Building Teacher Professional Judgment by Mary Jo Dunnington, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships at All Kinds of Minds

Reading Elizabeth Green’s “Building a Better Teacher” in The New York Times Magazine this weekend, I was encouraged at the ideas explored for helping those in the teaching profession become even better at what they do. As Green’s article notes, so much of the recent conversations about human capital in education among reformers have been around the pipeline – getting talent into our classrooms – and getting ineffective teachers out. But as she highlights, there is much that individuals can learn to make them more effective when they step in front of their students – and much that is not a part of the deliberate preparation regime for the vast majority of individuals who enter this profession.

I was struck that underlying both Lemov’s Taxonomy and Ball’s Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching is the recognition that an effective teacher can – and must – learn how to respond to the actual human beings sitting in their classrooms. Lemov’s techniques demonstrate there are behavioral, engagement-oriented signs that teachers can look for in students, and specific strategies they can employ based on what students are doing. These are not 49 one-liners that teachers can use to develop a routine that they perform for students. Similarly, Ball’s finding that content expertise is important – but deep content understanding alone does not a great teacher make – underscores that effective teaching involves observing the mistakes – the struggles – of students grappling with a subject, and drawing on an understanding of how students learn a subject in order to adjust explanations, examples, and practice.

In medicine and other fields, we would talk about this as professional judgment – the ability to draw on deep subject knowledge, the learned ability to observe and diagnose, and wisdom derived from practice (your own and others’) to produce the best outcomes for the person you are working with.

Here’s hoping that these important ideas continue to become a growing part of how we think about and define effective teachers – and that forward-thinking policymakers will accordingly recognize the absolutely crucial role of high-quality professional development to help us build the teaching force our students need and deserve.

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2 thoughts on “Building Teacher Professional Judgment by Mary Jo Dunnington, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships at All Kinds of Minds

  1. I too just read “Building a Better Teacher” and was impressed with the insight so apparent in Lemov’s Taxonomy and the concept put forth by Deborah Ball of M.K.T., or math knoweldge for teaching. In the example of teaching math, Lemov has it right that student attention is foundational but after that the missing component is too often that teacher’s have no way to understand how 30 different minds might learn one concept and the importance of analyzing how their errors can reveal that misunderstanding. Without this, it is impossible to take each mind from “not getting it” to “getting it.” For this reason, when strength based assessments are undertaken, it becomes more important to document the conditions under which a student can succeed than to simply list low scores and identify areas of weak school performance. The direct application in a classroom is to replicate those conditions so that a student experiences success. Using a red pen to place a check by a math problem with the wrong answer does not help kids learn how to do it right.

  2. It will be difficult to bring in the talent needed to accomplish all that the brilliant research is indicating is necessary when teachers are not yet earning a living wage. Add to that the financial problems that plague our educational system. Next year in Portland Public Schools in Oregon, the top of the caseload range for Special Education teachers will be 43. Since General Educators in this area still do not understand that data isn’t a list of annoying behaviors, it is the Special Education teacher that is asked to train teachers, or be the one who collects, organizes and interprets the data. The workload and expectations for all educators at this time is daunting. Our society is too wrapped up in fulfilling immediate needs and desires to focus on the future of our kids. We like to read the research; however, we don’t want to use our resources to invest in something that won’t directly make life better for us in the present.

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