Simple Techniques Can Make You A Great Teacher

Guests

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.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Teachers sit at ground zero of the raging debate over education. The Obama administration argues that sometimes, the only way to fix a failing school is to fire the whole staff. Washington, D.C. and New York City are just two public school systems that want greater authority to fire teachers whose students perform poorly.

Doug Lemov has been looking through the other end of the telescope. He spent more than 10 years studying great teachers - men and women whose students scored consistently well - to figure out how they do it. And he distilled a set of ideas about how to control the classroom, how to engage the students, make them pay attention, hold them to high standards and get them ready for college.

Doug Lemov was the subject of a recent cover story in the New York Times Magazine, and joined us then. Today, his new book is out, so he's back. We're also going to hear from two teachers who use these techniques, and we want to hear from teachers in our audience.

Can classroom management techniques address the problems at your school? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program: major changes in store for the federal agency that oversees offshore oil drilling. But first, Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools, a network of public charter schools in New York and New Jersey, now the author of "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College." He's with us here today in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Doug.

Mr. DOUG LEMOV (Managing Director, Uncommon Schools; Author, "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College"): Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And in the introduction to this book, you write: Many of the techniques may appear mundane, unremarkable, even disappointing. You're really trying to sell this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEMOV: Yeah, it's not exactly a hard sell, is it?

CONAN: What do you mean by that?

Mr. LEMOV: Well, one of the things I love about the book and the things that I learned from great teachers in writing the book is teachers will come up to me after a presentation and say: I do that. I do that already. You know, that's me. And that actually makes me happy. I don't feel like I haven't done my job by not creating something innovative.

I'm just trying to describe what great teachers do, and sometimes it's the simplest things and the smallest things that are real game-changers, that are sometimes beneath our notice, beneath the radar of teacher training or the way that we think about the classroom, and they can be incredibly powerful.

CONAN: And one of the examples you give is teaching your students how to pass out papers. This seems like pretty small stuff.

Mr. LEMOV: Yeah, isn't that crazy? I often start my workshops with a great video of a teacher named Doug McCurry(ph), teaching his students to pass out papers. And he has them pass them back and forth, and when they pass them out in 10 seconds, he says: Pretty good - back in in eight. And one of the interesting things about this is the kids are so happy. They're really enjoying this. They love the challenge.

But people often respond to that video negatively at first, and they say, well, shouldn't he why is he doing that in the classroom? Shouldn't he be teaching the causes of the Civil War or adding fractions with unlike denominators?

And then you do the math on it. I ask them: How long does it take, in a typical classroom, for a group of kids to pass out, pass in or receive papers passed out from a teacher? And ordinarily, a group of teachers will say a minute, a minute and a half. Sometimes the numbers are higher.

So if Doug can do that in 20 seconds or 30 seconds and save a minute every time, and you pass out and collect papers 10 times a day in a typical student's life, for 190 school days, 1,900 minutes, you know, divided by, let's say, a seven-hour school day, it's something like four-and-a-half days of additional instruction with which - which Doug can use to address the causes of a Civil War or adding fractions with unlike denominators.

CONAN: To master fractions. Yeah.

Mr. LEMOV: Yeah, it's, you know, it's very simple. It's beneath the radar screen. It's incredibly powerful. It's almost inexcusable not to do it.

CONAN: And you go onto stuff like - I was fascinated to read one of the suggestions about controlling every student's binder.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: This is something all my doodles would have been revealed to the teacher, but...

Mr. LEMOV: It might have made a different world for me, particularly. I actually, interestingly, still remember my father making me, you know, tear all the pages out of my you know, remove all the pages from my binder that were falling apart and put them back together.

CONAN: Oh, with those little square things...

Mr. LEMOV: Reinforcements, yes. He was unsuccessful. It was one of the few things in his life that my father was unsuccessful at was trying to get me to organize my binder.

CONAN: I think the glue in those little round dots was the problem. But anyway, go ahead.

