There are a million ways to be an excellent teacher. And a million practices and moves that a teacher does to create that excellent instruction.
Instinctively, we know this. We can probably recall at least a handful of teachers from our own educational experiences that, now looking back with our educator’s lens in hindsight, we would call excellent. (Not just the ones we liked the most at the time who we thought were awesome.)
Are any of them carbon copies of each other? Do any of their methods and practices feel prescribed? If we were to apply our current definition of excellent instruction from the schools where we teach and lead, would any of them check all of the boxes?
It wasn’t their adherence to specific practices that made them excellent. It was the effect they had on you as the learner, the experience they created for you as a student. Excellence was defined on the impact of their efforts, not their personal inputs.
Why then do we approach instructional leadership fixated almost exclusively on teachers’ inputs to define excellence? This runs counter to everything we ourselves experienced as excellent instruction in our own education and everything that we intuitively know to be true about great teaching.
This is not meant to suggest that we abandon all efforts to have a coordinated set of instructional practices that we collectively pursue within in our school buildings. Quite the opposite, in fact. Knowing our “look-fors” is a necessary start, but merely an insufficient beginning, to identify excellent instruction.
We do know that some things work better than others for many teachers who employ those practices with their group of students. These are a great place to begin. And we should clarify and communicate which practices we hypothesize will likely be best suited for our specific students’ learning needs and the larger educational philosophy that we aim to espouse in each of our schools. But our assessment of whether or not a teacher performing these actions as we have prescribed or as “best practices” have dictated cannot stop at observing whether or not the teacher checks off these boxes.
We must look beyond the surface level of a teacher’s actions to where we know excellent instruction truly resides — the impact on students.
What is the effect that we are aiming to having on our students by employing those practices? Not the improved test scores at the end of the year or even “mastery” on an exit ticket at the end of the lesson — but right now, the immediate effect on students sitting directly in front of us engaged in the hard work of learning. What is the instantaneous impact we are looking for?
This is the more important aspect of excellent instruction to envision — the immediate instructional experience of our students. Inputs alone mean mean very little without this context and can lead to a lot more false positives about excellent instruction than the creation of powerful learning experiences we seek.