The Atlantic recently did a cover story on "What Makes a Great Teacher." Specifically addressing the inner-city context, the article addressed over 20 years of research done by Teach for America, which is releasing it's research this year for the first time.
With Obama's education plan getting underway-- giving over $4 billion to essentially discovering how to create great teachers-- TFA's research is suddenly relevant to the whole country.
What they discovered was that elements traditionally thought to be associated with great teaching-- charisma, high energy, good grades and an ivy league background-- turned out to be non-issues. (for more on this phenomenon check out Fast Company's article on how interviews get in the way of making great hires).
As they looked for patterns, two traits (among others) began to emerge. Previous indicators of 1) Persistence and 2) Improvement.
As all the things that seduce in an interview-- people skills and pedigree-- evaporate what's left is a person's ability to try again when things don't work the first time and a history of taking things as they were and making them better.
This is why grades weren't necessarily a good indicator: just because you got 4.0 your whole career doesn't mean you have a good work ethic (you could just be brilliant). But if your grades went up over time that was a better indicator.
This applies to leaders as well. When we're looking to recruit or hire or thinking about things to develop in potential leaders these two things we might keep in mind:
Do they get back up when they get knocked down? Have they had previous success not just maintaining something but actually making it better?
For development we might ask: how can we help people develop the persistence to constantly figure out a way to make it work (whatever "it" may be) and how can we help people to constantly try and improve whatever environment they may find themselves in?
And of course for ourselves we might ask: do we get back up when we get knocked down? Do we grow and make things better?
The future of our schools rest in the hands of the persistent and creative.
And I add: so does everything else.
Posted on Tue, March 9, 2010