Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We Have a Teacher for That

I have received a lot of feedback through posted comments, email, and face to face conversations from my most recent blog post about paying the best teachers $100,000. Though I think all teachers feel they could be paid more, many teachers are concerned about what "best" actually means. This has led to some interesting conversations and it has helped me reflect on what I think it means as well.

Defining "best" can be a challenge, but I think I may have a plausible solution. "Best" is different for every student. What works for one student may not work for the next. However, I believe we can create a system that enables us to match the most appropriate teacher for each respective student's learning style. Everyone has a certain modality in which they learn best. It is possible their preferred mode of learning varies from subject to subject. For example, I love listening to a great history lecture, but a math teacher lecturing doesn't do much for me. However, with technology, we are able to quickly and easily match our students with the teacher that most meets their individual needs for every subject.

In the system I hope to help create, students will have a menu of teacher options to choose from for each subject. Each teacher will provide a bio that includes how they teach, what types of assignments/projects they assign, and data that supports learning of students that learned "best" in the modality described by each teacher. So if a student learns more by listening to a lecture and taking notes for an essay test for social studies, a teacher can be found that meets those needs. But if the same student needs to use manipulatives and do projects in math, a teacher can be found to meet those needs as well. Whatever the learner needs, the learner can get if we provide multiple options from around the state, country, or world.

To help kids find the "best" teachers, I envision a system in which a student goes to a webpage and enters information for how he or she wants to be taught, and more importantly for which he/she best LEARNS. In this model, the system adapts to the student by providing the most ideal teacher possible for every learner based on teaching and learning preferences.

Maybe the student is a visual learner, learns best by doing hands on projects, likes to collaborate in small groups, and doesn't feel the need to have to meet with the teacher everyday as determined by past learning experiences, surveys and other tools used to help determine the best way for an individual student to learn. Data could be collected from multiple learning experiences each student has had and essentially help develop and individualized plan for every student. Periodic exposure to other teaching methods as the child progresses through school would help determine if the plan needs to be altered. This information plus more would be entered into a database and all available teachers from across the region, state, nation , or even world that meets these criteria would be recognized and displayed to the student. The student and parent would then have a menu of choices of teachers for which to choose from to identify the teacher that best meets the learning needs of the student.

To help determine the "best" teacher for each student, this database would also provide resources for the parent and student such as the following:
  • References from Students/Parents/Teachers/Principals
  • Achievement data from standardized assessments of students from the teachers' previous classes
  • Learning data of students from the teachers' previous classes
  • Videos of the teacher actually teaching and helping kids learn
This process would help ensure the likelihood of learning for the student because the selected teacher would teach in a modality that was ideal for this particular student.

In this system, teachers would be paid $1,000 of per pupil funding for every student effectively taught. Thus, if a teacher taught 100 students well they would earn $100,000. This would increase teacher pay, but more importantly more students would learn at a higher rate. It is the best of both worlds.

I know this isn't the perfect system. I understand there are other factors that impact student learning. But I also believe the most important factor in determining student success is the quality of instruction the student receives. Why not expose every student to the very best teachers throughout the nation instead of just exposing them to the teachers in the building the student happens to attend.

Skeptics will say that we can never find the ideal partnerships using this system because there will be students that don't care no matter who the teacher is, or there are parents out there that won't provide the support needed, or students won't take my class because I make them work to hard, or whatever other reason we have all heard before. Don't we already deal with issues now that make educating some of the kids we see difficult. No matter what system we have, there are going to be challenges. Some teachers give in to these hurdles, but great teachers are able to overcome those challenges.

The database helps the student say, "I learn best by____________, ____________, __________"(fill in the blanks), and I say, "We have a teacher for that."


  1. I think education definitely needs change. However, that is the problem that we have politicians who are running educational policy. I do think learners have preferences on how they learn best and I would love to make $100,000 as an educator. However, I think we have other issues either than teacher pay. There are many schools that lack basic necessities. They need paint, maintenance, supplies, and teachers who care about them.

