What If You Don’t Believe a Teacher Can Actually Improve? | Mindsteps Inc.

What If You Don’t Believe a Teacher Can Actually Improve?


Have you ever had a colleague you thought was so ineffective, you didn’t actually believe that they could get any better?

I hate to admit it, but I have. Even as passionate as I am about teachers, there are times when I meet a teacher and I honestly can’t see how that teacher can ever become a master teacher.

But here’s what I’ve learned. If you invest in every teacher, and treat them all as if they can become master teachers, many of them will surprise you. In fact, I’ve been surprised so many times that I no longer let my own doubts about a teacher’s potential get in the way of my supporting them with everything I’ve got. My job is not to be a psychic or make predictions; my job is to support every teacher I encounter and help each one get on (or stay on) the pathway to mastery.

When you see your job as helping every teacher, you don’t pick and choose. Instead, you focus on giving every teacher the opportunity, the support, and the sense of urgency to improve.

You cannot predict whether a teacher — even one who has been struggling for years and seems totally resistant to improving – will make the decision to get better. In the same way that you would never allow a teacher to give up on a student, you must never allow yourself to give up on a teacher.

I get into a lot of trouble when I voice this viewpoint to others. They argue that there is a sense of urgency and that they need to “get rid of” certain teachers if they really are going to transform their schools.

But my experience is that this never really works. If your plan for transformation is only about getting rid of people instead of correcting and changing the environment that allowed ineffective teaching to thrive for so long in the first place, you will not only create a toxic culture full of fear and resentment, you will be so focused on what isn’t working that you will never have the opportunity (or let’s face it, the energy!) to build something better.

But if instead of focusing on building a case against a teacher, trying to chase them out of the school, or instituting draconian rules and policies to try to control teachers who are not cooperating, what if you built a culture where every teacher was expected to and was given the support to become a master teacher. What if instead of judging teachers, we not only held them to high standards, but through our actions and words, conveyed our expectation that every teacher would reach those high standards? What if we, in short, treated teachers the way we expect them to treat students?

That’s what builds a strong school culture. That’s what creates an environment where great teaching not only thrives, but becomes contagious. That’s where you create a rigorous learning environment where students feel challenged, supported, and inspired to do their very best.

It starts with you.