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Engaging Students Is the Key to Teacher Effectiveness

Engaging Students Is the Key to Teacher Effectiveness

by Mark Pogue

Growing up in the '60s I had the unusual privilege of attending a small elementary school, Lake Elementary, where my grandfather was the principal. He performed all the normal activities you'd expect from a teacher who also doubled as the principal for our small school: teaching 6th grade, coaching basketball and baseball, all while managing the small facility that served the needs of so many students throughout the years. But what was most remarkable about attending Lake Elementary was the emphasis my grandpa put on relationships and the importance of each individual student.

I can't tell you how many times I heard "he was the best teacher I ever had," "he always seemed to know just how to challenge me," and "next to my parents he's one of the most important people in my life." Hopefully we all had at least a few teachers in our lives who had the kind of impact my grandpa did on students' lives. All in all, it was probably only a handful. However, times may be changing. In a new Gallup-Education Week survey, an overwhelming majority of superintendents emphasize the importance of engagement in the evaluation of teacher effectiveness.

These superintendents acknowledge how tough it is to find great teacher talent and just how important talent is to fostering teacher effectiveness. Ninety-four percent say student engagement is crucial to measuring teacher effectiveness. And that statistic is followed by only 6% saying years of teaching experience made a significant difference in effectiveness. Our superintendents believe we have to find and recruit teachers who start with the talent to be successful and then develop it.

Students in my grandfather's classes were engaged, and all the teachers were held to that same expectation. At 65, he was still making the rounds at recess, making every student in his school feel special and important. With those feelings also came the sense that something was expected of us. If we were special and important, we had better not squander our potential on anything less than being a success and getting the most out of what we'd been given.

There are obviously a lot of factors that contribute to student success, and the superintendents emphasize most of them in their responses -- excellent curriculum, removing barriers for disadvantaged students, strong teacher talent and performance. Reading through the results in the new Gallup-Education Week survey, I'm encouraged both by the sense of urgency in our school leadership and that so many of our districts' leaders want to be spending more time with students!

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