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Practice And Reflect: A Road Map To Becoming A Better Teacher



by Terry Heick

Becoming a better teacher is not much different than becoming a better artist or farmer or architect or engineer.

Most broadly, improvement in teaching can be reduced to a matter of prioritization, practice, reflection and refinement. In ‘Outliers,’ author Malcolm Gladwell theorized that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. If you do anything long enough, the theory goes, you improve. Practicing 20 hours a week for 50 weeks for ten years should readily produce expertise of some kind or degree.

It’s hard to argue with that idea. You practice walking so that you can walk, drawing so that you can draw, and speaking a foreign language so that you can speak with someone that speaks a different language than your own. Each of these skills is different in the abilities they require, but all can be improved through practice.

Assuming you’re practicing the right bits. It wouldn’t make much sense, for example, to practice speaking a foreign language by focusing primarily on the movement of your mouth and the position of your tongue while vocalizing words from that language. Being able to move your mouth to make certain sounds matters, but practicing those movements without knowing the words that require them, or the subject-verb patterns, or how to conjugate from one tense to another would be silly, and certainly would never yield anything close to expertise.

In every physical movement–of an athlete, for example–there is an economy of motion that is just right–specific barely-noticeable expressions that characterize that movement done well. A basketball player will make dozens of movements in producing a jump shot, but it is their ability to elevate with balance while tucking their shooting arm in, then releasing the ball at the right time all without taking their eyes off their target that will produce a ‘pretty jump shot’ that goes in the basket with any consistency.

1. Identify all the ‘bits’ and pieces

2. Prioritize those most critical that can anchor the rest

3. Practice those prioritized bits

4. Reflect on your performance

5. Refine those bits based on the reflection

6. Transfer those refined bits to new and authentic ecologists (that can produce new data for further refinement)

This is a general 6-step process for improvement, and just so happens to parallel biological evolution in many ways. It is the context of the application (of a gene mutation in this case) that determines whether or not that mutation is ultimately ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Evolution is simply a process of refinement based on the success of a given trait in a given ecology and context. How a species improves is how the individuals within that species can also improve themselves.

Right, so this road map. I’ve really ruined the cartographical nature of the metaphor, but I’m not going back and changing the image now, so let’s get back to it.

Prioritize, Practice, Refine And Reflect: A Road Map To Becoming A Better Teacher

1. Start with why

Why did you become a teacher?

Why do students need to understand this (whatever it is they’re studying in a lesson)?

Why did that student fail?

Why did you use that instructional strategy or learning model?

Why do students love this particular unit or lesson or project, and what can you learn from that?


When you start with why, you start with the purpose and passion and big ideas and emotions and affections that galvanize all the other bits.

This is how teachers improve.

2. Explore & ‘play’ with learning models

Become as experimental and playful using learning models (e.g. Sync Teaching or Flipped Classrooms) as you are with ice breakers or writing prompts. Learning models are approaches to learning. They are as much art as science, and crucial to the evolution of any teacher in the 21st century.

You’ll never learn how to use them unless you learn how to use them.

3. Find inspiration & support

So this is a big one: You can’t care for the people around you if you aren’t cared for yourself. Education has enough martyrs. Find support to make teaching sustainable, and inspiration for the days when it doesn’t feel that way.

4. Become fascinated with your content

The next stop on your road map to improvement as a teacher is the piquing of your own curiosity–not with pedagogy or learning models or students or even academic standards, but rather with the content itself. By becoming curious about what you teach, you’ll model for students how to do the same in how they learn.

And this part can’t ever stop. The world never stops changing, and your content area is a part of that world. Math isn’t the same as it was in 1987. Literature isn’t either. Or any of the rest if for no other reason than the spaces students consistently use knowledge within change endlessly as well.

You have to teach Moby Dick in light of theological intolerance, or physics in light of electric cars, history in light of the blurring of political borders, and government in light of the recent failures and successes of that government.

5. Study curriculum mapping

No matter how passionate you are about your content, and how inspired you can make yourself to be, or how consistently innovative the learning models in your classroom are, if you can’t distill that content into digestible bits, then arrange and sequence them in a way that provides countless opportunities for students to encounter that content–to ‘practice’ it in increasingly complex and alien contexts, the rest won’t matter.

Education, perhaps more than anything else, has a curriculum problem, and the mapping of that curriculum is a big parent of that.

6. Understand how people learn

You can study neurology if you’d like on this stage of your road map. ‘Brain-based teaching,’ as some call it. You can study Bloom’s Taxonomy or the Heick Taxonomy (forgive me) or DOK levels of higher-order thinking skills or use critical thinking stems and prompts–this is all part and parcel to how people learn.

