Why Does Classroom Teaching Stay the Same?

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Group of teenagers sitting in the classroom with raised hands.No one sees it. That’s why classroom teaching today looks like it has for centuries.

Ask teachers how often they get feedback on their teaching – on actual classroom interactions with students – and you’ll probably hear, “only when I’m on an evaluation cycle.” Ask tenured teachers, and you may hear, “never.”

There’s a greater chance that teachers will get feedback on what they teach and how they teach it – the curriculum. In fact, some may work in schools where schedules allow for shared planning. Still others may attend faculty meetings and professional learning days where they can problem-solve teaching dilemmas and share best practices.

When it comes to classroom teaching — a complex and creative act — the lack of ongoing feedback is a problem. How can you get better at something you do only in isolation?

Like teaching, directing films is a complex and creative act. As with teaching, directing can be an isolating experience with little feedback to improve the film along the way. In fact, like teachers and their curriculum, directors can believe their films convey one thing when the audience perceives something else. To address this very natural part of the process, Pixar created the Braintrust.

The Braintrust is a group of successful, experienced directors, storytellers, and technical folks who provide directors with candid feedback throughout the making of their films. They respond to a film in its current iteration. This is an important distinction. They weigh in on the result of a director’s planning – the actual product of that planning in its current form. Certainly this feedback influences the planning a director does along the way, but feedback is centered on a director’s planning in action, namely, a film.

In schools, teachers get very little feedback on their teaching, other than how students perform on standardized tests. It’s more likely they’ll get feedback on their planning. That’s tragic. While the curriculum is a key element of the learning experience, it’s only one piece. How that curriculum is brought to life in the classroom – through the interactions between teachers and students – is of equal importance. The stories of educators, Deborah Ball and Magdalene Lampert, in Elizabeth Green’s recent book, Building a Better Teacher, capture how these teachers radically improved their practice through peer observations and documentation. Daily they got feedback on how their curricular planning came alive in relation to their students.

Regular feedback on teaching is vital. It’s also energizing. As with curricular planning, schedules must allow for it. School leaders must value it. If we don’t show our work, how we can get feedback? If we don’t get feedback, how we can improve?

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