Exceptional teachers are found in every school district. These are the teachers who inspire us to think creatively, who encourage us in our dreams, and who teach difficult subjects and make them feel easy. These teachers possess a passion for their subject and the students who are in their classes.  Every day of the week these teachers show up in ways that go unnoticed yet impact the very lives of their students.

We know that the qualities of effective teaching have been defined multiple times. In the Network for Educator Effectiveness evaluation system, a teacher who engages almost all students almost all the time in effective teaching practices would be considered a highly effective teacher. In feedback sessions, we often hear principals say it is difficult to know what to say or do to help these teachers improve their practice. 

One way of helping effective teachers hone their craft is by developing Communities of Practice. Communities of Practice are defined as groups of people formed around a shared practice or concern for something they do and want to get better at (Wenger-Traynor, 2015).

Here are a few ideas that will help your highly effective teachers deepen their knowledge of their craft by building Communities of Practice.

Book Studies

Let teachers self-select books they think will benefit them and their students. In a recent Missouri Teacher Academy Graduates course, the participants read the book When by Daniel Pink. While not necessarily a book about education, many of the principles applied to both the teachers’ classrooms and their personal lives. Teachers reported that they in turn shared the book with other colleagues, which led to multiple discussions about building improvement.

Teacher Collaboration

Highly effective teachers have many strategies from which other teachers will benefit. Teachers can form groups based on indicators and share strategies during professional development time. These groups should not be an additional burden but designed to have participants share strategies that work. 

New Approaches to Learning

Challenge teachers to try new approaches to learning in their classrooms. Has the teacher always wanted to try a Flipped Classroom but never had the time?  Set aside time in the teacher’s day to study and learn, give space and grace to implement the practice, and then ask the teacher to share the experience with you during a regularly scheduled evaluation time. 

Provide High-Quality Feedback on Instruction

In addition to collecting information on the act of instruction, collect data on the effect of the instruction. Did the students learn? Use that data to help teachers see that their instruction had the desired effect: student learning. Collect data by asking students questions about the content while observing. Share those results with teachers at the post-observation feedback session.  Ask teachers to bring in the results of their latest assessment. Go over the data together and look for insights about student learning. Ask the teacher questions about how they use the data to improve instruction and “what’s next” for the students.

Observe Other Teachers

Teachers love to visit classrooms of other teachers in their grade level or content area. Plan time for teachers to visit classrooms in and outside the district. At your next feedback session, ask what new information was learned and whether any new strategies will be used in the classroom. Ask whether follow-up time is needed. Give additional time for the teacher to implement new findings in lesson planning.

Participate in State-Wide Teacher Development

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provides support for teachers in the Developing and Mastering levels. Teachers Academy, Teacher Academy Graduates, and Mentoring are offered through each of the state’s nine Regional Professional Development Centers. Teachers in Teacher Academy develop action research projects based on a need in the classroom. Both Teacher Academy and Teacher Academy Graduates are guided by John Antonetti, the author of 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong: Strategies That Engage Students, Promote Active Learning, and Boost Achievement.

Highly effective teachers already do what we expect in the classroom at a high level. Give these teachers a chance to truly spread their wings, and opportunities for student learning will soar.

Read more on supporting highly effective teachers: Action Research Develops Powerful Insights for Teachers

Dr. Terri Steffes is a trainer and field support representative for the Network for Educator Effectiveness and an educational consultant for the Heart of Missouri Regional Professional Development Center. She is a retired Missouri school principal and teacher.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.