Figuring Out What the Best Do, and Replicating It

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In the Harvard Gazette, Chuck Leddy has a great piece on Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like A Champion and my personal hero. Leddy describes how Lemov went about discovering what great teachers do:

“Necessity was the mother of Lemov’s approach to teacher development. When he started as managing director of the nonprofit group Uncommon Schools, Lemov (who earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 2004) said he encountered obstacles. ‘Books about teaching [methods] didn’t help,’ Lemov said, nor did the other professional development resources he tried. They were too abstract for his teachers to apply in their classrooms, he said.

An undaunted Lemov, using data from standardized tests as his criteria, set out to study those teachers ‘who were beating the odds every day’ in overwhelmingly poor and minority schools, teaching students who were outperforming their counterparts in higher-income schools. Lemov’s goal was to change the assumption that ‘ZIP code is destiny,’ that student outcomes have to mirror geography or income levels. Lemov began data-mining these overperforming ‘bright spots’ to extract best practices for his teachers.

Lemov videotaped ‘champion teachers’ to isolate what they were doing right. This field research led to his 2010 book Teach Like a Champion. ‘None of these ideas are mine,’ Lemov admitted with a self-effacing chuckle. ‘They’re what I’ve learned from [studying] great teachers.’ Most of all, he learned that small changes can bring big results.

Citing musicians and artists, and even Argentine soccer superstar Leo Messi, Lemov contended that practicing the small things counts: ‘You build up to a masterful performance by practicing the techniques,’ breaking them down into discrete parts, rehearsing them, and then integrating them.” (Read more here.)

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a Doug Lemov for every profession? I’d love to know—in an evidence-based, quantified way—what the best writers and speakers do, how they spend their time, what they do differently from the rest. Of course—and this is some people’s beef with Lemov’s book—such methods can’t capture everything that a good teacher or writer or other professional does. But in general we’re so lacking in this kind of information that could make us better at what we do, leaving us to flounder around and figure things out on our own.

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