But there’s also emotion to it–why place matters in learning, for example. And curiosity. And how they use technology to find information and share it, too.

Further, to understand how people learn, you have to understand where they learn, too. This is near the core of personalized learning and should be a common stop on your ongoing journey of teacher improvement.

7. Seek to know every student equally

The final destination (well sort of–you’ll see what I mean in a moment) of your journey to teacher improvement is the students themselves. It could be argued that this should be both the beginning and end, and ‘Start with Why’ certainly leaves room for that.

Good teachers don’t teach content, they teach students. Great teachers don’t teach ‘students,’ but rather that student in that place with those knowledge demands. This is likely impossible in most cases; knowing every single student with affection, and then adjusting your teaching and their learning in response isn’t practical or sustainable.

But if it were somehow possible–through some combination of learning models and teacher genius and expert application of scintillating technology–it’d change everything.

8. Go back to ‘why’ and start again

Of course, this isn’t a sequence necessarily even though I guess I did draw it that way. You can start at number five and go back to one and jump ahead to four. That’s up to you based on who and where and what and how you teach. The idea here is that ‘Why?’ is among the most crucial questions in any circumstance hoping to produce critical thinkers.

Always go back to it when you feel stuck or need some inspiration (see stop three on your trip) or simply need to get your bearings and reorient yourself in a world changing so fast that some days it can feel like you barely recognize it.

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The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives




The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

by Terry Heick

It’s better to give than to receive–something that holds true for gift-giving and education.

In fact, the act of giving isn’t just a matter of ultimately receiving more, or even an act of altruism and selflessness. It has more to do with seeing the big picture itself — a healthy, robust, functioning system of careful human performance — that becomes the goal. It’s in this simple paradigm shift that we, as teachers, can find a new level of performance as professionals, contentment in our craft, and changed lives in the communities we serve.

So how might we focus on that service not as a characteristic of my job, but as the goal itself–the most macro product of all? For teachers, this would obviously be built around the idea of service-oriented teaching, where we gain strength and perspective from serving others. It would lead to ‘other growth,’ including, on a broader level, the formation of a personal and professional ecology than can sustain us through the challenges of teaching.

What would this look like?

Other teachers who need us, and who we need

Parents who need us, and who we need

Students who need us for something other than clarifying instructions, providing credit, and letter grades

The community of our school, including grade levels above and below ours, that needs us for our performance, collaboration, and ideas, just as we need that community.

In a word, this looks like interdependence. So what can I give to begin?

They give themselves.

Teaching is martyrdom. So often, educators feel the need to give themselves up to be feasted upon until there’s nothing left. Giving yourself is a different kind of gift, though. Here, it means truly putting your self aside — your need to be the best, your insecurities, professional goals, need for affirmation, and so on — and instead give in to the act of teaching.

But more crucially, this giving of yourself implies that you give your whole self to the act of teaching — your creativity, affection, background knowledge, contacts, networks, dreams, hopes, and so on — in the whole merging of you and your work.

They give others the benefit of the doubt.

As a teacher, you’ll see a lot moving upstream and down — struggling readers that always seem to come from that school; that family that doesn’t seem to care; that co-worker who seems to challenge you at every chance; that administrator who always seems to find a way to poke holes in your teaching. That assessment. That law. That policy.

Never, ever stop questioning the things happening around you. Be a critical educator, ask tough questions, and ring the bell when you’re concerned. Just do so from a position of positivity — give others the benefit of the doubt. Use positive presuppositions, such as: “We’ve always been strong supporters of literacy here, so I’m confused why. . . ”




They give themselves the opportunity to learn new things continuously.

Okay, perspective change to first-person: I’m going to give myself the gift of learning. As a teacher, it makes sense to learn endlessly, not just to model it for students, but to keep my own curiosity and tendency for play stirring and alive.

I may learn a new set of literacy strategies. Maybe it’ll be a variation on the Socratic Seminar, or I’ll mash Fish Bowls with Agree/Disagree. I may bring new education technology into my classroom, or reach for new learning models such as project-based learning, sync teaching, or self-directed learning. I may throw out my desk and go paperless, mobile, or completely back to basics.

But I’m never going to stop learning. That is my gift to myself.

They give students a chance.

Maybe that’s a chance to surprise themselves. I want to give the gift of inspiration. Who doesn’t? And what better way can we inspire than by designing learning experiences that let students do things they didn’t think they were capable of? My gift would be giving students opportunities to surprise themselves through their own skills, critical thinking, creativity, and deep understanding of important ideas.

They give parents authentic opportunity to get involved.

