But what amazes me about most great teachers, is that in most cases nobody taught them how to be great. They figured it out on their own. That takes a spark of genius. But there’s a problem with that method. If we leave teachers to learn it on their own, we will never make the most of their talent. If we don’t develop the talent of our teachers, we’re going to waste the talent of our students.
We can’t afford that. We need to make sure that every teacher can learn from the best – and keep learning every year for their entire career. That’s what drives a profession forward.
When I was working in software, many times I would look at the computer code someone wrote and I’d say: "Oh, wow, this guy is good. That’s better than what I would have written. What process did he go through? How did he model it?” Whenever I found someone great, I would study how they worked. I looked at every factor that made that person successful.
This happens in a lot of fields.
Some of you may have read a book by Steven Jay Gould about baseball. Gould explains that in the 1920s and ’30s, there was a big gap between the highest and lowest batting averages. But over time, people learned from each other, the gap narrowed – and the average hitter today is much closer to the best hitter.
That’s an important mark of a profession: the difference between the average and the great becomes smaller – because everyone is eager to get better, and they’re doing everything they can to learn from the best. That trend improves the entire profession. But it requires a process: you have to identify the skills of the best and transfer them to everyone else.
That hasn’t been happening enough in teaching. And that give us a big opportunity.
If we analyze the teachers whose students are making big gains, if we identify what they do, and if we find out how to transfer those skills to others – then every teacher can move closer to the top. It will elevate the whole profession. Teachers will experience the same thrill of getting better that they make possible for their students.
That's fresh from Bill Gates' speech today to the American Federation of Teachers. The full speech is here.
(Side note: the speech does not discuss the Gates Foundation's support for new teaching tools that support the Common Core Standards, and thus is not connected to Prichard work around those tools.)