Mr. LEMOV: But it's interesting to think about, as schools, we delegate the tracking of the key information that is the outcome of the classrooms to the students, who are often not yet ready to handle that information. You know, we're in age where information architecture and information archiving are - you know, corporations have chief technology officers to, you know, keep track of all the information, and classrooms are often insufficiently intentional about what happens to the notes after they get taken.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And so you provide a system here for not only making sure that every student keeps the binders in chronological order - you say make notes about, you know, if you're talking about grammar, the verb-subject agreement is number 38, and you tell the kids that night, you need to review number 38 through number 43. That's what's going to be on the test tomorrow. And they know where to find it.

Mr. LEMOV: Sure, and hopefully I describe a sort of range of possible systems that great teachers use. But yeah, that's the idea, which is even if you want to even if that system doesn't work for you perfectly, the idea that you have a system and here's a roadmap to what a system could look like can be an absolute game-changer. And again, I don't think this is the kind of thing that teacher trainers are teacher training is traditionally thinking about.

CONAN: And you talk about the inspiration you received as a teacher yourself, former teacher yourself, about teach the kids, not the lessons, and, you know...

Mr. LEMOV: I remember this helplessness. I would go to these workshops, and people would tell me beautiful things about teaching, and they would remind me of why I had become a teacher, because I wanted to change the world and I wanted to reach kids. And they would say: Teach kids, not content - or even, you know, have high expectations every day.

And I would leave inspired by that, and I would get to my classroom at 8:25 the next morning, and I would think: Now what do I do? What do I say? What do I do to show that my expectations have changed? It's not enough to think differently. I have to act differently.

And I was always frustrated by that. So when I you know, when I went around and watched great teachers who really did successfully change the game, I just tried to discipline myself to talk about concrete, actionable things that they that I or someone like me could do and say in the classroom to make a difference.

CONAN: We want to get teachers in on this conversation - current teachers, not like you, Doug Lemov. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Does classroom control - would classroom control, contribute to solving the problems at your school? Give us a call. We're going to start with Jamie. Jamie's with us from Rochester, New York.

JAMIE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm so excited. It's my first time calling, and I got through on my first try.

CONAN: Well, congratulations.

JAMIE: Thanks. I am a kindergarten teacher at heart, currently in a first grade classroom, as I looped with my class in the Rochester City School District in New York.

And I just wanted to say that I really am looking forward to reading this book, because I agree with all of the points. And I just wanted to say for me, personally, I find that working with these young children - if I am able to meet their emotional needs first, like laughing, smiling, playing, engaging them in conversations about things that are important to them, once we have been able to meet all of those needs, them I'm able to work with them and present challenges to them, and they are willing to work for those challenges because all of their basic needs have been met.

And so I think it's really exciting to see kindergarteners, for example, setting personal learning goals, like I'm going to learn 20 new sight words in the next four weeks. And then they do it because they know that, you know, they'll have the time to play and laugh, but they're also willing to work for all of those goals. So I just wanted to share that and see what our guest had to say about that.

CONAN: Well, Doug Lemov's book is from grades K through 12. So, kindergarten?

JAMIE: Yes.

Mr. LEMOV: Yes, thanks for your call. It's so great to hear that it resonates with you as a practitioner in the classroom.

I think we spend a lot of time drawing false alternatives in public education, like am I teaching am I teaching behaviors, or am I teaching academics? When I think what your comment has unlocked is that students many times go through a process from first they learn how to behave in the classroom, frankly, and what productive behavior looks like and how to track the teacher with your eyes, because that's what you should do in the classroom.

And then in the hands of a great teacher - like it sounds like you are - they learn to believe and be inspired by it and want to change their relationship to school and want to learn, and then they start to achieve, and that often, you know, you're doing all these things at once that you can't you can't do one without the other.

So it's really great to hear. And, you know, one of the other things that I think that master teachers do is they find - the last step is they find a way to make the fun not the reward for the hard work, but actually to make the work itself fun. And that, to me, like, that's the last Rosetta Stone on the march to triumph - pardon the mixed metaphor.

CONAN: Good luck to you. Are you going back to kindergarten next year?

JAMIE: It is my hope. However, my administrator sees me taking this class on up to second grade, since we've had such a great couple of years together. So that's yet to be determined. But thanks a lot for taking my calls.

CONAN: And whatever you do, don't tell them you ever studied calculus.

JAMIE: Okay.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to this is Scott, Scott with us from San Mateo.

