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The Often Unrecognized Sign of an Effective Teacher

Note: Zak Champagne, an award-winning teacher in Jacksonville, Florida, is guest-posting this week.

With all of our recent conversation about the importance of keeping great teachers in the classroom, it becomes important to understand what an effective teacher looks like. It is a very tough, and sometimes subjective, criteria depending on what grade level/subject one teaches. It has been said by Geoffrey Canada "when you see a good teacher, you are seeing a work of art." And while there are definitely some consistencies among works of art that make them great, there is also some subjectivity and differences in a piece of pop art by Andy Warhol and a classic from Rembrandt that make them individually "great."

Clearly many can agree there are consistencies among exceptional educators. When a teacher inspires and engages his or her students to achieve at their greatest potential, it doesn't matter what grade level or subject they teach...you know they are great. Just like when you see a teacher ask the perfect question to lead a student to create his or her own conclusions, you are witnessing something special.

While we may agree on some commonalities of great teachers, the intention of this post is not to discuss the things that are commonly acknowledged as attributes of exceptional educators. I have had the pleasure of working with a number of extraordinary teachers over the past thirteen years and I have noticed a regularity among them has become an indicator of their exceptionalness and also impacts their students in incredible ways. This indicator is "self selected professional development."

I use the term "self selected" literally...I don't mean the type of professional development that teachers are sent to or are asked to attend by their principal (many times that type of development is next to meaningless). What I am trying to describe is the type of teacher who is active in professional organizations, who reads grade level and or content area books/journals, one who is active in a number of learning communities, and the teacher who attends and/or presents at professional development conferences.

Effective teaching and "self selected professional development" are not an indirect correlation. The connection between these two is an indication of what kind of teacher they are, because it shows that each of them is driven to become better at their craft in a devoted and unique way.

This type of teacher is rare, and this indicator of great teachers often goes unrecognized. In fact, I think on paper one can be fooled by an impressive resume of "things" that a teacher has done and is a part of. Yet it remains that the great teachers I have come to know all tend to make every effort (no matter the time and/or financial sacrifice) to become the most educated and talented teacher they can through "self selected professional development."

--Zak Champagne

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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