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Grit: Why the best and the Worst REALLY do Matter- In the classrooms for SURE!

By LeaderTalk Contributor — February 20, 2010 2 min read

This entry has been cross posted to Sentiments On Common Sense.

I just returned from a trip to the U.S. to hire some teachers for my school. Those trips are grueling, intense and a chance to examine my personal educational beliefs at a core level.

We move out on these trips with great purpose.

We work in teams.

We talk. We collaborate. We commiserate. We come home exhausted.

We interview 15-18 teachers a day and make some very basic decisions (to offer a contract or say “no thank you”) which are VERY important decisions about who will be the teachers in some of our classrooms this next academic year.

Before we went out on our recruiting trips this year, I had our administrative team review an article from Independent School Management titled “Why the Worst (and Best) Teachers Matter”. Unfortunately it is a copyrighted article not available on the web unless you are member of ISM, but I will quote from the article which focuses the reader on the aphorism that “a rising tide lifts all boats” is not necessarily true day in and day out in the classrooms. The author notes that “bad” teachers also have an effect on the good teachers in the schools in which we work. Evidence points to the fact that..

Relationships among people in an organization matter a great deal. Simply put, students get higher marks when both their teacher and their teacher's peers are above average; when teachers peers are lower in ability and effectiveness, students achievement levels reflect that.

Technically speaking....

...the study notes that "replacing one peer (teacher) wiht another has one standard deviation higher value-added will increase her students tests scores by 0.86 percent of a standard deviation." That improvement is noted for reading; for mathematics improvement "is associated with a 3.98% of a standard deviation increase in math test scores."

Noteworthy? I think so! In fact as I read the article, and did as the author suggested and examine this trend in it’s entirety, I believe it confirms just what I believed for some time. Teachers, like students, benefit from direct learning from their peers, and that learning and professional improvement result from exposure to better peers. It is probably a “no-duh!” for many administrators out there when I state that it really has nothing to do with the school, and the organization and more about the quality of the teachers in the classrooms. Great schools, as common sense would tell you, have bad teachers and bad, or poor performing schools have some good teachers. In the Atlantic Monthly article “What Makes are Great Teacher?” author Amanda Ripley notes in her article detailing the “New Teacher Project” that,

For years, the secrets to great teaching have seemed more like alchemy than science, a mix of motivational mumbo jumbo and misty-eyed tales of inspiration and dedication.

She goes on to share that...

But we have never identified excellent teachers in any reliable, objective way. Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere--but not replicate. The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.

Noting that...

Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children. Teacher quality tends to vary more within schools--even supposedly good schools--than among schools.


So, what should we be looking for out there? What kinds of traits do we look for, and HOW does my team of administrators gleen realization of these traits from brief 15-30 minute interviews. My take as always been to find learners, not learned teachers. I have always looked for teachers who have an innate joy and love of life. I look for teachers who have demonstrated leadership and goal aquisition in the past. I look for teachers who have perserverved, not through hardship, but toward a single-minded high standard for the student learning experience. My common sense is once again confirmed as noted by Ripley when she quotes the Journal of Positive Psychology.

In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology in November 2009, they evaluated 390 Teach for America instructors before and after a year of teaching. Those who initially scored high for "grit"--defined as perseverance and a passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple-choice test--were 31 percent more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students. Gritty people, the theory goes, work harder and stay committed to their goals longer. (Grit also predicts retention of cadets at West Point, Duckworth has found.)

Interestingly this hit a nerve with me. It makes a lot of common sense.

Grit. Stamina. A learner. Flexible. Adaptable. Grit.

Technorati Tags: recruiting, hiring, great teachers, bad teachers, supervision and evaluation, Atlantic Monthly, What Makes a Great Teacher?

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