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What Is Great Teaching?

How do you know a good teacher when you see one?

In his TED Talk conductor Benjamin Zander says that his definition of success is “How many shining eyes do I have around me.” The same test should be used to determine the success of a teacher. Walk into a classroom (any grade)

at a random selection of times and look into the eyes of the students. Ask yourself: What is the incidence of enthusiasm? How much do the people in this room care about what is going on? Count the shining eyes and you will know most of what you need to know about whether or not education is occurring.

Schools and school systems should ask themselves a similar question. Are teachers held accountable to create the conditions in which their students eyes are bright with enthusiasm, curiosity, and power or are they held accountable to get students to some predetermined point in a predetermined time frame? The former is teaching and the latter is pedantry–no actually, the latter is hazing.

Are the schools measured by the light in kids’ eyes or the scores on some test? The former is education and the latter is schooling–no actually, the latter is social sorting.

Education can’t be done to children. Education is leading: creating the conditions for others to shine, learn and grow. This is because education is fundamentally about changing people, and one person cannot actually get another person to change. Parents and teachers are engaged in a trickier business–trickier, but potentially more fun, and infinitely more rewarding. When it works, there is light in childrens’ eyes; they are learning and loving learning at the same time.

Great teachers are leaders not managers. When I interview a teacher I don’t ask about “classroom management,” I engage in conversation which will surface this person’s potential to lead. A manager controls variables to achieve predetermined outcomes, a leader creates the conditions for the genius to show up; for then we will maximize learning—and (pssst) the test scores go up, too.


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One Response to “What Is Great Teaching?”

  1. Donna June 17, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    This was a pleasure to read Rick – thank you – am going to share with my readers – love the difference between leaders and managers… feeling inspired and looking for shining eyes…

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