Appreciating Teachers Who Set Students Up for Success

Today is one of my favorite days of the year: National Teacher Day. For those of us who work year round to set teachers up for success, it’s a special treat to spotlight their work to do the same for students.

How do great teachers set students up for success?

Just last week, we celebrated 2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples and the state teachers of the year, whose profiles are brimming with inspiring stories of student-centered teaching. Peeples, who teaches high school English in Amarillo, Texas, described the critical importance of building confidence and of getting to know each student’s individual context and interests. “Every student has greatness in them, and it is the work of the teacher to help them discover it,” she said.

Peeples’ story is one of student-centered pedagogy in action. Her success as an educator is supported by an understanding of community and cultural dynamics, fluency in the content to be taught, and deep, trusting relationships carefully cultivated with every student.

In order to make learning experiences relevant to different students, teachers must first develop a substantial repertoire of instructional skills and master broad-based content knowledge. Then, as they discover a student’s interests and needs and establish a trusting relationship, they strategically tap this knowledge base to customize their approach to meet students where they are. This process can be understood as interpretive teaching practice, advanced by Etta Hollins as essential to working in high-poverty schools in particular.

What does this look like in action? Six high schools that appear to have made remarkable progress in setting students up for success are profiled in the 2013 publication Anytime, Anywhere: Student-Centered Learning for Schools and Teachers. The book also summarizes the research on brain-based and student-centered learning and identifies specific practices aligned with the research.

For example, in order to effectively customize instruction for individual students, teachers must get to know each student’s context, aspirations, and preferred learning pace and style, as well as their prior knowledge of the subject to be taught. Maximizing opportunities for students to make their own choices and to learn by doing, especially in real-world settings outside the classroom, also motivates and engages them. Particularly for students who have previously dropped out or otherwise disengaged from school, effective teaching includes attention to their social and emotional growth and to building their skills for self-reliance in the world beyond the classroom.

On this National Teacher Day, let’s celebrate and appreciate our National Teacher of the Year and all others who are setting students up for success.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE