Top teachers reveal 'secrets' of successful teaching

Posted May 19, 2009

What an intriguing idea for advancing school improvement: Round up several dozen of Florida’s best public school teachers, pick their brains about how they teach and why their methods work so well, and then pass on their teaching secrets to educators throughout the state, and beyond.

Such a gathering actually occurred, and now University of Florida education researchers have compiled the teachers’ top tips for a new, online guide of best teaching practices called “Secrets of Successful Teaching.” The interactive guide is available on the Web site of the Tallahassee-based Foundation for Excellence in Education, which sponsored the effort.

The non-profit foundation, an education advocacy group created in 2007 by former governor Jeb Bush, is promoting the report to educators and school reform advocates across the state in an effort to improve teacher quality and student learning in Florida schools.

The assembly of award-winning teachers took place last fall in Orlando at the foundation’s inaugural Celebration of Teaching. The event was held to honor nearly 100 elementary, middle and high school teachers whose students made the greatest gains in reading and math based on the 2008 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

Before the evening awards program, though, the honored teachers participated in all-day focus groups to share their real-life classroom experiences and to help researchers from UF’s Lastinger Center for Learning identify and compile their secrets of successful teaching. The teachers answered questions such as: What advice would you give to teachers who want to maximize student learning? How do you motivate students? What is the best way to deal with disruptive students?

UF researchers spent the past several months analyzing the teachers’ responses and compiling their findings in the resulting “Secrets of Successful Teaching” guide.

“These teachers are inspirational and their work provides explicit pictures of research-based recommendations for highly innovative and effective teaching practice. All educators can benefit by reading what these teachers have to say,” said Dorene Ross (right, assisting student), the Fien Professor of Education at UF’s College of Education, who coordinated the Lastinger Center’s research effort.

The online guide lists 14 “secrets” of effective teaching, each with related tips on applying them in the classroom. The list includes:
    Secret 1: Nurture an authentic relationship of respect and caring
    Secret 4: Celebrate progress but keep raising the bar
    Secret 7: Make your classroom an engaging place
    Secret 12: Orchestrate, don’t control
    Secret 14: Prepare for formal testing, but focus on learning for life

Foundation officials say they are planning similar efforts in other states to replicate successful teaching strategies in every American classroom.

Ross said the Lastinger Center expects to publish a printed version of “Secrets of Successful Teaching” by the fall. She and her UF team also plan to report on the project in upcoming research journals and at national meetings of major education groups, which could help persuade educators in other states to launch similar programs.

*         *         *

    SOURCE: Dorene Ross, UF College of Education,
    SOURCE: Kristy Campbell, Foundation for Excellence in Education,

    WRITER: Larry Lansford, COE News & Communications,