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Four Essential Concepts to Strengthen the "Art of Teaching"

I love the phrase, “the art of teaching”! Two different teachers can have identical lesson plans but still teach the content in a variety of creative ways. Second to the working with students, most teachers would say they enjoy the “art” that comes in planning and facilitating a lesson. In order for the “art of teaching” to be most effective in student learning there are four concepts to consider.

First: a guaranteed and viable curriculum

A guaranteed and viable curriculum means a curriculum that is established and followed to ensure vertical and horizontal alignment of content, skills, and curricular materials. In order to grow in our delivery of instruction, we need a common curriculum to work from so that we may have meaningful discussions with our colleagues (ideally in PLCs—Professional Learning Communities or Impact Teams) regarding the impact of strategies and structures on student learning.

Another important reason for the guaranteed and viable curriculum is that it ensures equity in learning for the students. It doesn’t matter which teacher they have for the course, because they will be taught the same curriculum. The following year, the teachers know for sure what objectives have been taught, saving time from having to review items we thought students had gaps in knowledge due to their teacher.

For more ideas on how to develop aligned curriculum, explore Pacing Guide Love and Three Steps to for Unpacking Standards.

Second: a “Tight, Loose, Tight” approach

The first tight is a curriculum because everyone follows the pacing guide and order of the curriculum. What's more? Teachers should strive to be within a couple days of each other. Several days provides you the flexibility to re-teach and enrich based off your students needs that year. The “loose” is the “the art”—how you facilitate learning of the objectives/standards. The final “tight” is for common summative assessments. These are developed by the teachers and are used for backwards design in planning the “loose”. The data collected from the common summative assessments and formative assessments allow for the meaningful dialogue in PLC/Impact Teams. Also, and this is often a missed step: the common curriculum and assessments should be housed in a common place for easy access by all teachers. Individual teachers should not be the keepers of the curriculum. Why? People leave! And when they do, they take the maps with them.

Third: job-embedded collaborative learning with colleagues

What is job-embedded collaborative learning with colleagues? It is professional development within schools focused on quality instruction and student achievement. It occurs during the workday and in the workplace, and it is closely connected to the actual work of teachers in classrooms with their current students. It is designed to improve teachers’ instruction and intended to improve student learning. Research shows that when teachers receive an average of 49 hours of job-embedded professional development spread over a year, they can increase student achievement by as much as 21 percentile points (Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, and Shapley, 2007). Professional learning communities (PLCs) and Impact Teams are the two vetted structures for this to occur in a collaborative setting. These structures provide the time and space to learn from one another’s “art” such as: clear learning objectives, research-based strategies used for reteach and enrichment, reflection upon culturally relevant practices and learning environments, reflection upon lesson design, and the gradual release of learning.

Need help developing your Professional Learning Communities? Start by using a structured agenda for each meeting.

Finally: celebrate the small wins

It is important that we plan time for celebrating the small wins along the way in not only student growth, but adult growth as well. Celebrating these small wins helps us see the positives when you are in the thick of the work and learning. This might look like every PLC meeting beginning with celebrations or celebrations at monthly building meetings.

It's really easy to build in a two minute celebration of what's working in our classrooms. It's also really hard to convince teachers to do this on a weekly basis. Celebrating no longer feels natural in our profession, and the leaders must create structures to shift this from optional to non-negotiable.

In order to perfect our “art” with fidelity, the above four concepts should be woven in as frequently as possible. We believe the strongest systems provide teachers weekly, predictable opportunities for PLCs or teams to meet. In fact, we go so far as to say this time is not provided--it is expected. Teachers will rise to what is expected of them. Often it is our lack of clarity of what to do, when, and why that causes missed alignment among staff.

Leaders can (and must) provide clear expectations, especially around these four concepts.



Yoon, K. S., Duncan, T., Lee, S. W.-Y., Scarloss, B., & Shapley, K. (2007). Reviewing the evidence on how teacher professional development affects student achievement (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2007–No. 033). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Retrieved from

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