In April 2014, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) in collaboration with five other leading education organizations* launched an exploratory study, From Good to Great: Exemplary Teachers Share Perspectives on Increasing Teacher Effectiveness Across the Career Continuum.  The study consisted of a survey of National and State Teachers of the Year from the mid-1970’s to 2013.  The report asked what professional experiences and supports that these teachers believe most contributed to their growth and excellence as a teacher.  In every single career stage, these exemplary teachers listed the need for the guidance of other great teachers for professional growth and development.

The partner organizations collectively developed a list of 163 survey questions about professional experiences that might contribute to a teacher’s success.    Examples of the questions included, “Did you have professional learning experience or support as a means of strengthening your effectiveness?  For the professional learning experiences and supports that you received, how important were they for increasing your effectiveness as a teacher? Of the experiences and supports that you ranked as “very important,” which three, in order, do you rank as the most important for improving your effectiveness as a teacher?”

The responses were categorized into the four stages of a professional teaching career: preservice, novice, career, and teacher leader. 

In the preservice stage, five of the top eight supports and experiences listed involved learning from other experienced teachers:

Of those respondents who ranked their final clinical practicum (student teaching) among their “Top Three” for developing their effectiveness as a teacher, the first two characteristics listed as most relevant were working with a cooperating teacher who was effective in promoting student learning and a cooperating teacher who was an effective adult mentor.

When asked to rate the importance of experiences and support for teachers in the novice stage of their career, five of the top eight supports and experiences involved the support of other great educators:

  • access to a supportive principal;
  • collaboration with teacher colleagues;
  • common planning time with other teachers;
  • professional learning communities made up of fellow teachers; and
  • access to a teacher mentor.

 For those that listed access to a mentor in their “Top Three” most important characteristics for developing their effectiveness as a teacher, having access to a mentor who was a great teacher, one who modeled effective teaching practices, and one who provided helpful support/advice were the most important qualities in a teacher mentor.

Six of the top thirteen career stage supports directly involved working with other teachers:

  • participating in professional learning communities/collaboration;
  • involvement in teacher leadership opportunities;
  • serving in a teacher leader position;
  • team teaching with a teacher leader;
  • presenting at conferences with peer groups; and
  • participating in teacher-delivered professional development.

Even when teachers were already well established in their careers, working directly with other teachers remained one of the most important experiences for continuing to develop effectiveness as a teacher leader.  Ten of the fifteen supports listed working with other teachers in some capacity:

  • providing formal coaching or mentoring to colleagues;
  • delivering professional development activities to other teachers;
  • becoming a mentor or instructional coach;
  • teaching preservice teachers at the university level;
  • presenting at conferences to peer groups;
  • supervising preservice or novice teachers;
  • becoming department chair;
  • sharing research findings with colleagues;
  • conducting peer review observations of colleagues; and
  • serving as a model for observation by less effective peers.

The authors of this study offered several considerations based on the survey results, but the first and foremost consideration listed was for policymakers and education leaders to support teachers teaching teachers.  Time and opportunities to observe and collaborate with other effective teachers must be a prominent part of any education policy designed to continue to develop exemplary teachers throughout their career.

Since serving on a more public stage as the state teacher of the year, I have been asked repeatedly what I am doing now.  When I answer that I am still teaching full-time in the classroom, people are surprised.  Although I am still active in the national policy debate and in leadership positions on my own time, the assumption is that I should have left the classroom and be working solely in an administrative capacity or in some role as an education policy consultant.  This assumption needs to change. We in the education community must dispel the belief that great teachers must leave the classroom to advance in the profession.  We must create models of leadership which allow exemplary teachers to remain in the classroom at least part-time while serving in compensated teacher leader positions at the same time.  Our students still need us, and we need to be in the classroom with them to stay current and relevant.  Thanks to this study, we now know that our fellow teachers need us, too. 


*AIR: American Institutes for Research, AACTE: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, CAEP: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, CCSSO: Council of Chief State School Officers, TQ: National Council on Teacher Quality, and NEA: National Education Association.

From Good to Great: Exemplary Teachers Share Perspectives on Increasing Teacher Effectiveness Across the Career Continuum

For added advice for how teachers and legislators can better collaborate on education policy, please take a moment to read my colleague Justin Minkel’s blog:   The link to Minkel’s blog is posted here with permission from the Center for Teaching Quality, home to the Collaboratory, a virtual community for all who value teacher leadership.