It’s tempting to complain about parents that aren’t involved in their child’s schooling. Who on earth wants to be involved in schooling? Learning is a different matter — that’s something with a foothold allowing parents to engage meaningfully. This isn’t grades and homework, but rather understanding and the need to understand.

You may or may not get anything more from parents, but at least you’ve given them more tempting access than they’ve ever had in the past.

They give others chances to create new measures of success.

Teaching — properly done and measured as we do today — is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot bring every single child to proficiency in every single standard while, at the same time, meeting their needs as human beings and helping them both see and reach their full potential. If this is your goal, you’re only going to disappoint yourself endlessly until you either burn out or realize that you’re lying to yourself.

Teaching, though, with new metrics of success — well, that’s suddenly a whole lot easier.

They give themselves a break.

The preceding represents a lot of giving, and also a lot of complexity, interdependence, opportunity, work, and chances to fail. So above all, I’m going to give myself a break.

I will give all of myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll learn new things, promote self-discovery, connect with communities, and establish new measures of success. And when things go wrong, I’ll have a short memory. I’ll give myself a break and push on, excited about what tomorrow might bring.

Image attribution flickr user denisekrebs and cloudboard; What Every Good Teacher Gives
pay for an essay to be written

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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching



How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

contributed by Vicki Collet

Making teaching a shared and public practice supports improved instruction.

When teachers have opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students” (Lieberman & Wood, 2002, p. 42). Teacher inquiry makes us question practices that have become stale, generate innovation, and create dynamic learning for ourselves and our students.

Over the past decade, I’ve participated in teacher inquiry using a process called Lesson Study. I’ve seen scores of teachers engage with authentic professional learning through this work. Lesson Study is a structure for teacher inquiry that is as straightforward as it sounds: the study of a lesson. However, Catherine Lewis, who learned about Lesson Study in Japan and has been instrumental in spreading its use in the United States, points out that during Lesson Study,

(Teachers) improve the lessons not as an end in
itself, but as a way to deepen their own content knowledge, their knowledge of
student thinking, their understanding of teaching and learning, and their
commitment to improvement of their own practice and that of colleagues…Lesson
study is not about discovering the one right way to teach a lesson, but about
building knowledge of many teaching strategies and habits of observation,
inquiry, and analysis of practice (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 24).

When participating in Lesson Study, you will collaboratively plan lessons that become the focus of inquiry on effective teaching practices. Then you’ll observe one another teach lessons and collaboratively revise and refine your instructional plans, as shown in the figure below.

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

Inquiry is the essential element of Lesson Study, so the clear focus you identify for a Lesson Study cycle should propel your desire to investigate, to analyze and study together. Pursuing the questions your group has identified provides challenge and authentic purpose, which will increase your team’s motivation and engagement. Because you have identified the problem for yourself, the process will have immediate value. 

The goal of Lesson Study is not to create the ideal lesson that is universally useful. During teacher preparation and professional development, you have doubtless been taught and encouraged to use ‘best practices.’ Although it is true that some practices are more effective than others (and research has much to teach us), it is also true that there is no single, perfect lesson. This is true because you and I, and the students we teach, are diverse in so many ways. Lesson Study focuses on “the why of teaching: why teaching methods work in particular ways in particular settings” (Smagorinsky, as cited in Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 5). 

Grow your school with TeachThought PD Collaborative Lesson Study Workshops.

In our quest for better ways of doing things, Lesson Study can help us identify places where we are frozen in old practices and can help us warm to new ones. Lesson Study uncovers new approaches that are informed by the examination of evidence gained through our professional inquiry. Collaboration with colleagues who share similar contexts and concerns makes the insights gained especially helpful. By being the guides to our own professional learning, teachers resist stagnation and become mobile, active agents of change. With our colleagues, we take a learning stance by asking questions, taking risks, and reflecting on both successes and failures.

Study uses knowledge you gain from your own classroom to stimulate professional
conversations about teaching and learning. Shared experiences through joint
planning and observation support the conversation, helping you develop your own
understanding and share it with others.


If you are eager to investigate and improve instruction and increase your understanding about teaching, I invite you to learn more about Lesson Study. Lesson Study creates continuous learning cycles that put teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.


Book: Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional


Request to join Collaborative Lesson Study Book Club on Facebook est (next book study begins January 13, 2020)

Vicki’s blog:

Vicki on Facebook:

Vicki on Twitter: @vscollet


A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally
proactive approach to literacy instruction. Teachers College Press.

C. & Hurd, J. (2011). Lesson study step by step: How teacher learning
communities improve instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

A., & Wood, D. R. (2002). From network learning to classroom
teaching. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 315-337.

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning



18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

by Terry Heick

I. In terms of pedagogy, the primary purpose of an assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. It should provide an obvious answer to the question, “So? So what? What now?

