An email landed in my inbox this week from a woman named Christianne Birtwistle who is working for Teachers TV, which has to produce the most interesting “makeover show” on “television” today.  Titled From Good to Outstanding, this show spotlights teachers working to improve their instruction with the help and guidance from around the digital world.

Each webisode begins with a teacher being observed teaching a lesson by an expert “inspector,” who rates the overall quality of the teacher’s planning and presentation.

Next, the teacher spends two to three weeks meeting with experts and (here’s the interesting part) interacting with helpful viewers offering feedback and ideas in electronic discussion forums in an attempt to improve the original lesson.

Finally, the teacher returns to the classroom to deliver another lesson in front of the inspector, who decides whether the instructional practices and presentation have moved from good to outstanding.

The Teachers TV website organizes episodes and conversations about instruction by grade level and content area—making it possible for visitors to explore lessons directly connected to their curriculum.  It has also organized collections of lessons titled “learning journeys” that visitors can work through to systematically study common professional questions.

Teachers TV’s From Good to Outstanding—-which has a new collection of webisodes beginning on June 9th spotlighting the work of a secondary science teacher and an early years teacher—has a ton of potential in my book.

Not only does the program make the elements of effective instruction transparent to the broader world, it provides an inside look into the kinds of work that reflective teachers do on a regular basis—a part of our profession often hidden to outsiders.

From Good to Outstanding also makes it possible for educators to engage in an ongoing study of the instructional practices in their own grade levels and subject areas from the safety of their own living rooms and on their own personal schedules—-something that face-to-face interactions in schools with colleagues and professional development providers cannot match.

The risk of reflection—-being rated as a poor teacher by one’s peers—-is removed by From Good to Outstanding.  Practitioners can easily compare their instruction to the instruction being offered—and rated—in similar grade levels and content areas.

The only real concern that I have about programs like From Good to Outstanding is that they might understate the amount of mental energy and effort that goes into improving instruction.  In my experience, practices never move from “good to outstanding” in a two or three week period.  Instead, the best practices are polished over a period of months or even years.

Here’s an example:  My buddy Mike and I teach a daily current events lesson to our kids.  We started doing so almost 7 years ago.  It began as a simple process to teach geography where we read a current event and began tracking the locations of each event on a world map.

Over time, we’ve incorporated daily reading mini-lessons into our current events readings, tied those lessons to our county’s reading curriculum and formative assessment system, and begun tracking the growth of our students in both geographic understanding and reading mastery.

Our latest improvement:  We’re just now beginning to explore how Diigo—a tool that allows users to read and annotate websites together—can be used to engage kids in conversations about current events beyond our school.

I would hate for the general public to watch a few episodes of From Good to Outstanding and then believe that improving teaching can be done in three weeks if “those lazy teachers would just start working harder.”

I also worry a bit about the conversations that develop in the electronic discussion forums.  While it looks like the conversations are moderated by an indentified instructional expert—guaranteeing a measure of quality control over the kinds of comments added to the ongoing conversations—-I’d hate to see what could be meaningful conversations about instruction watered down by a sea of unmonitored comments that add little to the developing dialogue.

Not only would such conversations make it difficult to find quality buried in the chaff, they would leave outsiders confused—-thinking that they understood quality instruction based on the comments left in each electronic conversation.  I can just see a parent challenging a teacher’s instructional decisions based on something that they’ve drawn from a strand of conversation on a From Good to Outstanding episode.

But overall, I like the idea.  Anything that can make the work done in schools a bit more transparent for everyone—-practitioners, policymakers and parents alike—-is a good thing in my eyes.

What about you?  Do you think From Good to Outstanding is a program worth watching?  Will you share it with your colleagues?  Could you use it in your own professional development efforts?

Better yet, would you allow your own practices to be spotlighted in this way? 

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