instructional excellence

How schools can help teachers reach instructional excellence

Focusing on teacher needs and support can help them improve their instructional practices

Part of a school leader’s job is to create conditions in which teachers work collaboratively to achieve excellence in their instructional practices and in student learning.

But with near-constant demands, how can school leaders assess teachers and work with each one individually to ensure instructional excellence? The answer lies in administrative support and teacher mindset.

“The success of every student is really dependent on the quality of the teacher,” said John Wink, superintendent of Blue Ridge ISD in Blue Ridge, Texas, during an edWeb leadership webinar. “How do we get excellence in every classroom? It really starts with the mindset of the teacher.”

The instructional excellence mindset includes a constant yearning for continuous improvement, an obsession with learning, purposeful passion to know more, and grit — a relentless persistence to be the best for all students.

“The best way to know what excellence is, is to know what it’s not,” Wink said. “Excellence is not common. The art and science of teaching seems to be common, but the very best teachers seem to do it in a way that’s not common.

“Excellence is a choice. The very best teachers I’ve ever met don’t want to be second to anybody. I believe this idea of excellence is a very difficult path because in order to become excellent, we go through this place called ‘discomfort.’ It’s hard work to be excellent,” he said. “Excellent schools guarantee learning excellence in students by promoting and supporting excellence in the ongoing learning of their teachers.”

Next page: How to help build instructional excellence in schools

To define a path to instructional excellence, Wink adapted Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The first four levels in the seven-level hierarchy focus on creating the proper learning environment:

1. Resources: Does the teacher have the skillful use of those resources in order to lead every student to excellence? The goal is not to teach, it’s to inspire learning. How does that teacher show those students how to use

2. Classroom routines and procedures: We often get bogged down in the idea that we’re managing kids. The very best teachers create an environment where the routines and procedures are driven by the students–student responsibility and student leadership. Students will manage themselves and lead one another to ensure a safe environment.

3. Relationships for learning: Our job is to create relationships between the student and the content. The very best teachers can sell the most difficult content to any student who walks into the room. They inspire kids before they even begin to bring that content to life.

4. Ability to engage students: Engagement and learning optimization take place when the content is relevant and rigorous, when the content and the way the teacher delivers it leads to a gradual responsibility for the student,

“These four levels are the prerequisites to creating an environment for excellence,” he said. “A classroom that is void of these four levels will never reach high levels of learning for all kids, because we don’t teach content–we teach kids, and those four levels are about creating an environment where we teach kids first, and then we lead to content.”

Helping teachers reach excellence includes building an excellent support system:

1. Through the school-wide system: Guarantee sustainability of broad concepts of teacher effectiveness. Resources, school-wide professional learning, supports and explanations should work to ensure that every teacher reaches high levels of success.

2. Through teacher team supports: Collaborative teams inspire teachers to work and learn together to master each of the levels. Teachers must have time to work with their peers to improve their instructional excellence.

3. Through an individualized excellence plan: These plans, built with teachers, can help school leaders and teachers identify where the teachers struggle and how to improve those struggles.

Educators can build excellence through risk-taking and mistake-making, because failure is a natural part of any process, and the essential to reach excellence, Wink said. No failure means no growth, and no growth means no excellence.

Wink’s forthcoming book, “A Leader’s Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom,” will be released in November.

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Laura Ascione
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