The Essence of Excellence

Every day, teachers work to motivate students, increase achievement and create an environment where students take ownership of their learning. As Fellows, we have been fortunate to speak with teachers across the country, and concerns around capturing student growth through standardized testing continue to persist across our schools and communities. Teachers’ concerns run a wide gamut, ranging from the need for assessment that engages multiple intelligences to frustration around the stress that high-stakes testing can create for many students.

In light of ongoing conversations about linking test scores to teacher evaluation, we want to hear more about how teachers measure their own effectiveness. We are thinking a lot about how to best reflect on and learn from our practice, so that we as teachers can actively shape current discussions about what true excellence looks like in the classroom.

In the first few weeks of school, how do you know if you are successful in beginning to impact student learning? Please share with us a personal glimpse of your excellence in the classroom from the start of the school year!

For opportunities to help identify and solve other challenges related to teaching and learning in the classroom, check out the new Challenge to Innovate (C2i) initiative at

With great hope for the future of education,

Antero, Edit, Jemal, Jeff, Katie, Laurie, Leah, Linda, Lisa, Nick, Pam, Patrick, Tracey, Stephanie and Steve
Teaching Ambassador Fellows


  1. Teachers are really a essence of excellence. Just because of these great peoples we students are able to stand up in society. You can find many news as above commenter said about a teacher who have been out more than 45 days, that teachers are getting more money oriented. But according to a survey from Free Release press, many colleges are still providing quality teaching options.

  2. When I was a kid, we had a much respect for our teachers and we were treated with respect. This fostered a great learning environment. Now I think teachers are lazy. My son’s teacher has been out for nearly three months for laser eye surgery, but according to this laser eye surgery site, she shouldn’t have been out more than 45 days — but of course she has the support of the union. I think unions don’t have a place in education!!

  3. Teachers can be very encouraging or discouraging.

    I have found the ones who are gifted with encouragement are few and far between.

  4. Connections. The best lessons will be ineffective if the students think the teacher doesn’t care.

    Enthusiasm. Start the year off with a bang, not with a litany of rules for the first three days. When the students walk out of the room talking animatedly about the class, that energy will carry over into their learning.

  5. I measure my own effectiveness as a teacher by reflecting on what was successful or unsuccessful about a lesson. If I can look around the room and see child actively listening, participating, and engaged while I’m teaching, then I consider my teaching successful. When I send the back for the independent practice and they take in the knowledge that I just taught them and use it in a new way, I consider that successful. For example, in my Kindergarten class, we just did a mini lesson on perspective in writer’s workshop. We learned about why illustrator’s chose to draw/paint pictures close or far away and how their decision helps create meaning in the story. I chose to tell a story about how I was driving home from work and all I kept thinking about was my cat. I drew myself in my car close to the front of the page. Then I drew my house very small in the distance with my cat in the window and a road winding between them. I asked the children to think about where they had been and what they couldn’t wait to see. they went back to their seats and children produced pictures of themselves walking to a toy store with a toy store in the distance, or flying on a plane with New York skyscrapers in the distance. To me, this is the essence of an effective lesson.

    However, i strongly believe that the lessons are not what makes an effective teacher. A teacher needs to relate to the children. A teacher needs to be likable yet structured and firm. A teacher needs to be patience and constantly be on his or her toes. A teacher needs to teach with an open heart and help children grow academically, socially, and emotionally.

  6. About two weeks ago, my third grade (bilingual) classroom held a read-out-loud for a bilingual kindergarden class in my school. I paired my students, and presented them with a number of books to choose from to read to them. Each group got to discuss and pick a book they liked and felt comfortable with. My students then prepared comprehension questions for the kindergardeners, focusing on story elements (plot, problem, solution, setting, etc). They wrote the questions on sticky notes and placed them on the page where they needed to stop. They discussed what type of answers they were looking for, previewed vocabulary, and they rehearsed (over and over) how they were going to read the book. They also anticipated what the kindergardeners were going to ask and what vocabulary words they would not understand. I was amazing to see my students think critically about applying what they had learned.

    I cannot think of a better way to make sure my students know something than to watch them teach it. It instantly became clear to me who had not internalized the concepts we had learned, and I was able to provide immediate help on the spot while they were working with a purpose in mind. The work was student-led, differentiated for interest, and adapted to their reading fluency levels. And most importantly, my students felt incredibly proud about the work they did.

  7. I just finished watching Mr. Duncan and others on “Meet the Press” and what I heard time and time again is how much “push-back” they get with any change. Each time I heard it, my mind went to I can’t believe there is “push-back” when recognizing excellence. That brought me to this site and this article. I am a 26 year teaching veteran and now beginning to look toward my retirement at 30 years. So, I believe it essential that a clear recognition of execellence is a necessity to effective teaching. I am currently working with a student teacher and I am creating the notion in her methods that a student test is really a test of her teaching methods. I cannot begin to address ALL of the ways I recognize my own teaching successes in my 10th grade American History classroom. It is far too complex to address with one blog response. However, what I feel has made me into (what I hope is) an excellent teacher is my own view on my teaching efficacy upon student achievement as it applies to high standards in the curriculum. At the end of each term I ask the students to grade me. For the most part, they seem to recognize the effect my teaching has had upon their learning. Hope this helps others. I’m not posting this for self-serving purposes, but to open a dialog on a VERY IMPORTANT issue… expanding best practices.

  8. Excellent! Conversations about linking test scores to teacher evaluation! more about how teachers measure their own effectiveness to best teachers which can actively shape current discussions about the true excellence looks like in the classroom.

  9. It’s writing workshop and I want my first grade students to understand that writers write about things they care about. During my mini-lesson, I outline a heart and draw/write all those things that are “in my heart”. Outside my heart I draw a broken heart and suggest that the children can also write about things that make them sad, mad or have “broken” their heart. I send the students off to compose what’s in their heart and I circulate from student to student to check for understanding. When I get to Jasmin I see that she has drawn a broken heart with the words, “It breaks my heart when I’m called Missy”. I ask her to tell me more about this and she replies, “I always know that I’m going to have my heart broken when I hear my Mom or Dad call me “Missy” because it means that I’m in big trouble”. Jasmin stands up and shows me exactly what it sounds like and looks like when her parents are calling her “Missy” and she’s headed for “big trouble”. I am confident that Jasmin is on her way to composing a personally meaningful story. These individual student/teacher conferences, along with self-reflection help me measure, on a daily basis, if my teaching has been highly effective, effective, or less than effective. It is this immediate feedback that I depend on everyday to raise the level of my teaching. The truth is that if I wait for the results of standardized testing to see how well my students are learning I would miss the many critical opportunities to reinforce and/or reteach what was misunderstood or confusing to my students.

  10. recently in a predominant crowd of mostly 100 white men, two Latina women showed up to their children’s elementary school to represent their working husbands at en event centered mostly for dads. These courageous women spoke no English, but advocated for their children with conviction and passion in their native Spanish language as engaged parents. Con gusto pues.

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