Simple Techniques Can Make You A Great Teacher

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Doug Lemov, author, Teach Like A Champion
Julie Kennedy, principal, Williamsburg Collegiate
Julie Jackson, principal, Northstar Academy, Vailsburg Campus Elementary School

Conventional wisdom says that good teachers are born, not made. But Doug Lemov spent years observing highly effective teachers, and has developed a set of simple techniques that he says can make anyone a great teacher. His guide is Teach Like A Champion.

Excerpt: 'Teach Like A Champion'

Cover of 'Teach Like A Champion'
Teach Like A Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students On The Path To College
By Doug Lemov
Paperback, 352 pages
List price: $27.95


Dozens of teachers informed the field notes that became this book. Some of them are colleagues I've worked with and admired for years, some are professionals I met once or twice and who welcomed me into their classrooms or shared videotapes of their teaching with me. Sometimes they came from watching gifted and driven teachers in unanticipated, impromptu moments. In watching all of these teachers, I gradually added the layers of practical guidance that I hope make this book concrete and useful.

Still, as the work is as much theirs as my own, it's important to mention a few of the most deeply influential of them by name here. If nothing else, I hope that you will be struck by how normal they are — how they go home at the end of the day to families and relationships and hobbies a lot like yours. They change the world from their humble seven hundred square feet of linoleum not because they were born with special powers but because they have nailed the details of the craft. They were determined to become artisans, and with time and practice, they are now artists.

Julie Jackson

Julie Jackson's first classroom had thirty-five students and only twenty-nine desks. As a new Teach for America corps member in Paterson, New Jersey, straight out of college, she nonetheless earned the Teacher of the Year award. My colleague Jamey Verilli, then starting North Star Academy, a new school in Newark, New Jersey, visited her classroom. He recalls watching her teach for the first time: "Every kid was working, every kid was on task. When she asked a question, she had everyone raising their hands. Plus, it was quiet. I was incredulous." As a teacher, her results were pretty incredible too: state test scores that dwarfed those of nearby schools and nationally normed gains of twenty and thirty percentiles.

Now, as the founding principal of Newark, New Jersey's, North Star Academy Elementary school, she has become a legend. She spent countless hours prepping, rehearsing possible dialogue, and writing individual notes to every student, and she elicits the same kind of dedication from her staff. Modeling dedication comes naturally to Jackson. She leaves her own two children, Amari and Nyla, at 5:25 a.m. to ride the bus with her students and is not home until 8:00 p.m. After spending time with her family, she often flips open her laptop and e-mails until late into the evening.

Bob Zimmerli

Bob Zimmerli was the first person my colleague Stacey Shells and I interviewed when founding Rochester Prep in Rochester, New York. We arranged for him to teach a sample lesson at a school he'd never been to in another city. He showed up with nothing but a pencil. Did he need to make copies? No. Did he need time to prepare? No. Would he like to be briefed on the students he would be teaching? No; he was ready. Stacey and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. We braced for disaster, but thirty seconds into the lesson, we knew we were hiring him. Having never met any of the children in the room, knowing he might never see them again, having no authority but his personal magnetism, he inspired them to their core. Lacing a constant patter about values like humility, respect, and diligence into a lesson on place value in which every student not only successfully mastered the objective but could recognize that success, Bob redefined teaching for me that morning. It was truly an astonishing performance, and I haven't stopped learning from him since. And this is not just my opinion. Despite that fact that more than 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, Bob's students have scored the top math results in Monroe County (Rochester, New York, plus its elite suburbs) for the past two years.

