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Teaching Better

The husband, wife, and educator team of Brad and Genevieve Ermeling were gracious to provide a brief Q&A about their book, Teaching Better. By way of introduction, their book is aptly summarized by Jim Stigler and James Hiebert, authors of The Teaching Gap.

“If you think improving teaching is hard, hard work, this book will confirm that belief. But it also shows, through careful observation and research, how much can be achieved when the work of getting better is done right. A true inspiration for educators who want to improve both their own craft and the methods of the profession.”

1. What inspired you to write this book?
Over 20 years ago, we had the unusual experience of being raised as educators in Japan. Just after finishing college and our teacher training coursework, we accepted teaching positions at a K-12 Japanese school and spent 7 years immersed in a system where teachers were constantly collaborating, reflecting, and working to improve their practice. This was our only experience as teachers after graduating from college, so you can imagine it made a profound impression on us and the way we viewed the profession.

Returning to America, we were struck by the contrast of how US schools approach the profession. We encountered a culture that forgets teachers are also learners. A culture more focused on evaluation than improvement and more focused on testing than teaching and learning.

For the last 15 years we’ve been involved in a number of projects and research studies where we have worked to develop processes that change the way teachers engage in the study of their craft. During that time, we’ve watched ideas such as collaboration, lesson study, reflective practice grow in popularity….but we’ve also noticed that the depth and detail have been lost in translation. Many schools and districts have adopted superficial aspects of these ideas, but at a deep level of school culture, they remain devalued and misunderstood.

We wrote this book to reframe these ideas and restore the depth and detail of these powerful improvement activities. We do this through a combination of metaphors, case studies, and practical examples which vividly illustrate and teach what this work can and should look like.

The book also provides practical tools for busy school leaders to effectively guide and sustain school-wide collaborative inquiry and instructional improvement.

2. Who should read this book? Who is your intended audience?
The book is intended for leaders and educators across various levels of the system who share a responsibility or interest in the improvement of teaching….or perhaps a desire to reconnect with the passion that sparked initial interest in the profession.

school-site leaders who shoulder responsibility for professional learning and instructional improvement;
subject-area or grade-level leaders working to engage colleagues in productive collaboration and inquiry;
district, county, or state-level administrators supporting curriculum, instruction, and professional growth;
professors of education and directors of preservice programs preparing educators for continuous learning throughout their careers;
and classroom teachers collaborating with a peer or mentor on individual inquiry projects.

Many of the ideas and key principles are also applicable for anyone in a teaching role (director, supervisor, counselor, mentor, coach, or therapist).

3. What is “collaborative teacher inquiry” and what is “lesson study? Can you give us a brief overview for those who might not be familiar?

Collaborative teacher inquiry refers to teams of teachers (grade level, subject area, or even cross-curricular) that are engaged in the systematic study and refinement of practice. They jointly identify teaching & learning problems, collaboratively plan and implement lessons, and collect evidence to study and reflect on results.
Lesson study is a powerful and rigorous form of collaborative teacher inquiry which is widely practiced throughout Japan and became popular in the US after the TIMSS studies. The term lesson study comes from the Japanese words Jugyou Kenkyuu. Jugyou means teaching and learning, and kenkyuu means that’s where we get the term lesson study. The central feature of lesson study is the observation and analysis of live classroom research lessons collaboratively planned by a group of teachers.

4. What are some of the challenges K-12 school leaders face when trying to implement effective professional learning and collaborative teacher inquiry?
One important challenge is that “teaching is a cultural activity” learned over time as during our K-15 careers...through observation and participation of cultural settings and routines.

It’s also very insular in nature which limits our horizons of observation and access to outside expertise and alternative approaches.

This means that teaching doesn’t change changes slowly over time through carefully structured opportunities to study and reflect on practice.

Another challenge is that…
Once time is set aside, leaders face the daunting challenge of supporting effective schoolwide implementation.

Many leaders adopt one of three approaches: Focus on fires, Manage every meeting, Back off and buffer.

The book provides guidance and resources to help school leaders with this challenge.

5. What are some ways that educators can use this resource to support effective teacher learning and collaborative inquiry?
- rich detailed examples, reflection questions
- tools for supporting teams and coordinating assistance
- resources that help school leaders shift emphasis from management and evaluation to assistance/support of professional learning
- leader’s guide, companion website

To learn more please visit:

1 comment :

  1. I thought I knew all there was to know about collaborative inquiry and instructional improvement, but as we know, knowing and doing are two very different things. I look forward to reading this book and letting the concepts and strategies that are presented guide me toward more meaningful and effective implementation of collaborative inquiry.


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