Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Steven Farr - Teach for America

I remember reading an article in The Atlantic last year titled "What Makes a Great Teacher."   The article outlined the Steven Farr's role within Teach For America and highlighted a lot of the work that he has done to help identify the characteristics that TFA looks for when hiring teachers, and the methods that their best teachers employ in the classroom to help students learn.  To be honest, I was very interested to hear more about the practice that TFA has utilized to develop their framework and better understand how they have analyzed student data to identify which teachers they believe are great.

After almost 20 years in existence, TFA has developed some very complex structures to collect and analyze student data, but their definition of effectiveness is relatively simple.  They believe that effective teachers are those that create the most learning in their classrooms.  In order to identify where the most learning is taking place, they focus on standardized assessment data to ascertain how much growth has taken place during the time they are in a teacher's classroom.  Although he talked at great length about the imperfections of standardized data (various assessments, quality of test, alignment to standards), they have created a system to try and provide some consistency to the various testing tools that are used state by state.  At the end of the day, this analysis allows TFA to identify which teachers have caused the greatest gains, and they then study those teachers to try and find patterns in their methods to create their model of great teaching.

Personally, I really love the fact that TFA's model has been created by looking at exemplary practices in the classroom setting and that it is focused on student achievement (albeit a snapshot due to their exclusive use of standardized data).   Over the past few years, they have watched countless teachers and have found that the teachers who were able to create the most learning all did the following things.
  • Set big goals
  • Invest in students and their families
  • Plan purposefully
  • Execute effectively
  • Continuously increase their effectiveness
  • Work relentlessly
To be honest, I found this model to be really affirming as it is very similar to what we are hearing from other presenters in NESA, and directly related to what we have been working on as a faculty at ACS.  I also thought that the website that has been created by TFA is an amazing idea.  On the site, they have outlined their rubrics that have been created to describe the characteristics of great teaching, and attached a variety of resources to help teachers understand how they can improve in any of these areas.  Feel free to check this site out at

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