Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Constitutes Good Instruction?

As a Principal, one of my most important responsibilities is the evaluation of instruction.  In general, the observation process is quite arbitrary.  The feedback a teacher receives really depends on the training a particular administrator has received, District vision, and what books or research have been read.  
What I have tried to do is take a little bit of everything I have learned to provide my teachers with the best feedback possible in order to promote professional growth and increase student achievement.  In my mind there are no perfect lessons and there is always room for improvement no matter how great the teacher is.  The trick is being able to effectively identify those areas and engage the teacher in a constructive dialogue that results in improved practice.  Here is what I look for:
  • Clearly stated objectives as to what the students are expected to learn or do by the conclusion of the lesson.
  • Asking open and closed-ended questions during direct instruction in order to check for understanding, engage, and assess.  I like to see my teachers randomly call on students so that they don’t get lost during the course of a lesson.  An emphasis is also placed on the lecture being only 10-15 minutes if necessary.
  • A do-now or anticipatory set that motivates the learner, reviews prior learning, and makes connections to the new content being presented.  Students need to find meaning and relevancy in what they are learning or else they will be disengaged.
  • Interdisciplinary connections.
  • A variety of student-centered learning activities where students are afforded the opportunity to think critically, solve problems, work in cooperative groups, and create manifestations that demonstrate learning is taking place.  Students need to be actively involved in the learning process.
  • Informal and formal means of assessment in which the students have a clear indication of their performance in relation to expected learning outcomes.  Rubrics or scoring guides should accompany any activity that is to be graded.
  • The routine use of positive reinforcement to commend and praise students for taking risks, whether they are wrong or right. 
  • A stimulating learning environment that promotes inquiry with student work proudly displayed.  Tied to this are classroom management techniques that afford all students the opportunity to learn.
  • Effective technology integration.
  • Teacher enthusiasm.  If teachers aren’t enthusiastic about the lesson or content then how can they expect their students to be?
  • A closure activity that reinforces the objectives of the lesson.

By no means is this list inclusive of all the aspects of effective instruction.  However, I do feel that it provides me with a good base to effectively and objectively evaluate my teachers to help them grow professionally.  I would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Great post. If all teachers designed every lesson with this list in mind we would see authentic engagement from all learners. The fifth bullet seems to be absent from many classrooms. Screenagers are social monsters and schools temper the educational conversation. Turn and Talk, Clock Buddies, Diads/Triads are all strategies that have a place in K-20. Great stuff!

  2. Thanks for the reminders! We should never lose sight of the fundamentals that bring about learning.

  3. I agree... EXCELLENT POST! I would love to see more formative assessment in our classroom so teachers could have a better feel of each students mastery.

  4. I think the most important part of your post is "engage the teacher in a constructive dialogue." As instructional coach since the beginning of this school year, I've had some incredibly meaningful conversations with teachers about a wide range of instructional issues. With the evaluation piece taken out of the common teacher-administrator conference after an observation, the dialogue changes dramatically.

    Even when it's not the intention of an administrator to be evaluative when talking to a teacher, the implied evaluation or grading is hard to dismiss.

    The criteria for effective teaching you have listed is clear, focused, and a great starting place for dialogue. If school districts and now politicians could put the whole teacher evaluation mindset in the last century where it belongs, just imagine how all schools would be able to show improved student achievement.

  5. Great post to start an interesting conversation! Instruction is an area in many schools that is casual conversation at best. The word is never spoken at other schools. Ask a group of administrators, department heads and supervisors the following two questions: What is quality instruction? How do you know when you see it? We (all educators) have to be able to answer at least the first question with a very high level of confidence to be able to have great conversations within our schools and the profession.

  6. I just wrote a similar post and talked about how if teachers aren't doing those things that you want to see, then it's our job to teach them.

  7. Glad you mentioned classroom management. Does a well managed classroom guarantee effective instruction? No, but a poorly managed one precludes it.

    Beyond that, much of the conversation I have with school leaders and teachers around instructional quality focuses on the difference between teaching and facilitating learning. I've been in hundreds of classrooms, and great teachers get this difference.

  8. Thanks for this, Eric! This is something that I can adapt for my staff and the rest of my leadership team at our school--all good practices here. One of the things that we have added to this process is 'evidence that a positive working relationship has been established between the teacher and the learner': this can be seen through comments back and forth between teacher and student, the teachers using examples that relate to specific student interests (ie. "Johnny, at your band concert this weekend did you notice...") etc.

    Cale Birk

  9. A fantastic list, thank you!
    I'm dealing with a teacher that really struggles in this area:
    • A stimulating learning environment that promotes inquiry... Tied to this are classroom management techniques that afford all students the opportunity to learn.
    And I think part of this is that the teacher does not provide enough scaffolding to support all the needs in the classroom and so students need to be 'managed'. Because students are not capable of doing what is expected, and aren't given the means to be successful, they misbehave or are off task.
    I also like Cale's point about 'evidence that a positive working relationship has been established between the teacher and the learner'. Genuine concern for students and their interests and lives goes a long way in creating a positive working relationship between teacher and student!

    Again, a wonderful list... Thank you for sharing!

  10. Thank you for this post. I am in the middle of my first round of formal evaluations as a new AP. This is a great list. I am wondering if I can have permission to share this list with teachers. Of course we have a district rubric that we are supposed to following in order to evaluate teachers. However, the rubric has very little to do with the craft of teaching. Again,thank you for the post.

  11. Eric,

    Of course you can share the list!

  12. I recently finished my admin certificate program with JHUISTE and currently work w/ teachers as an instructional coach. We are in the process of doing instructional rounds. This is a great set of look-fors. Thanks for sharing.

    I'm curious about your third-to-last bullet. In your experience or opinion, what does "effective technology integration" look like? Some teachers using a document camera believe they are integrating technology. Curious about yours and others' views on this.


  13. Paul,

    What you describe I commonly refer to as infusion. Integration involves the seamless use of technology by the teachers and students in order to demonstrate that the learning objectives have been met.

  14. Thank you Eric for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm about technology with the Perth Amboy,NJ administrators today!