picture-13While Elizabeth is enjoying a well-deserved vacation in the wilds of Wisconsin this week, take a look at what’s she’s been working on these last few months: A New York Times Magazine cover story about the building blocks of good teaching.

The story is centered on Doug Lemov, a founder of the Uncommon Schools charter chain who realized that no matter how much schools tinker with — or even fundamentally restructure — their curriculum, schedule, and use of data, they can still be left with mediocre teaching. So he decided to figure out how to make teachers great.

From Elizabeth’s article:

But what makes a good teacher? There have been many quests for the one essential trait, and they have all come up empty-handed. Among the factors that do not predict whether a teacher will succeed: a graduate-school degree, a high score on the SAT, an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, enthusiasm and having passed the teacher-certification exam on the first try. …

When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?