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Introduction to the 10 Ways to Make Your Teaching More Effective, Sustainable, and Ethical

Brittany Cufaude

Brittany Cufaude

Introduction to the 10 Ways to Make Your Teaching More Effective, Sustainable, and Ethical

I recently spent endless hours watching teacher TikTok videos. While not peer-reviewed, I feel I can call this serious research. The truth is I had a bad case of Covid and most teacher TikToks make me laugh out loud. But, amidst all the jokes, I also found a very dark and recurring theme. It seems droves of teachers either seriously thinking about or are desperate to leave the classroom.
I entered the profession nearly 20 years ago. At that time, I knew fifty percent of us would leave within the first five years of service. It can be grueling work with very few rewards; this feels particularly demoralizing when you get your paycheck. As a teacher and single mom, I know I was never able to pay my mortgage, bills, and car payment. Now, I have many resources for teachers who want to earn more money. I have been helping teachers become teacherprenuers for years now. That said, what I genuinely advocate for is freedom. I want you to know you have options. If you adore teaching and want to make more money without working much harder, I can totally help! Or, if you know the profession is wrong for you, I can also help you there.

Regardless of which path is right for you, I am writing this series because I believe most of us would stay if we experienced better conditions. We can all agree teachers need better pay. While we work together to ensure that, I have to share with you how to find the joy of teaching now!

Thus, today I am beginning a 10-week blog series. Its title is: “10 Steps to a Sustainable, Ethical, and Effective Teaching Practice.”

Before I get too far, I need to share my values. Teachers deserve uplifting. We deserve celebration. And, as intellectual professionals, we deserve recognition. Also, ALL students can learn and deserve highly-effective, joyful classrooms. Critically, only nourished, rested, and well-supported teachers can foster highly-effective, joyful environments. Thus, when I prepare to talk about education quality improvement in any form, I do so with the utmost understanding and care.
One of my favorite teacher quotes is: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” (I count Maya Angelou as one of my favorite teachers.) Similarly, when I work with teachers, admin, and/or students, I do so in the “NJZ” or “The No Judgement Zone.” I cannot see how we will ever move forward together if we do not end the shame and blame game. To make the urgent impacts our students need, we have to band together. This requires exploring and dismantling our internal shame mechanisms. It also calls for looking at how we unintentionally shame others, including students.

From my own experience, I know that working harder than ever and not seeing the fruits of my labor hurt. And, frankly, I felt ashamed. In my work with teachers, I always remind us that what humans are ashamed of, we hide. In the teaching practice, this looks like Miss Cufaude returning to the teaching practices that I have already mastered and that I perceive to be effective behind the safety of my closed classroom door. I openly admit I did this for years. I’m not ashamed of what I did before I knew better and how I barely survived without the support I desperately needed to be a truly effective teacher. Not one bit. This common phenomenon of shame leading to hiding inspired the name of my podcast: Opening the Door.
I will never pressure teachers to remain in the classroom if they know they belong elsewhere. But I also know that better conditions and adequate support would retain thousands of us. We should all know the joy of teaching. Further, the 10 steps I will lead you through have a vast and measurable impact on the student learning process. Thus, I want to share this with you. May you find all the joy!

What I know about joyful educators is:
  1. We feel heard, respected, and supported as autonomous professionals;
  2. We feel competent at what we do and clear on why we are doing everything we are asked to do;
  3. We know how to frequently and quickly measure student learning and are celebrated for the real and daily impact we have;
  4. Expert, mentor instructional leaders support us;
  5. We feel a deep sense of belonging amongst other impact-devoted educators; and
  6. We are focused on the highest priority learning so that we are never trying to or being asked to “do it all.”
The only reason I have stuck around this long is that there is abounding hope! Under certain conditions, teachers and students thrive. I have committed my entire professional life to fostering these conditions. You deserve to thrive and I am here for you!

If we want to thrive together, we have to stick together. We have to commit to continuous learning, unelearning, and relearning. We need to take better care of ourselves. We have to ditch the shame and blame game. We have to stick to what we know to be effective teaching and classroom management. And, we need to measure our impact frequently, consistently, and collectively as well as celebrate our successes!

Sounds easy! Well, it is not.

Again, the great news is we know what works. In fact, we know so much thanks to folks such as Dr. Anita Archer, the DuFours, Dr. John Hattie, Dr. Jan Hazbrouk, Dr. Robert Marzano, and so many more. We have the solutions right at our fingertips.
We know for sure that excellent instruction maximizes student learning experience. Thus, I ask myself over and over, “if we know what works, why isn’t it working?” To be fair, the better question is: “If we know what works, why isn’t it working for every student?” For example, some students do show growth in incidental teaching environments. (Incidental teaching environments can be defined as indirect, unclear, unstructured, and/or unintentional.) Depending on your student population, the majority of your students could show growth regardless of the quality of the instruction. That can be a bitter pill to swallow. Yet, most of us serve students who need accelerated learning, and they require an urgent dose of an entirely different type of teaching. They need highly effective teaching. Sadly, we are rarely taught and coached in these best practices or how to sustain them.

In 2021, I wrote a book, Lessons In Joy: The Journey to Save Our Sacred Teaching Practice and Heal Our Hearts Along the Way. My mission was to share the solutions to these challenging problems. I also want to attend to the emotional and psychological toll this profession can have on us as educators. The book has three parts:
  1. Authentic Connection;
  2. Learning Obsession; &
  3. Team Interdependence
I created these three parts, or terms, as three umbrellas. Each umbrella covers language and teaching best practices that are familiar to us. That said, I wanted to illustrate how so many things that seem separate should be working together to help you and your students. Now, I am going to unpack these concepts into 10 steps. Each step is an action item. Over the next ten weeks, I will walk you through each step, toward joy, and unpack the most critical aspects of effective teaching. For now, I have listed each step under my book’s “umbrellas” to illustrate how they connect.

I. Authentic Connection:
1. Establish Credibility, Safety, and Cultural Responsitivity with Each Student
2. Elicit and Honor Your Students’ Authentic Desires for Learning and Make What You Teach Connect to Their Prior Knowledge and What is Relevant to Their Needs and Desires for Learning

II. Learning Obsession:
3. Be an Avid Student of Your Teaching Practice and Impact on Student Learning
4. Be Crystal Clear in Your Teaching and Why the Learning is Relevant to Your Students
5. Intervene Early and Often when Students Struggle Using Various Researched- and Evidence-based Teaching Strategies and Routines
6. Engage ALL Students in the Learning Outcomes and Self-Reported Grading, i.e., How to Self-Monitor Their Own Progress
7. Verify Your Impact on Student Learning Daily, Weekly, and ALL the Time!
8. Provide Frequent, Clear, and Targeted Feedback to ALL Students
9. Engage ALL your group of Students in Authentic, Accountable Classroom Conversation

III. Teach Interdependence:
10. Collaborate, Make Decisions, & Focus with a Healthy, Instructional Team
Thus next time, I will unpack: “Step One: 1. Establish Credibility, Safety, and Cultural Responsitivity with Each Student.”

Until then…

Your Teacher Friend,

Brittany Cufaude


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