SCOTT (Caller): Oh, hi. I was just calling from I'm actually on a break from delivering tests in San Mateo. Just a quick critique, if I may. The premise is that the scores are what make the teacher great. The entire premise seems to be that the scores are the judge of a good teacher.

And I've got tell you from personal experience, I've taught at Hillsboro School District, now I'm teaching at San Mateo, and Hillsboro is always one of the top economically performing or I mean SAT-performing schools in the country, and I would challenge anyone to say, okay, take that entire staff and put them over to Hunters Point in San Francisco and have them teach over there - which is one of the consistently low-performing schools - and see if they can bring up the scores. Because I've got to tell you, it's socioeconomics that make the student, not the scores.

CONAN: And he's talking about one fairly wealthy area and one impoverished area. But go ahead, Doug Lemov.

Mr. LEMOV: Sure, two things. The data set that we looked at to determine the teachers who we thought were game-changers controlled for socioeconomic factors. So we basically, we geeked out on a big regression set where we put -we plotted every school based on the percentage of kids in that school living in poverty on the X-axis, percentage of kids proficient on the state tests on the Y-axis, and we looked for schools that were in the upper right-hand corner, schools that had 90 percent of their kids in poverty and were still finding a way to work the magic.

And, in fact, one of those schools is in Hunters Point. It's Kipp Bayview Academy. It's an incredible school. It was founded by Molly Wood, who is someone I've had the luck to learn a ton from.

And the other you know, the thing I would say about that school is if go into any one of those neighborhoods - and I don't want to underestimate how incredibly challenging it is to teach or to try and run a school in those neighborhoods - there is always one teacher who's a champion. There's always one teacher who can do it, and that proves that it can be done.

CONAN: Scott, have you I think Scott went back to pass out papers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEMOV: Okay.

CONAN: And hopefully in record time, too. In any case, we're going to be joined after a short break by two women, teachers who've put these ideas into practice, and one in New York, in Brooklyn, and one in New Jersey. So stay with us. We want to hear from the teachers in our audience, too. Does classroom management, would it make a difference in the problems that afflict your school? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

We got this email from Matthew(ph) in Chatham, Massachusetts: It's a relief to hear someone say that good teachers have skills, not magic. The Hollywood "Stand and Deliver" model of a good teacher makes it seem that indomitable will and not carefully cultivate mastery of the elements of teaching, that makes the difference in the classroom.

We're talking today with Doug Lemov about his new book, "Teach Like A Champion." It's a field guide for teachers, packed with concrete advice on techniques about classroom management. You can meet some of the educators he based his book on in an excerpt at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We want to hear, today, from teachers in our audience. Give us a call. Would classroom management make a big difference in your school, address the problems that exist there? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our website, too. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

In addition to being the author of the book, Doug Lemov is managing director of Uncommon Schools, a network of college prep charter schools in the Northeast. And joining us now is Julie Jackson, principal of Northstar Academy Elementary School in Newark, New Jersey, also a member of Uncommon Schools network, with us today from WBGO, our member station in Newark.

Ms. JULIE JACKSON (Principal, Northstar Academy, Vailsburg Campus Elementary School): Hello, everyone.

CONAN: Julie, are these techniques that are described in the book, are these something that you work with every day?

Ms. JACKSON: Yes, these techniques are techniques that I use in our school every single day, with new teachers and also returning teachers. And as Doug said, it's not magic. It's something that you learn and you're able to implement so you have more time on task to teach what you need to teach in your curriculum.

CONAN: And indeed, you're one of those teachers that Doug Lemov learned from.

Ms. JACKSON: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEMOV: We did what we do to great teachers at Uncommon Schools, is Julie's now the principal of the school, so...

CONAN: Promoted out of her life's work.

Mr. LEMOV: As a reward, right. Went to a higher level of competency. But Julie was truly one of the teachers who taught me just a great deal about the classroom.

CONAN: What particularly did you learn from Julie?

Mr. LEMOV: I mean, many, many things, but I think Julie is incredibly warm and incredibly strict at the same time. And I think one of the things that people misperceive about the classroom is that you're one or the other, that you're either caring or strict, and I think that Julie's kids unequivocally know that she loves them at every minute, and at the same time, she's also very clear on what she expects from them, and that's a very powerful message that it's not one or the other, it's both.

