How to Get All Teachers to Be Like the Best Teachers

Session notes from “How to Get All Teachers to Be Like the Best Teachers,” presented by Todd Whitaker.

What was the speaker’s main message?

Hire better teachers or improve the ones we’ve got. The only solution to education is to get the best teachers teaching (not all the other initiatives).

What was the speaker’s best quote?

  • “We don’t need to innovate; we need to replicate.”
  • “Everyone wants to be great. They don’t want to be average.”
  • “Nothing happens randomly, but things often seem to happen randomly.”

What were the top ideas from the session?

  • It’s not about knowing your why; it’s about making sure your why is aligned and in the right direction to support students.
  • No program is the solution, and no program is the problem
  • Need to have a learning relationship—not just a relationship—and need a teacher who is great (not just nice).
  • We need to teach people, not tell people.
  • If you remove a task from a superstar, they’ll replace it with a more important task (not just another task).
  • The quality of the mentor caps that new teachers’ growth. School leaders needs to be selective about mentor assignment and not just assign one out of convenience.
  • Three components of classroom management: relationships with students, expectations are appropriate and lessons are engaging, and consistency of doing the right thing on a regular basis. Ask staff to rank them: What are they best at, second best at, and third best at?

What is one strategy that you will implement immediately?

The principal is the filter. You are in charge of whether you share your emotions, feelings, and mood. For example, as principal, you have a difficult conversation with a parent, and after that, a teacher asks how your day is going. You can choose how you answer; telling them your day is going poorly might not have any positive impact. This is what “you are the filter” means.

What is one strategy that will help you with instructional leadership?

Teaching, not telling. Rather than telling a teacher to try a new strategy, use that strategy in a professional development session or team meeting.

What is one idea that you want to learn more about?

Superstars, backbones, mediocres—these are categories of staff members from one of Whitaker’s books.

What are three resources you will check out?

  • What Great Principals Do Differently (book)
  • Dealing with Difficult Parents (contains scripts) (book)
  • Classroom Management From the Ground Up (book)

I can’t wait to tell my teachers about this idea:

Engaging lessons are the foundation for relationship building, not relationship building is the foundation for engaged students. Example of the empty envelope: A teacher has a sealed envelope in her desk. When a student needs a break, she gives it to the student, has her run it to another teacher, and then meets the student in the hallway to check in upon their return. This is a private and empathetic way to connect with the student.

What are some relevant or surprising stats you learned?

A third of teachers never had a reference checked for them when hired.

Notes by Courtney Goodman, principal, Field Elementary School in Park Ridge, Illinois.