  2. Interesting points... I question whether extrinsic motivation like a high salary will provide better teachers. You might want to read Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational or Dan Pink's Drive to find examples where extrinsic rewards actually create more problems than they solve. While I would not mind getting paid more, the teacher I want with my children is the teacher with intrinsic motivations.

  3. Very cool idea. It seems reasonable. And, with technology, that "teacher" may not be physically in the same building. Video conferencing could be used to match a student with a teacher from somewhere else, so that schools can share resources better.

    Very thought provoking.


  4. Matt and Shelly, Thanks for contributing to the discussion, I appreciate it.

    Though I agree there are multiple problems in education that need addressed, and teacher pay is only one of them, my ideas for changing the system are not based on raising teacher pay. My focus is to increase the learning of all students by ensuring that all students are exposed to the best instruction not once in a while or for a certain subject, but every day. The teacher pay increase is just an added bonus to giving parents/students more choices when identifying the teacher that best meets their needs.

    I am in total agreement that intrinsically motivated teachers will do a better job with kids, and if we can ensure that all students are exposed to the best intrinsically motivated teachers for all of their schooling w/o increasing teacher pay, I am all for that as well. The money could be used elsewhere and benefit the educational system. However, we need to increase opportunities for all kids, and our current system will not allow for that unless there is a complete transformation.

  5. Great comments Deron. This is an interesting discussion. Thanks for the invite!

    The sign of a master teacher is that he (or she) teaches students to learn. He pushes the envelope of the student's abilities. This is not a political game. It's not about matching a teaching style with a learning style. It is about guiding all students through the learning process. Mentoring students through this via strategies and approaches that they are accustomed to and also expanding their vision of what is "best" for them. If we allow them to learn only one way they will only know one way to learn. If we guide them through new ways of learning they will have a larger "bag of tricks" to pull from when confronted with new learning situations. They will become metacognitive beings; they will know effective strategies to use in any learning situations.

  6. Srah,
    Great points and I couldn't agree more. If I understand you correctly, the master teacher is adept at differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students. This is truly a difficult skill to master, but most beneficial to all students. If we could get all teachers at this level than there would be little need for changing the system we have. In your experiences, what percentage of teachers would you identify as master teachers?

    If all teachers in the system we hope to create are at this level, then all students will definitely learn at the highest level.

    Thanks for joining the conversation. Look forward to hearing more of your ideas!

  7. Deron,

    Yes, it is absolutely Differentiated Instruction that I am referring to.

    However, I don't think the question administrators need ask is "What percentage of teacher are master teachers?" but rather, "What percentage are trying achieve this status?" or "What steps are teachers taking as a teacher/facilitator to achieve that goal?"

    I see the term "master teacher" as one of a goal in the sense of perfectionism or the ultimate vision. Our job as a teacher is to take as many steps toward that goal as possible, knowing that we may never actually reach that. Once we become complacent and comfortable with what we are doing, we don't improve.

    Better questions: What are teachers doing to create an environment in which student excel? Likewise, what are teachers doing to eliminate things within their classrooms that inhibit success? These questions can also be asked of administrators as they relate to teachers and school culture.

  8. SraH,

    So what % of teachers are trying to achieve this status?

    I really like the way you have phrased the questions about the classroom environment in relation to helping or hindering learning.

    Ultimately, however, we are responsible for the learning taking place in our buildings and in our classrooms. If learning is not taking place on a consistent basis even though a teacher is doing the best they can to create this environment you mention, what do you propose should happen?

    My end goal is for all kids to have the best teachers all the way through school. I want to help create a system that ensures this happening.

  9. Deron,

    One of the marks of a good teacher is the flexibility to meet the different learning needs of different students. I like to think that a teacher can't be put in a box like "lecturer."

    You wrote:
    I know this isn't the perfect system. I understand there are other factors that impact student learning. But I also believe the most important factor in determining student success is the quality of instruction the student receives. Why not expose every student to the very best teachers throughout the nation instead of just exposing them to the teachers in the building the student happens to attend.

    I agree with this whole paragraph. Unfortunately, I don't agree that matching learning styles with teaching styles is the way to get students the teachers they need.