CONAN: And where is Northstar Academy, Julie?

Ms. JACKSON: Northstar Academy is located in Newark, New Jersey. We have several campuses throughout the city.

CONAN: And this is not one of the economically advantaged areas of the state of New Jersey.

Ms. JACKSON: No, it's not. We're right in Newark, New Jersey.

CONAN: And so have you found that these techniques that Doug was talking about, that they, you know, work in, well, inner-city?

Ms. JACKSON: Yes, these techniques do work in inner-city. If I could just provide an example, in his book, he talks about strong voice, which is one of the techniques, and under strong voice there's something called economy of language, which is very which makes a difference in the classroom.

So for example, teachers, even new teachers will often give a lot of directions of what they want students to do, but if you just use less words and square up and stand still, you get the kids to get on task, and it allows you to execute instruction to a high level of rigor.

CONAN: And you learn these techniques from teachers. I read that chapter, interested about voice, but the Army calls this command voice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACKSON: Yes, they do call it command voice, but what is great about the techniques that Doug describes in his book, it varies because there's something called quiet power where you actually do not use many words, and your voice never goes higher because it talks about oftentimes when we raise our voice and talk faster, that's a sign that we lost control.

So we actually take our voice down and get in close with a student and say: Right now, I need you to do Question Number One. Thank you so much for doing Question Number One. And you'll be amazed how students will look at you, smile and then get right to work and do Question Number One.

CONAN: We also think of the word technique as something like a musician uses or a writer uses. Are these habits that you can use without thinking about them all the time, after a while?

Ms. JACKSON: Yes, that's the great thing about all the different techniques in the book because whether you're a new teacher or a returning teacher, a veteran teacher, if you're a new teacher, you can select one or two techniques to work on initially.

So you might pick a management technique such as strong voice, and then you also might pick an academic technique such as no opt out. But once you learn these techniques, they become part of your teaching, and then as a veteran teacher, you maybe pick three or four techniques at a time. And again, once you learn these techniques, they become natural to you, and it's something that you do daily without even thinking about it.

CONAN: So you don't have to do all 49 at once, or they don't work?

Ms. JACKSON: No, I say that's the challenge. Somebody might look at the book and think oh, this is overwhelming because there's 49 techniques, but I strongly suggest you pick a few techniques, you get really good at that, like an athlete will practice until they become really good.

So you practice until you feel comfortable and the technique works, and then you add to that technique each year, improving as a teacher, ultimately improving learning and closing the achievement gap.

CONAN: Mr. Lemov has his hand up here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEMOV: I think one of the things that makes Julie's school so incredibly successful, and I just want to say it's an incredibly place to go, is that there's a culture of practice in her school, and that's different.

Most advice to teachers uses the word strategy. A strategy is a decision that you make, and you make it once. So if I'm a tennis player, my strategy might be I'm going to charge the net.

A technique is something like your backhand, where you, you know, you start low, you finish high. You practice it 100 times before you go in the game. You wouldn't dare play a tennis match without practicing your backhand first.

But teachers, there's a culture in teaching of, well, I'm not going to practice before I go into the classroom, I'm going to learn it in the game. And Julie's school is this culture of shared practice, where the teachers get together, and they teach sample lessons for each other, and they practice these techniques.

They practice strong voice and refining their directions to have more economy of language so that when they're in the classroom, it's actually become a habit. They're not thinking about it, they're thinking about the lesson, and I just think that culture of safe practice, we work on this together, it's a team, is something that I've learn from Julie. Julie does incredibly well. I've learned from her, and I think it's a real driver of results.

CONAN: Let's go to Dick(ph), and Dick's on the line with us from Minneapolis.

DICK (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Dick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

DICK: Yes. I wanted to add one thing to classroom management, and that was an example of really the whole school system or the whole school in this case it was a private high school that my son attended back five or six years ago used the same system.

And it was, again, incredibly simple. It was to teach them responsibility and planning, skills we, you know, we really use over and over no matter what we're doing.

But from the first day of freshman year, they were given a calendar for assignments, you know, a notebook, a day planner kind of thing, and the and every teacher wrote up on the blackboard, in the same place in every class, what was expected the next day. And the kids had to write it down.

