A Brief Summary of the Best Practices in Teaching
Intended to Challenge the Professional Development of All Teachers
Collected here, without examples or detailed explanations, are practices that constitute excellence in college teaching. These elements represent the broad range of the most effective actions teachers take, and requisite conditions teachers establish, to facilitate learning. I have tried to make this listing brief, to serve more as a reference to the scope of excellent teaching techniques than as a source of enlightenment. For detailed information on items that are unfamiliar, refer to the works cited.
Recognizing that teaching is both art and science, I advance this list of dimensions of excellence as a starting point for discussions about the performances we as teachers strive for and may help each other obtain. While the skills of teaching are widely researched and described, they are rarely rewarded, mostly, I think, because we do not share a common language about best practices. Instead of directly addressing learning to teach well, we often erroneously assume new teachers know how to teach because they used to be students.
Becoming an excellent college teacher is a continuing, life-long professional challenge, the dimensions of which often go unrecognized. In the general mind, doctors and lawyers are professionals; teachers are not. I believe we could change our semi-professional status if we could agree upon a list of Best Practices such as this one and help each other achieve them. It would help us achieve three goals:
If we, as faculty, could ever come to agree upon any performance-based list such as this one, our institutions could marshal the resources to accelerate its attainment, clarify the objectives for acquiring tenure, and offer salary rewards for an individual's continued reflective review of teaching practice.
The Best Practices I have gathered here focus on those aspects of classroom teaching competence that are visible to oneself and to others and thus become useful for formative evaluation. When components of excellence can be defined in language that details teaching actions as confirmable performances, that is, neither minutely technical nor remotely abstract, we could investigate those actions in practice, either collaboratively or individually. For if a component can be self-perceived near the time it occurs, it can be modified or strengthened. That is how professionals, who must engage themselves in reflective practice, get better.
In this spirit I offer a list of what I have struggled to learn to do in my 20 plus years of college teaching about teaching. Even though classrooms vary in content and goals, I believe this core set of Best Practices does apply to most adult education environments, in both professional/technical and academic areas, albeit in differing degrees. It is my attempt to specify which of the myriad actions and relations in teaching deserve close study. I have endeavored to learn to do each of these things in my college teaching. Have your colleagues? Have you?
I have organized them under twelve headings. When I have used this listing for tenure qualification, the candidate was challenged to pursue an objective under each goal area.