Of all the books that I have read this summer, Dr. Anthony Muhammad’s, Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division, is the one that made the greatest impact on me. He writes about the four types of teachers that make up a school culture and the dynamics of a healthy and toxic culture. The believers, the tweeners, the survivors and the fundamentalists all have different goals; respectively, the success of all students, securing job security and acceptance from superiors and peers, minimizing contact and conflict with students simply to survive another day and lastly, maintaining the status quo and personal power. Which type of teacher are you? Read my previous posts or better still, buy the book and gain a powerful understanding of the dynamics in your school.
Atlantic Monthly’s article, What Makes a Great Teacher?, describes the believer perfectly. Journalist Amanda Ripley spent time with Teach for America, a grassroots organization that recruits the best college graduates to teach for a minimum of two years in America’s neediest school districts. Since its inception in 1990, Teach for America has followed their recruits and studied successful teachers. Why does a child in one class succeed when a child in another class (in the same school) not progress and even fail? Much of the recent research identifies effective teachers as the critical factor in student success. For many years, educators and researchers have studied the question of the role of parents and the student’s social environment in determining their success or failure. It seems that the jury is in on that question; the teacher and their instructional strategies make the difference.
The Atlantic Monthly article compares two teachers and their students’ success. Both teachers are compassionate, extroverted and care about their students but one is clearly more effective than the other is. Two students with similar math skills (poor) enter both classrooms in September however, in June, one finishes at the top of his class and the other remained in the bottom quintile. The qualities that make one teacher effective and the other less is the focus of much research. When I read this article, it was very clear that the effective teacher is a believer; that means that they are motivated by the belief that every child can succeed and will put strategies in place to ensure that happens. Failure is not an option for the believer. The believer (and effective teacher) understands the relationship between their teaching and the student’s learning and behavior. The believer is outcome oriented and is willing to be flexible in their approach in order to ensure the greatest success for their students. Effective teachers have ‘grit’ that enables them to persevere in the face of negativity and obstacles. Effective teachers ‘keep their eye on the ball’ and never lose sight of their goals because they believe that students can succeed. Effective teachers understand that their teaching makes a difference and that means if things are not working, then part of the solution is re-examining classroom instruction. Effective teachers are the believer teacher that Dr. Anthony Muhammad describes in his book.
As we all prepare to head back to the classroom in the next few days, we should spend some time reflecting on our core beliefs about students and our role in their success. This article in Atlantic Monthly and Dr. Muhammad’s book is a good place to begin this reflection.