Over that freshman year, they progressed from a daily the thing that were responsible for for the next day to what was planned for the week. By the time they graduated as seniors, they were being given a syllabus for the class, for the semester, and the kids didn't the amazing thing was the kids didn't even realize the planning skills that they were learning because every year the teachers progressed to giving them more and more responsibility to not writing it on the board but telling them, and it was a very planned activity.

You could actually see it progress as you watched what was happening, and as the kids came again that senior year, they were working they were doing a lot more homework, they were responsible for a lot more things, and it really paid off when they went to college.

CONAN: I bet it did. Organization, responsibility and planning, things we use every day and the rest of our lives. Dick, thanks very much for the call.

And I wanted to ask something that his point raised. Is this are these techniques and this approach something that can work in a single classroom with one teacher, or its effects magnified if it is used by an entire school?

Mr. LEMOV: Julie, do you want to take that first?

Ms. JACKSON: Yes, the benefit of the strategies and techniques that Doug talks about is they do not require a school setting that embraces a common language or vision.

Of course, if there is a school that has a common vision, then you can execute them school-wide, but you can pick up this book and do these in isolation if you're in a school who might not embrace these techniques.

You can pick it up as a first-year teacher. First-year teachers often struggle with classroom management. You can turn to the classroom management section, read that, pop in the video and watch what it's supposed to look like and then go right into you classroom and implement it. So in your classroom, you're meeting the needs of your students, and you're managing the class well.

CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation. Just to confuse you, it's another Julie, Julie Kennedy, a teacher for 10 years, now principal at Williamsburg Collegiate, a charter middle school in Brooklyn, New York, that's also a member of the Uncommon Schools network. She's with us from our Bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us today.

Whoops, and the line from our New York bureau has been, well, it's been a little skittish this hour. We're going to try to get her back shortly, and we'll bring her in as soon as the line is reestablished. In the meantime, let's get Robin(ph) on the line, Robin calling from Clarksville in Tennessee.

ROBIN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Robin, you're on the air. Go ahead.

ROBIN: Thank you. I was just wanting to agree with what the - what your guests have to say, and I've spent the last 15 years working with children all over the country with different socioeconomic statuses in different areas. And that while I agree with all of those techniques that they discussed and the effectiveness of them, it's important to also understand that the person who called from California with a comment about socioeconomic status, that that also does play into it. And there is no guarantee, at least by learning these techniques, of strong voice, economy of language, all the things they've been talking about, that all of that can set up the largest possibility of success, but that there are some kids who will come to school and it's a safe place and they can - they're there, but there's so much going on behind the scenes, that they're just there because they are safe there.

CONAN: And Doug Lemov has been nodding as he listened to your remarks here in the studio.

Mr. LEMOV: Well, I just want to say about classroom management that it's necessary and not sufficient.

ROBIN: Right.

Mr. LEMOV: And I think one of the things that I admire most about both Julies is that they're very careful that they set the expectation that classroom management must exist. But that it doesn't stop there. I think it's easy as a principle because classroom management is so observable, to say, oh, a-ha, that's one of my good teachers. The kids are in their seats. And students do need to be able to behave in the classroom, but that's the beginning of the struggle. The path to college is long and it's hard, and I would just say necessary but not sufficient about behavior and maybe the Julies want to make that a more interesting answer.

CONAN: Julie Jackson is with us. We still haven't gotten in touch with Julie Kennedy.

Ms. JACKSON: No, I definitely agree. It's a starting point and a foundation for the road to college.

CONAN: Robin, thanks very much for the call.

ROBIN: Thank you.

CONAN: This is something of a follow-up from Lucia(ph) in Denver: Great to raise standards and scores, but what does that mean? Are the children learning how to think or are they just regurgitating facts for standardized tests?

And you're talking about how, Doug Lemov, in this book. You're not necessary talking about what.

Mr. LEMOV: That's correct. Though I think that many of the techniques are about, for example, the technique ratio is about pushing more and more of the cognitive work onto students, which is absolutely critical. You know, in terms of the comment about just teaching students to prepare for standardized tests, I don't think anyone who runs any of our schools - and Uncommon Schools have been incredibly successful both at getting kids to pass tests and to be prepared for and succeed in college - would say that standardized tests are the goal, but I also don't know any students who are prepared to succeed in college who can't also pass those tests.

