Thursday, June 28, 2012

Good Student, Good Teacher, Good School

As part of a recent research project, I have been asking people how they define:

"a good student"
"a good teacher"
"a good school"

The general consensus about a good student is that he or she is pretty self motivated.  In fact, nearly every explanation expressed very high expectations for a "good student."  Good students are curious and generally interested in learning.  They are responsible and self aware, needing less supervision and encouragement than others.  They do their work on time and strive to always produce high quality work.  They are also respectful and, in a word, nice.  Interestingly, the issue of intelligence did not come up at all - thus, the definition of a good student seems much more geared around a natural interest and engagement with learning and a lot of diligence.

A good teacher, by most accounts, can be judged by two criteria: content knowledge and engaging personality.  It could be that simple, which is easily identifiable in one regard and nearly impossible to quantify in the other.  Teachers need to know their subject well in order to teach it.  And the fact that this is such a common expectation makes me wonder if there are a lot of unqualified teachers out there.  Actually, I don't wonder.  I know, and lament, that it is true.  The engaging personality component is the primary reason that the Gates Foundation will continue to struggle with their model of identifying great teachers.  In many ways, it seems innate and almost unteachable.  Are good teachers born, not made?

It seems only likely that if a school has good students and good teachers, it will be a good school.  Of course, most of the data shows that a good school is most likely found in safe, upper class neighborhoods.  However, plenty of good schools rise above their neighborhood and produce good results because of a shared vision of excellence throughout the school community.  That is most often seen in successful charter schools - though the charter model is by no means a guarantee of a good or successful school.  My research finds that a good school is above all a safe and caring environment that offers all students the opportunity to succeed.

What do you think?

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