Book Report — “What Great Teachers Do Differently”

I admit that I several years longer than I should have to read anything other than a few articles by Todd Whitaker. That was certainly a mistake on my part.
I first encountered him as an author when I bought my textbooks for the last semester I was enrolled in a graduate program in school leadership. The book is What Great Principals Do Differently. It was at that time that I determined I really didn’t want to be a principal and abandoned the program. The book was never assigned, and it still sits on my bookshelf now.

I acquired Whitaker’s book What Great Teachers Do Differently from a pile of discarded books in the teacher workroom. The teacher who discarded it was leaving our school after a really rough year. I don’t think he had read any of it.

This is not the most recent edition of the book, by the way. The subtitle of the most recent edition heralds “17 Things That Matter Most,” so this book report will shortchange you by definition. I’ll buy and read the new edition next August, and I think I’ll reread it every year in early August for the rest of my career.

I’m not a great teacher — but I feel that I have learned over 21 years to try to do these things. I don’t do most of them terribly well yet, but it has made a huge difference in my teaching just to be trying to do all of these things. Nothing in this book is terribly surprising to a veteran teacher, but everything in this book needs to be part of any teacher’s preparation for a new school year — or part of the preparation of any person entering the profession.

Whitaker writes extremely well. His examples are excellent, and it is clear that he must have been a very reflective and, over time, effective teacher and leader of teachers. While I no longer aspire to lead a building as a principal, I want to be a more effective teacher and an effective leader of teachers from my role as a classroom teacher and professional educator. This book has too much good material in it and Whitaker summarizes it too well for anyone with my goals to leave it out of my annual routine (but next year, I’ll spring for the new edition and learn about the three “things that matter most” that don’t appear here).

In this brief paraphrasing of the “14 Things That Matter(ed) Most” when this first edition was published, I have also highlighted those areas that are most relevant to Teachership — the aspects of teaching that require the teacher to be a leader and to model good leadership for students (spoiler: the vast majority of the stuff is highlighted).

Here we go:

  1. Teachers must remember that education is about people, not programs.
  2. Teachers must express and uphold clear and consistent standards at all times.
  3. Teachers must react to misbehavior with a focus on preventing its recurrence.
  4. Standards for teachers must be higher than standards for students.
  5. The teacher is the only variable that the teachers control in the classroom.
  6. Teachers must keep classes positive, modeling respect and praising correctly.
  7. Teachers must ignore little slights and keep a positive and focused attitude.
  8. Teachers must maintain good relationships with students at all times.
  9. Teachers must focus on important concerns, seeking to preventing escalation.
  10. Teachers must plan and revise each lesson to focus on its essential goals.
  11. Teachers must plan communication for the best people they are trying to lead.
  12. Teachers must treat each person as if that person is the best person they lead.
  13. Teachers must focus on student learning, keeping standardized testing in its place.
  14. Teachers must build a nuanced understanding of the role of emotion in determining behaviors and beliefs, and use it to strengthen their practices.

Read the book. It’s an awesome way to charge up your preparation for the year.

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