So yeah, we're going to knock down those tests, and then there's a lot more that we're going to do. But that's, you know, it's a way station. And, unfortunately, if you look at the data from most inner cities, kids aren't passing the tests, so let's get them there and we'll get them prepared for college, which, you know, admittedly is there's a whole array of additional skills that we need to get.

CONAN: We're talking with Dough Lemov about his new book, "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Puts Students on the Path to College." Also with us is Julie Jackson, principal of Northstar Academy at the - at Newark, New Jersey, at the - part of the Uncommon Schools Network.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And at long last, as promised, Julie Kennedy joins us from our bureau in New York, principal of Williamsburg Collegiate, a charter middle school in Brooklyn. Nice to have you with us today. Is the line working?

Ms. JULIE KENNEDY (School Principal): I think so.

CONAN: Okay. I'm sorry about the earlier technical difficulties we had, and apologies for that. Can you tell us how you apply these principles there in Brooklyn?

Ms. KENNEDY: Yeah. I think really similar to what Julie Jackson was saying, is that a lot of our teachers - this is the language we build for teachers when they come into the school. So whether they are a first-year teacher in the first days in the classroom or just new to our school, this is just some of the expectations that we have for teachers around how to build an effective classroom culture.

CONAN: And can you talk about some specific technique that helped you when you were a teacher?

Ms. KENNEDY: Absolutely. I think the one that I loved the most is the 100 percent. And I love it for a number of reasons. And it's kind of the backbone of what our school is about and I think a lot of what successful schools are about. Just the idea that what we're expecting from students is not that a couple of them achieve or a couple of them follow directions, but that when you're talking to a group, that you're seeing 100 percent following (unintelligible) directions and ultimately 100 percent achieving.

And so that really, for me, when I was a beginning teacher especially, was kind of revolutionary to think about, you know, that you weren't going to accept any excuses for why someone wouldn't follow through on something. And it really changes the - kind of the outlook of your students when they know that you expect that. Then they come to expect it from themselves.

CONAN: And there's a corollary to that, which is - and the chapter on cold call, which Doug Lemov explains in his book. You call on the kids who don't raise their hands not as a punishment technique - a-ha, I gotcha - but rather as a technique to make sure they're engaged.

Ms. KENNEDY: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: So let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Rita(ph), Rita with us from Fort Myers.

RITA (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

RITA: Good. I just wanted to say I'm really enjoying this conversation. And I wanted to say the first year I started teaching, I teach at - it's a Title One school, so the majority of our students are low-socioeconomic status. And when I went in the first year, they said, hey, these kids are really difficult to teach and you're going to have to be really firm. So I basically went in as a dictator and said these are the classroom rules, this is how we're going to do it, this is how you're going to learn and succeed. And it was just a horrible mess. There was friction from day one until the last day at school. And I was miserable and they were miserable.

And what I did to change that, and it's been wonderfully successful for me, is I thought, you know, what work environments and what relationships have I enjoyed that have been healthy and successful for me, and I started to treat my classroom and my students as a partnership.

But I now go into the classroom and we have a partnership where I start the year off as, hey, these are rules, we all have rules, I have to come in to work on time, I can't fall asleep at work, those type of things. But instead of saying, this is what you're going to learn, we - I involve them in the instruction in terms of, you know, which type of project or what types of things in the project would you like to do. And because of that, I teach Adobe certification. I have over 86 percent of my students have achieved Adobe certifications, and I truly believe this is because of how I've changed my approach to the classroom and managing the classroom.

CONAN: Julie Jackson, we're going to let you go shortly, but I wanted to ask you specifically about discipline. People might think in a place like Newark, this is all you've got to focus with or at least first and then indeed that Joseph Stalin might be a perfectly admirable role model.

Ms. JACKSON: Yes. And it goes to what Rita said about building that rapport. And in the book, one of those techniques is positive framing. And when you think about positive framing, every day when the students come to you in front of you, you start by assuming the best and you build that rapport. So when the work gets difficult or gets challenging, the students don't quit, they don't give up because they know you believe in them.