    I'm leery of taking a really hard stand on this, but I will say that if my "teaching style" can be boiled into one of a few preset choices, I'll take that as something I need to work on, not something to be proud of.

    I could be really off on this, but I see "quality teachers" being quality regardless of the students they have in class. I don't know what the metric is. Isn't some of this based on faith? You watch someone teach, you talk to their students, you just look at and take in what they do and you *know* they are good. I'm nervous about data-overload.

    Great teachers (in a K-12 setting) are relationship builders. They help students build relationships with content, with other students, within themselves. How do you measure that? Why do we measure that?

    Thanks for hosting this conversation. It's an important one to have.

  10. I posted some thoughts about your ideas to my posterous. While your goal is attractive, I do not think it is the best way to approach education.

    Off the cuff comments:

    Some other writing related to learning styles:

  11. Russ,

    I think you are right. There are qualities a teacher must have that are not measurable. Also, if you are a good teacher you are a good teacher. I guess the idea I am trying to project is that not all teachers have the skill level to differentiate instruction effectively for all students. I think there are multiple strategies used by most teachers, but I don' know if most teachers consistently meet the learning needs of all students. If a teacher could focus on some core strategies, instead of trying to be a jack of all trades, I feel he/she would have a better chance of being effective. Also, I think students would need exposed to multiple styles of teachers regularly to help them develop as life long learners.

    I agree that teachers being able to build relationships with students will take those students learning to the highest level. Teachers need to have a passion for their content area, but more importantly they must have a passion for their learners as well.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. I've got a group of 30 kids piloting ideas to make the 7 hour days more meaningful.

    What we have come up with... is an innovation lab, where we connect students with an expert individual tutor (career person) and a pln - like you say.. not bound by geography but connected per passion.

    We think the career tutor and student design of curriculum brings in that intrinsic value. Which not only allows for great creativity on the student part, but also motivation to get what we call the *boxed content done in a most efficient way.
    *content found on act/sat/csap, not bad, just fixed.

    We see the face to face teacher as more a facilitator of these connections rather than a content provider.

    Here's the plan we have..
    #1 speaks specifically to it.. #2-4 help make it happen.

    Would love critique, insight,... hoping to make it happen next year.

  13. Jerrid Kruse: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you that students need to be taught in various modalities to help them learn. I also think there is some truth to the fact that you don't want to give kids too much choice, in the sense you have described as "getting their way." That is not the intent of the discussion we are having in our district. We are trying to create a system that adapts to the student instead of expecting the student to always adapt to the system. I believe one of the goals of schools is to develop citizens that are passionate about learning. We want students to have experiences that help them develop a thirst for learning by empowering them to find out how they learn best.

    As an adult, when you have a choice in what you learn and how you learn it, I assume you learn it at a higher rate than when it is about something you don't care about and taught in a way that doesn't help you learn it. Why do we think it is wrong to empower kids to become life long learners. I guess that is where we differ. Anyone that knows me knows that I am not into "touchy, feely" ideas either. We are just trying to create a system that empowers kids the become global citizens who THINK, LEAD & SERVE. We don't feel the current model we use does that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to more discussion in the future.

  14. Monika,

    It sounds like you have some cool things going on in your class. I would love to see what you have developed, but I am unable to open the google doc.

    I love that your are connecting students with others that share the same passion. I think this is a real key to unlocking learning. Kids will learn any skill we want them to develop if we can figure out a way to help them learn it within their passion.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope to learn more about what you are doing.

  15. I have enjoyed reading the conversations. There is much reflective thinking going on, which is great. For us to move forward this is needed. The question I keep coming back to is "does our current educational system work?" Are we truly empowering and preparing all students to THINK LEAD and SERVE. I do not think we are, education needs to evolve. So I challenge you all. Are the things we do and say for the best interest of our students or ourselves? We all seem to be making decisions for kids and not with them.

    Thank You Deron for having the courage to move the thinking forward and Thank You for being part of the Van Meter team

  16. sorry - i think i deleted a letter in the link and didn't replace it... try this..