II. It’s an extraordinary amount of work to design precise and personalized assessments that illuminate pathways forward for individual students–likely too much for one teacher to do so consistently for every student. This requires rethinking of learning models, or encourages corner-cutting. (Or worse, teacher burnout.)

III. Literacy (reading and writing ability) can obscure content knowledge. Further, language development, lexical knowledge (VL), and listening ability are all related to mathematical and reading ability (Flanagan 2006). This can mean that it’s often easier to assess something other than an academic standard than it is knowledge of the standard itself. It may not tell you what you want it to, but it’s telling you something.

IV. Student self-assessment is tricky but a key matter of understanding. According to Ross & Rolheiser, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work.” (Ross & Rolheiser 2001)

V. Assessments of learning can sometimes obscure more than they reveal. If the assessment is precisely aligned to a given standard, and that standard isn’t properly understood by both the teacher and assessment designer, and there isn’t a common language between students, teacher, assessment designer, and curriculum developers about content and its implications, there is significant “noise” in data that can mislead those wishing to use the data, and disrupt any effort towards data-based instruction.

VI. Teachers often see understanding or achievement or career and college-readiness; students often see grades and performance (e.g., a lack or abundance of failure) (Atkinson 1964).

VII. Self-evaluation and self-grading are different. ‘Self-evaluation’ does not mean that the students determine the grades for their assignments and courses instead of the teacher. Here, self-evaluation refers to the understanding and application of explicit criteria to one’s own work and behavior for the purpose of judging if one has met specified goals (Andrade 2006).

VIII. If the assessment is not married to curriculum and learning models, it’s just another assignment. That is, if the data gleaned from the assessment isn’t used immediately to substantively revise planned instruction, it’s at best practice, and at worst, extra work for the teacher and student. If assessment, curriculum, and learning models don’t ‘talk’ to one another, there is slack in the chain.

IX. As with rigor, ‘high’ is a relative term. High expectations–if personalized and attainable–can promote persistence in students (Brophy 2004). Overly simple assessments to boost ‘confidence’ are temporary. The psychology of assessment is as critical as the pedagogy and content implications.


X. Designing assessment that has diverse measures of success that ‘speak’ to the student is critical to meaningful assessment. Students are often motivated to avoid failure rather than achieve success (Atkinson 1964).

XI. In a perfect world, we’d ask not “How you do on the test,” but “How’d the test do on you?” That is, we’d ask how accurately the test illuminated exactly what we do and don’t understand rather than smile or frown at our ‘performance.’ Put another way, it can be argued that an equally important function of an assessment is to identify what a student does understand. If it doesn’t, the test failed, not the student.

XII. The classroom isn’t ‘the real world.’ It’s easy to say invoke ‘the real world’ when discussing grading and assessments (e.g., “If a law school student doesn’t study for the Bar and fail, they don’t get to become lawyers. The same applied to you in this classroom, as I am preparing you for the real world.”) Children (in part) practicing to become adults is different than the high-stakes game of actually being an adult. The classroom should be a place where students come to understand the ‘real world’ without feeling its sting.

When students fail at school, the lesson they learn may not be what we hope.

XIII. Most teachers worth their salt can already guess the range of student performance they can expect before they even give the assessment. Therefore, it makes sense to design curriculum and instruction to adjust to student performance on-the-fly without Herculean effort by the teacher. If you don’t have a plan for the assessment data before you give the assessment, you’re already behind.

XIV. Every assessment is flawed. (Nothing is perfect.) That means that the more frequent, student-centered, and ‘non-threatening’ the assessment is (here are some examples of non-threatening assessments) the better. It’s tempting to overvalue each assessment as some kind of measuring stick of human potential. At best, it’s an imperfect snapshot–and that’s okay. We just need to make sure teachers and students and parents are all aware and respond to results accordingly.

XV. As a teacher, it’s tempting to take assessment results personal; it’s not. The less personal you take the assessment, the more analytical you’ll allow yourself to be.

XVI. Confirmation bias within assessment is easy to fall for–looking for data to support what you already suspect. Force yourself to see it the other way. Consider what the data says about what you’re teaching and how students are learning rather than looking too broadly (e.g., saying ‘they’ are ‘doing well’) or looking for data to support ideas you already have.

XVII. Assessment doesn’t have to mean ‘test.’ All student work has a world of ‘data’ to offer. How much you gain depends on what you’re looking for. (Admittedly, this truth isn’t really inconvenient at all.)

XVIII. Technology can help make data collection simpler and more effective but that’s not automatically true. In fact, if not used properly, technology can even make things worse by providing too much data about the wrong things (making it almost unusable to teachers).

The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment

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