CONAN: Doug Lemov?

Mr. LEMOV: Yeah. It's really interesting. One of the interesting things about the technique is - in the book is that I'm constantly revising them, not only to the point of publication but actually I just changed one of the techniques yesterday. And what I changed - I added to the 100 percent technique that Julie Kennedy's done such a great job of implementing in her school.

I added a bullet about thank you is the strongest word, that when a culture is intact, people say please and thank you, and it shows that you're in control. And nothing says I just won like saying, Can I see all eyes on me? Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEMOV: It shows that you got what you asked for.

CONAN: Rita, thanks very much for your phone call. We appreciate it.

RITA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And Julie Jackson, we are going to let you go. Thank you very much for being with us today.

Ms. JACKSON: And thank you for having me.

CONAN: Julie Jackson, principal of Northstar Academy in Newark. Part of the Uncommon Schools network. We're going to keep Julie Kennedy and Doug Lemov take a few more calls. Stay with us.

This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: In a few minutes, we're going to be talking about MMS, the Mine Minerals Extraction Services and about how it's going to change under the Obama administration after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But we're going to finish up first with Doug Lemov and with Julie Kennedy. Doug Lemov is the managing director of Uncommon Schools, a 16 college prep charter schools in the Northeast. Julie Kennedy, principal of Williamsburg Collegiate, a charter middle school in Brooklyn, New York, and a member of the Uncommon Schools network.

We're talking about a book Doug Lemov has just completed called "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College."

Julie Kennedy, I wanted to ask you, earlier we were talking with Julie Jackson about the value of these techniques. And if it's more than one classroom, if it's an entire school, does the effort kind reverberate through the teachers?

Ms. KENNEDY: I think it definitely does. I think that's the real power of it, that you can make huge things happen in your classroom. But when it's being reinforced by the other teachers those students are seeing during the day, it's even more powerful.

CONAN: And it's important to have the same - everybody invents their own argot, their own special language. If everybody speaks that same language, does it help?

Ms. KENNEDY: Definitely. I think that that's one of the best pieces of this, is that you can talk about what's happening in the classroom and it's no longer subjective or personal. You're talking about these strategies that everyone kind of understands or understands what they look like or understands the purpose of them.

CONAN: And it's the equivalent of saving a lot of time, like passing out papers.

Ms. KENNEDY: Exactly.

CONAN: You figure out how to do that too. Let's get Kevin on the line. Kevin with us from Columbus, Ohio.

KEVIN (Caller): Hi. I have the book. I've been reading it. I think the techniques are important, and I'm implementing a couple of them. I have used them. I've also - this is the second career for me in my six years of teaching. And you talk about controlling for socioeconomics status, and I believe it's a factor, but if you're controlling for it, that's great. But what I've seen in the book, in this conversation, is you're talking about charter schools.

And to me and my work in the inner city, and I don't work there now, is the biggest factor for success, I believe, in teaching, aside from the teacher, is parental involvement. And I think in the charter schools, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, parents are traditionally sending them to these schools because they place a value on education. And that makes a million times difference than parents who don't. So I'd like to know if you are controlling for parents' views on education and the value they place on it and the environment.

CONAN: We'll get answers from both. But first, Doug Lemov?

Mr. LEMOV: Sure. I disagree with you for two reasons. First of all, many of the teachers that I've learned from are district school teachers. It happens that the videos that you see and the teachers that I've profiled on the book are charter school teachers because frankly they were most open to my walking into their school with a video camera and taking copious notes.

People were, in many cases, not quite so open outside of the network of people who have connections to. But more importantly, I think there's a sort of false assumption about who enrolls in charter schools.

Certainly I can't speak for all charter schools but I can speak for the schools that we run. Parents are often - you know, when we start a brand new school, as we just did in the city of Troy, and we're a totally unknown quantity, you know, who jumps first? People who are unsuccessful where they are, for whom anything is better than what they have.

And often, you know, there's almost no parent involvement required. And many -I mean, honestly, we have great parents in our schools and we struggle with parents who can't do the basic things to get their kids ready to learn. So I don't think that there's any data that demonstrates that parental involvement is different for the charter school level. And I would say that you know, I think the sort of argument that charter school's cream, the data pretty much controverts that.

