MAT Blog

What makes a master teacher? Questions, not answers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Feb 26, 2013 1:27:00 PM

Master TeachingWe know a “master teacher” when we see one, but putting a finger on that elusive, "special something” is tricky business. There are innumerable books, blogs and articles designed to distill mastery teaching down to a set of discreet behaviors; if only we adopt them, they seem to suggest, we’ll find the key to unlock our hidden Je ne sais quoi.

Robyn Renee Jackson’s book Never Work Harder than Your Students deviates from this common mantra. For her, “What separates master teachers from the rest of us is that they know how to think about teaching.” They have “the Master Teacher Mindset,” and a toolbox of research-based strategies. Okay, so what’s the “Master Teacher Mindset” then?

Adopting the Master Teacher Mindset means that:

  • You know that asking the right questions is more important than having the right answers. “Good questions reveal what information is relevant, when information is sufficient, and how that information should be used appropriately.”
  • You spend your time “refining [your] inquiry skills,” as well as “collecting strategies and skills.” Teachers who have mastered the art of inquiry know how to ask students questions that stimulate thinking, motivate them and challenge them to take ownership over their own learning experience.
  • You do not rush to find solutions to problems. Instead, you spend time reflecting on the problem, resist placing blame, and maintain a willingness to “own your own contributions to the problem.”
  • You stop trying to teach like everyone else and instead tailor your approach to the needs of your students.
  • You put away the stacks of papers that need to be graded and take time to reflect on your teaching because you know that it meaningful reflection is necessary to expose “unwarranted or harmful assumptions” and “fallacies in [your] thinking.”
  • You are an expert in your subject area—not simply because you have a “hodgepodge of largely disconnected facts,” but because you have a system. You’re also able to “organize [your] teaching knowledge into meaningful patterns…and develop a set of key instructional principles.”  This system will be the bedrock of your philosophy.

Here are the seven principals of Master Teaching Jackson leads us through in her book:

  • Master teachers start where their students are
  • Master teachings know where their students are going
  • Master teachers expect to get their students to their goal
  • Master teachers support their students along the way
  • Master teachers use feedback to help them and their students improve
  • Master teachers focus on quality rather than quantity
  • Master teachers never work harder than their students

If you’d like to read more of Jackson’s work before committing to an entire book, check out some of her blogs here


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Tags: critical thinking, teacher leaders, student engagement, Master teacher

Teachers, America needs you!

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 15, 2012 9:39:00 AM

uncle samTeachers have responsibility for educating the next generation.  We literally will benefit from the results that schools and teachers gain working with the next generation of students.

The typical teacher is humble, hard-working, and unassuming.  It is time to change all that.  America’s students need you!

  • To be the best professional you can be.
  • To teach all your students, no matter how much they try to keep you from doing so.
  • To model what a citizen looks like….literate, culturally competent, funny, pugnacious, and skeptical
  • To look out for their best interests
  • To be a true TEACHER LEADER

A True Teacher Leader
Charlotte Danielson, Ann Lieberman, and Lynne Miller all have specific tips and tricks teachers can adopt to look and act like a leader.  Some of what they suggest may seem surprising, but these things will increase your competence as a teacher in and outside of your classroom.

Advocate for Students
Challenge the dominance of testing.  Become a teacher who not only promotes her/his personal accountability but also promotes authentic student learning.  Work to counter the emphasis on testing and more testing.

Share Leadership with Peers

  • Be a model for younger teachers.  Informally mentor one, two, or six.
  • Go to peers for input on your teaching and your ideas.
  • Take critique of your practice as it is intended—as an opportunity to grow. 
  • Take on roles your administrator might have traditionally done in service of your school and students.
  • Coach and be coachable.
  • Be a mentor and seek mentors.
  • Do not close your door.  Share your good ideas with your peers.  Steal theirs.

Become an Action Researcher

  • Develop a sense of inquiry.  Ask, how can my students learn _____________?
  • Use action research strategies to solve student learning issues
  • Model experimentation.  Try new ways of thinking and teaching.
  • Never stop asking why. How can I help my students learn at even higher levels?

Create a Community of Lifelong Learners

  • Be humble
  • Start a grade level or subject specific Professional Learning Community
  • Lead a grade level or subject specific Professional Learning Community
  • Care about your colleagues as much as your subject matter and content

Go public with your ideas and passion for student learning

  • Openly share your good teaching ideas
  • Keep your classroom door open
  • Visit and invite others into your classroom to observe your teaching
  • Join a professional organization and present your ideas to others.  That builds the profession.

Skillful Leadership

Teachers have to learn skills at leading groups.  Charlotte Danielson, (2006) lists skills that teacher leaders need to:  

  1. Use Norms to Run Groups- Set some simple rules to live by.  It keeps things flowing and helps get things done
  2. Keep the Group on Track- Listen to everyone in the group but keep the work moving to conclusion.
  3. Mediate- When the group disagrees, an effective leader works things toward resolution.
  4. Ask for Outside Help- If you are bogged down.  Ask someone you know to come in an offer a fresh perspective. Adding a new member can make everything flow.
  5. Positive- Frame the issues you are trying to solve. However, do not focus on the why so much, as how the solution will help students. Focus on evidence and not perceptions. Brainstorm solutions.
  6. Action- Solving real-student issues is often a complex thing. Use your group to identify the issue, seek evidence and then frame simple action steps to solve the problem
  7. Never Stop- Once you take action to solve a student issue, keep at it, and evaluate regularly to see if it is working.

Teacher leaders inspire and involve others to serve our children. They are relentless, positive, and a force to be reckoned with. Go be a true teacher leader. Our children need you.

Try these resources for more Teacher Leadership ideas:

Danielson, C. (2006). Teacher Leadership: That Strengthens Professional Practice. ASCD.  ISBN 978-1-4166-0271-2

Gabriel, J. (2005). How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader. ASCD. ISBN 1-4166- 0031-0

Harrison, C. & Killion, J. (2007). Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders. Educational Leadership. 65(1). ASCD.

Leading the Profession: An NEA Agenda for Action, [n. d.]  Retrieved from:

Lieberman, A., & Miller, L. (2004).  Teacher Leadership. Jossey-Bass Leadership Library in Education. ISBN 978-0-7879-6245-6

chuck pearson

Charles (Chuck) S. Pearson, Ph.D. is a mentor and Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the M.A.T. program. He received his B.S. in Elementary Education, his M.A. in Science Education and his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, K-12 Administration from Western Michigan University. 

As a coordinator and mentor, Dr. Pearson brings with him 20 years of experience teaching elementary and middle school, 5 years of experience as a Science and Math Curriculum Coordinator and nearly a decade of leadership experience as an elementary principal. In addition to this, Dr. Pearson has acted as a field instructor for Detroit Public School System high school science teachers through University of Michigan and Teach for America. He has also taught at Western Michigan University where he coordinated school renewal planning and implementation with the U.S. Department of Education.

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Tags: strategies, teacher leaders, developing teachers, Dr. Chuck Pearson

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