“There’s no place I’d rather be than in a roomful of educators,” said Doug Lemov in the first words of his talk at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Forum on Thursday evening.
Lemov, author of the New York Times best seller "Teach Like a Champion," currently serves as a managing director for Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit organization that started and now manages 32 urban and high poverty charter schools.
He followed his opening with a graphic relating income level in a school district with its students’ success on standardized tests.
"There’s a lot of concern about the notion that zip code can be such a massive effect on educational outcomes," Lemov said.
But what Lemov was really interested in, and what drove him to develop his "49 Techniques that put Students on the Path to College," were the exceptions to the rule.
"What about those people?" Lemov asked, referring to teachers who buck the statistical trends. "We haven’t really been diligent enough about finding out what makes them different and good."
To answer this question, Lemov sought out those successful teachers and videotaped them in the classroom. He was looking for concrete strategies that could be taught to other teachers.
One example is the cold call: when the teacher randomly calls on students to confirm that everyone has mastered the material.
Emphasizing the importance of practicing this and other techniques, Lemov compared the process to a musician mastering a set of scales before performing in a symphony.
"You build up to a complex performance by mastering a series of basics," he said.
Expressing his hope for the next generation of teachers, Lemov said, "Our greatest assets are the people who make the biggest differences in our students’ lives. They’re our opportunity to get better."
Allison Fleischner, an elementary school teacher in Lawrence, Mass., said her school gave new teachers Lemov’s book during orientation.
"It was fun to watch him pull out the great moments [from his book], because that’s the stuff that makes you feel good as a teacher," said Fleischner. "It’s nice to see a speaker that’s connecting in the way that a teacher connects."