If a teacher does not know their students how can they respond to the learning needs? One of the biggest things a classroom teacher must do is get to know their students. An exemplary teacher understands this and works on doing this each and every day. They build relationships by being positive with students, interacting with them both in and out of class, they make themselves available to help students with their work after class, and treat each student as an individual. Fair isn’t always equitable and exemplary teachers understand this notion when working with students.
5) Assess, Assess, Assess: For many, I realize the word “assess” conjures up negative thoughts as we think about AYP and the number of exams our students take today. Suffice to say, this isn’t the kind of assessment I am talking about. Rather, I am thinking about formative assessment. An exemplary teacher employs formative assessment techniques and strategies multiple times during a lesson. They continually assess whole group, small group, and individual students to determine comprehension of the learning target. Through these routine assessments an exemplary teacher will make instructional adjustments on the fly in the hope that all students will be able to demonstrate mastery of the learning target. An exemplary teacher realizes that students cannot learn without formative assessments.
6) Reflection: Exemplary teachers understand and utilize the power of reflection. They reflect upon themselves, their practice, and their students work. They think about and remember what they did. They think about what was important during the lesson and if students understood. They think about using certain pieces of the lesson again at a later time. They think about the patterns of learning they saw in the classroom with certain students. They think about how well they did and what did the students produce that led them to their conclusion. And finally, they think about their next steps. Exemplary teachers become automatic in their reflective processes. They also work at developing these techniques in their students. Reflection is the mother of all learning and an exemplary teacher practices this until it becomes permanent with them and their students.
I am sure there are other things I could include on this list, but I think this is how I would have answered the question during the interview. Some of you may agree with items on the list, think I left some items out, or disagree with what you have ready. If that is the case, feel free to leave a comment for further discussion.