How to Build Great Teachers

Dan Brown talks about practical things we can do to help build great teachers. From best practices to policy, Dan shares what works (and some of what doesn’t.) If you’re in preservice education or work with teacher professional development, this podcast episode has some fantastic tips.

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

How to Build Great Teachers


Vicki: How do we build great teachers? Today we are talking with thought leader Dan Brown about this topic. Dan, how do we build great teachers?

How do we build great teachers?

Dan: Building a great teacher takes a village. And it takes a lot of time. I think any kind of instant remedies or quick fixes or “three steps to being great teacher” type of guidance is kind of dangerous.

Teaching is such a complex job; it is really professional work. It requires a really serious body of crafts, knowledge, and skills. Starting early with educators helping high school students explore teaching — I think is really valuable, but anyone at any point when they are starting their journey should really be grounding their practice.

(They need to be) getting a lot of clinical hands-on experience, being grounded in best research, and really taking a seriously that it is a long journey before you are able to be that exemplary teacher that you’ve always dreamed to be.

Vicki: It really is a journey. So when you have that teaching certificate, and when you graduate – you do not necessarily have the great teacher standpoint yet, do you?

The disservice schools do to rookie teachers

Dan: Definitely not.

It can be tricky because in a lot of schools, rookie teachers are given the exact same workload or course load as a 30-year veteran. So they may feel like they have to perform at that level of an accomplished, experienced teacher.

And of course, their toolbox of skills and knowledge and experience is just starting to be built. No, there should be a quest as a lifelong learner, and a willingness to seek out constructive criticism and to build a network of critical friends and to really seek to be transparent about your own practice, and (to find out) how you can get better.

And celebrate your successes!

Vicki: But you know Dan, in a lot of schools, the rookie teachers actually get the worst classes.

Sink or swim is not a good way to orient new teachers

Dan: Yeah, that’s a real kind of pervasive, unfortunate “trial by fire” concept that is out there where rookie teachers maybe kind of looked at as “sink or swim” or “meat to the grinder”… Pick your idiom of not really being valued out of the gate as prized community assets.

And it is a challenge! That’s why when folks are looking for their first teaching job, it’s essential to scout the principal. Make sure you’re going into a functional environment where you have a principal to really help nurture your development and not push you into the toughest possible context when you’re the least experienced.

Vicki: Ah, we could talk about that forever — because how do you tell if there’s a functional environment? Because sometimes some people talk a good game.

How can you tell if a school is a good environment?

Dan: It’s true, it’s true. It’s hard to tell from the internet how a school’s environment and culture really is. You have to ask really probing questions. You have to try to get candid opinions from folks that work at the school — or who have worked at the school, maybe outside of the formal interview process.

And then, really trust your instincts when you do meet with that school leader. If your radar is pinging that something is really kind of off here, don’t look past it.

Vicki: How can we help teachers? Because when you build a great teacher, aren’t you constantly building and rebuilding yourself?

Do we have options so great teachers don’t have to leave the classroom?

Dan: Yes, definitely. And teaching needs to have more sort of ladders and lattices within the profession so that teachers can lead without leaving.

I mean a lot of times, the only opportunity for a promotion from being a classroom teacher is to leave classroom teaching altogether.

So this is where the Center for Teaching Quality has done great work on teacher leadership, advancing the concept of “teacherpreneurs,” and hybrid roles.


There are more and more states and districts that are looking at how to divvy up teachers‘ time and responsibilities so that they’re not every single year loaded up with the exact same course load, same number of preps.

Because absolutely people burn out.

There’s research about how that career arc can really plateau five-plus years in — unless you give people the opportunity to really activate their passion and spread their instructional expertise and their skills.

Vicki: So let’s back up. We’ve talked about the fact that we need to keep learning. We’ve talked about when you get out of college, you’re not quite there yet and you need to be in the classroom. But how can colleges do a better job of preparing successful teachers?

How can colleges prepare better teachers?

Dan: This is controversial, but I really support the EdTPA, which is a performance-based assessment.

It’s like a mini National Board Certification portfolio that a number of states are requiring students to use to demonstrate their competence on where they can demonstrate evidence — videos of yourself during student teaching.

And it’s scored by accomplished assessors. It’s kind of like a bar exam for teaching.

I think as colleges of teacher education can embrace this concept of the profession having an independent verifier of, “Yes you’re ready.” I think that may help raise the bar for ensuring that instruction that happens at the college of teacher education is really practical, relevant, and clinical based.