CONAN: Julie Kennedy?

Ms. KENNEDY: Yeah, and I would echo what Doug said and just say, you know, some of our mission is to provide a great education to all students. And so we try to go and push beyond any barriers for students to get into our school, so again, the process for signing up is incredibly simple and very open. And I would echo what Doug said too, that we have some wonderful families who definitely took a lot of time to make the choice to join our schools and other families who struggle with what it means to be a parent of a student in any school.

CONAN: Do you find that the kids who have parents who are engaged do better? Julie?

Ms. KENNEDY: Not necessarily. I think that, you know, kids are kids, and so some of them respond really well when their parents are involved on a daily basis. For some, it has the direct opposite reaction and they end up resenting the school and their parents, and really tend to struggle at that point, too.

CONAN: Doug?

Mr. LEMOV: I just want to jump in to say that I think that this is an incredibly hard thing to say, but I believe it because people like Julie Kennedy live it every day. And it doesnt matter to me whether it's a charter school or a district school. Were all public schools. Were all serving kids. We have to be prepared to succeed no matter what the parents can bring to the table.

I would love it to say that, you know, we're going to make all of our parents active, perfect parents. It's not going to happen. And we have a generation of kids we need to educate as well as we possibly can. And the school needs to be ready to do it no matter where the parents come to the - no matter what the parents bring to the table.

CONAN: Kevin, I wonder how you would respond to that.

KEVIN: Well, I mean, I dont disagree with anything you said. First, I didnt say that charter schools cream. I think - I still say, based - I dont have data, I didnt do any research. But I dont see a lot of data supporting the contention that parental involvement doesnt make a positive difference. Now, obviously, as you say, the most involved parents sometimes dont help and - but I will still take a classroom full of kids who the majority of the parents value education and pass that value onto their kids and make it known...

CONAN: Yeah. I think everybody is agreeing that engaged parents are better. But I think what we're hearing here is that they are not necessarily the sine qua non, that there's a factor that will rule kids out from learning and succeeding.

KEVIN: I...

Mr. LEMOV: Your point - I would say your point is well-taken and I think we just have to be able to succeed with all kids.

CONAN: Kevin, thanks very much for the call.

KEVIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Well get one last caller in on this. This is Valerie(ph). Valerie with us from Gilbert, Arizona.

VALERIE (Caller): Hi. I really appreciate the chance to join this discussion. I've taught high school English for over 30 years and I'm now teaching future teachers. In fact, I'm 10 minutes away from giving them their final exam today. I find this to be absolutely revolutionary, and I wish I hadnt had to learn this the hard way over 30 years.

What we're talking about are real techniques. Teachers may know content, it doesnt mean they know how to teach. But rather than throwing out the so-called bad teachers, we need to teach them. Every teacher wants to succeed. Every student wants to succeed. And what I'm hearing in a lot of these strategies is really teaching students how to learn. We can't possibly cover all the content with the little time we have. But we can teach the students how to be good students, and then they can take those skills through lifelong learning.

This also, I believe, transfers to behavior in the classroom. A lot of students act up out of frustration because they dont know what they're supposed to be doing, how to be doing it, what the expectations are, or they dont have that relationship with the teacher, which I agree is absolutely crucial. This is just long overdue. It's not just platitudes. Like you mentioned earlier about, well, now just go in and be positive. And Doug, I look forward to requiring your book in next semester's class, for sure.

Mr. LEMOV: Thank you.

CONAN: Valerie, thanks very much for the call. Good luck with the test.

VALERIE: Thanks very much. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And I'm afraid we're going to have to end it there. But our thanks to our guests: Julie Kennedy, with us from our bureau in New York, principal of Williamsburg Collegiate, a charter middle school and a member of the Uncommon Schools Network. Thank you so much for your time today.

Ms. KENNEDY: Thank you.

CONAN: And Doug Lemov with us here in Studio 3A, managing director of Uncommon Schools and author of "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College." Thanks very much, Doug.

Mr. LEMOV: Thanks, Neal.

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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
Jossey-Bass
List price: $27.95

MEET SOME OF THE CHAMPIONS

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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