The Mindset of a Master Teacher

By | August 29, 2010

I’m getting an early start on our next SBG book club (#sbarbook) selection. The book is Never Work Harder than your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn Jackson.  I think it will be very helpful for setting goals for this year, so I am aiming to finish it before the school year begins in mid-September.

Unlike books like Teach Like a Champion, this book is based on the idea that great teaching isn’t about mastering a huge number of strategies used by “master teachers.” Jackson believes that becoming a master teacher is about having the right mindset about teaching.

A master teacher adheres to the following principles:

  1. Start where you students are.
  2. Know where you student are going
  3. Expect your students to get there.
  4. Support your students.
  5. Use effective feedback.
  6. Focus on quality, not quantity.
  7. Never work harder than your students.

Just looking at the principles, I rated where I think I stood on each on a scale of 1-4, then I took the Cosmopolitan-style self-assessment provided (available in the Google Books preview for free) to figure out if he’s really into me whether my perception is “accurate.” Though a few of the questions didn’t apply, I think my overall score matches the author’s description fairly well. My individual scores for each of the principles however didn’t match my predictions for the most part. The principles I need to work on most are 1, 3, and 7. I expected my lowest score to be on feedback, based on our current book (How to Give Effective Feedback to your Students by Susan Brookhart), so I look forward to seeing how this author defines effective feedback.

At any rate, I will read through this book in order, and hopefully blog more about my impressions on the book, and my reflections on my own teaching.

How would you define a master teacher? I’ve always seen the term associated with excellent classroom management and strong (standardized test) results across the board, but in practice is described as highly scripted, teacher-centered, drill-heavy, and ultimately centered on creating “good, obedient students,” rather than intellectually curious, lifelong learners. From the preface and introduction, it is clear that Jackson defines good teachers by how they engage students intellectually in the classroom. I wasn’t able to make it very far into  Teach Like a Champion, but master teachers  seem to be defined strictly on successful classroom management and results, leaving little room for students to truly construct knowledge, learn from mistakes and engage material in a meaningful way.  I think Jackson’s idea of “master teacher” is what most of us think of when we think of our best teachers from school.


1 Comment

MsGajda on August 29, 2010 at 9:29 pm.

I am going to attempt to answer your question, having just finished my teacher training program and had the opportunity to observe many teachers in their classrooms. Based on my own biases and values, I would agree that classroom management is important insofar that it creates the best learning environment for as many students as possible. I see a master teacher engaging all students in the learning process first through developing relationships with the students and meeting students where students are at. The master teacher then, miraculously, takes the community of at minimum 25 unique learners and gets them “all” moving the same direction and working toward the same goal.

Sounds easy, no? The master teacher doesn’t need classroom management because he/she has positioned him/herself on the side of the students and created a productive, creative and lively learning environment that meets the needs of all learners (including said master teacher).

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