Vicki: Why do you think this is so controversial? Is it because college professors don’t want anybody looking over their shoulder? They don’t want the accountability that the teachers in the classroom have right now also?

Why is EdTPA so controversial?

Dan: Yeah, I think for a long time colleges and universities have been fiefdoms of deciding who is going forward into the teaching profession. So this would be an outside arbiter, which infringes on turf issues and can be threatening to some.

And there’s expense. Becoming a licensed teacher? There’s a lot of cost for licensure exams and this also costs money. In some places, it is underwritten by third parties, but it’s tough for young people that want to be teachers to be taking on debt.

There are policy solutions to that. I don’t think aspiring public servants should have to pay out of pocket. Certainly, in high achieving countries outside of the US, aspiring teachers don’t have to have to take on debt. Their education is subsidized but EdTPA; there is a cost to do it which invites pushback.

Vicki: Well, and you know (something that) we teachers are talking about all the time is that you can’t really measure knowledge from a test.

I would argue you really can’t measure whether somebody can teach — from a test. Would you?

Dan: Not a paper test, no.

And I mean, and EdTPA is one instrument, but this is a portfolio-based assessment where you’re submitting lesson plans, videos or tapes of yourself teaching, reflective commentary, artifacts that you’ve cultivated from your student teaching, scored against a really rigorous professional rubric.

Yeah, one assessment would never be holistic enough to encompass all of what teaching involves. But I think it is one key piece of raising the bar for the profession — helping to grow teachers that have that baseline of competence on Day One. I think this is one part of that puzzle.

Vicki: Yeah. The whole point is that it’s not just a test, it’s performance-based, right?

Ben: Precisely.

Vicki: As we finish up, Dan, we’ve covered a lot of bases here on how to build great teachers.

Could you give a 30-second or one-minute pep talk to those whose job it is — whether they’re curriculum director or principal at a school who’s trying to help teachers become better, or a college professor who is really trying to help teachers become better… What do they need to be doing to help great amazing teachers?

How to help new teachers stay in teaching

Ben: Sure. Overwhelmingly, there’s really compelling market research that what young people in early career professionals want most out of their job is impact. Of course, teaching supplies that.

And then there’s NEA research that says that the number one reason that people join teaching — and the number one reason they stay in teaching year after year — is to work with young people.

So that craving to have an impact and to work closely with young people is at the core of what fires up people who want to teach.

So we have to ensure that those opportunities are facilitated when preservice and early service teachers, that they get to have moments of success. They want to do a good job.

They may feel overwhelmed by the work, but to be able to facilitate and celebrate successful early moments — no matter how small. This creates rocket fuel for those young, developing teachers.

It can be a real grind being a new teacher! You feel overwhelmed. You feel like a failure. So anything that veterans and nurturers of the village can do to help those early career teachers really “see” and “dissect and understand” their moments of success and promise and potential, I think, will fire them up to believe in their ability to earn that impact and go forward and be great for the long term.

Vicki: And that’s so very true because I think back on my first day of teaching.

I didn’t come to teaching from the teaching side, I came from the business world, but my mom and my sister were teachers.

At the end of my first day, they brought me prizes. It was like a card and some other goodies to celebrate.

It was like, “You made it through the end of your first day! We’re so excited for you!”

And it was like … I felt like doing the touchdown sign because they made me feel victorious that I had done something that was very hard and very overwhelming. But they celebrated that!

I love the idea, “Celebrate the small wins with new teachers.” I think that this is something that all of us at our schools should ask ourselves. “Are we helping our new teachers celebrate those small wins?”

Dan: Precisely. And that celebration that they provided for you your first day you remember all these years later! It made a big difference!

Vicki: Fifteen years later. In fact, I don’t know if I would have stayed if I hadn’t had all that encouragement the first year because I think that every mistake in the book? I made it. (And even some not in the book that I will not admit to.)

Dan: There’s a great report from TNTP from four or five years ago called “The Irreplaceables.”


It’s about how just even a small gesture to give a “thumbs up” to a hard working teacher can be the difference between their leaving and staying.

Vicki: Love that. So teachers, we have encouragement to help build great teachers. All of us can help build great teachers — because we can all encourage other teachers. And that is remarkable!

Bio as submitted

Dan Brown is Co-Director of Educators Rising and a National Board Certified Teacher. He lives in Maryland and serves as Vice President of his local public school's PTA.

Blog: Educators Rising

Twitter: @DanBrownTeacher

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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1 comment

Levi November 9, 2017 - 3:05 pm

Great information on how to help new teachers stay in education


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