Colleen Driggs

Colleen Driggs, who hails from the tiny upstate New York town of Holland Patent, brings a bit of that small community's sense of warmth and accountability to her classroom. Colleen's is often the first classroom visitors see at Rochester Prep, and many posit the existence of a magic elixir that keeps kids engaged and focused during her reading lessons. That or she must simply be a "natural." It was only when we videotaped Colleen in action that we started to understand. In a now famous piece of training footage, we observed her make fifteen nonverbal interventions to keep individual students on task during the five or so minutes she taught a vocabulary lesson. And she did this without interrupting the content and discussion once. It was all invisible except to the student corrected. The lesson itself was rich and fascinating, and without the video, you would never realize that it is in fact relentless hard work that drives Colleen's success. The importance of this lesson — that for outstanding teachers, the root cause of success is not some gift but work ethic, diligence, and high personal standards — is impossible to underestimate.

Darryl Williams

Darryl Williams is now principal of Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys in Albany, New York, but several years ago, I walked into his third-grade classrooms and could not take notes fast enough. I saw No Opt Out for the first time. Watching him take Strong Voice (technique 38 in Chapter Six) to a level of specificity finally allowed me to write about it. His teaching in an all-boys' classroom with a 100 percent poverty rate (his school gives automatic enrollment preference to disadvantaged students) had a masculinity that was both demanding and inspiring. He called students out, but his toughness was balanced with unmistakable love. They would walk through fire for him. Watching him praise them and watching him on the basketball court at recess, I saw that caring and strict were, as I write in Emotional Constancy (technique 47 in Chapter Seven), not opposite sides of the same coin, in which you choose to be one or the other, but two separate coins. We'd all met the children of families that were neither warm nor strict, but Darryl flipped that: he was both. The more he was of one, the more he was also of the other. It is not surprising that Darryl's school is now, like his classroom once was, the highest scoring in Albany.

Sultana Noormuhammad

When I was a teacher, I was a law-and-order guy — a tape-on-the-floor-and-the-legs-of-your-desk-on-the-right-piece-of-tape kind of guy. So I wasn't quite ready for my first visit to Sultana Noormuhammad's classroom at Leadership Prep Charter School in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn. She was holding a microphone, and everyone was singing about math. They were dancing too — possibly about math. Her voice rang above the happy voices with an irrepressible cheer. The sense of joy (and math) was overwhelming. And then I noticed that her students were more attentive and better behaved than mine had ever been. To be clear, Sultana can and does come down as firmly as anyone else, but she's the master of engagement, of the smile as the best teaching tool, of joy because she just can't imagine any other way to be. Perhaps no other classroom has ever caused me so much (accurate) self-criticism. And here's the best part: a few years later Sultana was promoted to dean of students at Leadership Prep (she's since become a leadership fellow and is planning to start her own school), which again underscores the connection between joy and structure.

Jaimie Brillante

Jaimie Brillante is the best lesson planner I've ever worked with. Like Julie Jackson, she plans her exact questions: which students she'll call on and what she'll do if they get answers right or wrong. She teaches writing and spends a lot of time on grammar. Her artful presentation of the content — how it all works, how ideas relate, what ways the knowledge can be made systematic — results not only in outstanding student outcomes, but almost every visitor to her class remarks on the fact that they just learned a rule of grammar that they had not known before from hearing a student explain it. One of the hidden messages of this book is the power of planning, and if one teacher above all others has helped me to see how a level of planning that exceeds any I imagined can drive results, it's Jaimie.

Roberto de Leon

I first chatted with Roberto de Leon when I noticed a Baltimore Orioles jersey draped across the back of his chair in his third-grade classroom at Excellence Boys Charter School of Bedford Stuyvesant. Though we share a loyalty to the Orioles and Baltimore, I should have realized that the shirt signified something broader about Rob's teaching. Walk into his class on any given day, and you're likely to see his kids reading aloud with costumes or masks on, or just deeply in character and with their imaginations on fire. The uniform, it turns out, was just one of many props and costumes Rob uses to make reading come to life. And come to life it does, paced by Rob's stellar results (more than ninety of his students rated as proficient on the 2008 New York State assessment), Excellence was the top-rated school in all of New York City in 2008.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Teach Like A Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students On The Path To College by Doug Lemov. Copyright 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

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