The reporter in the back of your room

An education reporter is visiting your classroom. You cruise by the desk in the back corner where he’s taken a seat (scrunch!) and notice he’s perusing the printout of an article titled ‘The Six Essential Elements of Good Teaching.’

Gulp.

Don’t let this happen to you. Be prepared! Read this article from a new primer for education journalists, Reporting on Classrooms and Instruction, and see how you match up. The brief essay, written by former Los Angeles Times education reporter Richard Lee Colvin, summarizes the views of teacher mentors and coaches on the question “How do you know good teaching when you see it?”

The essential elements, assembled by a Los Angeles foundation after interviews with mentors, are identified under six headings: physical environment, social environment, instruction, content, assessment, and “effects on student” (if the journalist can measure this during a classroom visit, there’s a major grant in his/her future).

In attempting to identify some hallmarks of good teaching, the mentor/coaches speak of a “buzz in the classroom,” a sense that students “just can’t wait to get going on something,” and the presence of a “joyful dialogue.” (Obviously, it isn’t a test prep week.)

One coach suggested looking beyond the classroom door: “Consider the culture of the school. Do you see collaboration among teachers? Opportunities to improve? Support from the school leader?” Good questions. And there’s other good advice:

Often, the mentors said, journalists write about teachers as heroes battling the odds. They are directed to the classroom of the “best” teacher, one who colleagues see as the most visible, articulate or colorful. Schools also like to point out flashy projects by students. But these mentors suggest seeking out quiet, reflective teachers who are constantly trying to improve on what they’re doing.

We’re not sure whether the article — or the contents of the entire primer — will produce higher quality education reporting, but it’s an effort worth making. Reporters (like teachers) can always benefit from good professional development, even if they don’t always have the final say about the work they do.

Thanks to This Week in Education for alerting us to this new primer. Teacher leaders may want to share some of the content with their local reporters. Perhaps an anonymous mailing?

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