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Q-and-A: Teach like an Olympian

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What do educators have in common with gold-medal winning swimmers Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin or gymnast Gabby Douglas? Purpose. Greatness. Persistence.

Andrea Hajek, a director of educator engagement for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, reminds educators of their Olympian potential in a recent interview with SmartBrief education editor Trigie Ealey.

As a National Board Certified Teacher, what are the three most important pieces of advice you have for fellow teachers returning to school this year?

As I was watching the Olympics, it occurred to me that we should teach like an Olympian. Teach with a clear purpose, find the greatness in every student, and be persistent.

  • Be purposeful. Teach with the students’ needs in mind. Once you develop an understanding of your students’ needs, set learning goals that are meaningful and worthwhile for that particular group of students at that time. Design instructional sequences for students to achieve those goals, assess the learning, reflect on your practice and adjust instruction.
  • Be knowledgeable. Get to know your students. During the first weeks of school, it’s important to take the time to get to know each student as a person, as a learner and as a learner of the subject area being taught. Find the greatness in every student, and design instruction so that all students have a chance to develop their strengths. Take the time to create a safe learning environment, which is motivating and safe to take intellectual risks.
  • Be persistent. Every student deserves to know that his teacher will go to great lengths to cause learning. Find a way to reach out to him, or seek the support of the parents, other colleagues or external resources. Whatever your student does or doesn’t do, do not give up!

What is one current issue in education that you predict will be a game changer for the future of America’s schools? Why?

In my opinion, one issue in education that will be a game changer for the future of America’s schools is teacher preparation programs. Schools of Education can align their programs to the five core propositions, introduce the National Board standards early on, partner pre-service teachers with National Board Certified Teachers, and incorporate the videos of accomplished teachers to support the preparation and early career development of teachers.

This pathway would ensure that most, if not all, beginning teachers would aspire to achieve National Board Certification. This would lead to National Board being the norm among teachers rather than the exception.

What steps can school districts take to further the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ vision that “every student has great teachers and every school has great leaders”?

Just imagine how powerful the impact on student learning would be if all the teachers were National Board Certified and the instructional leader was a National Board Certified Principal!

Every child deserves a highly accomplished teacher, in every grade, and in every subject. Similarly, every teacher deserves a highly accomplished instructional leader to set the course for the entire school population to meet the highest standards.

School districts can develop their own National Board Certified Teachers by embedding the National Board Standards, the five core propositions, and videotaping of a teacher’s practice into meaningful, job-embedded professional learning. District leaders can set aside time within a teacher’s work day dedicated solely to collegial professional collaboration. Cohorts of National Board candidates have reported increased collaboration and sharing of best practices, which translates into improved teacher effectiveness and student learning.

What makes the beginning of the school year so exciting?

No matter how experienced a teacher might be, what makes the beginning of the school year so exciting are the students and the infinite possibilities for learning. The beginning of the school year brings a new opportunity for all students to set high standards for themselves, regardless of their past experiences. It also reminds teachers that we have a huge responsibility to our students, their families and the community to shape our future.