Atul Gawande

There are 3 core requirements for success in “any endeavor that involves risk and responsibility," writes Atul Gawande in his book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. 1. Diligence (“giving sufficient attention to detail to avoid error and prevail against obstacles”)

2. Doing right (dealing with “human failings, failings like avarice, arrogance, insecurity, misunderstanding”)

3. Ingenuity (“thinking anew…a willingness to recognize failure, to not paper over the cracks, and to change…obsessive reflection on failure and a constant searching for new solutions”).

Since we're obsessed with performance - exactly how good are the teachers who come out of our program - we look for ideas outside of the normal K-12 world, like Gawande's.

I asked my colleague Laura how she thought our teacher preparation follows Gawande's precepts, and she replied:

1. Diligence

We are hyper-attentive to detail in every way. We show our trainees the “right” way to do everything: from shaking a kid’s hand at the door, to circulating, to having a difficult conversation, to giving feedback on tests and assignments, to writing a blackboard configuration. We leave very little to chance in their teaching because we believe details can make or break a class period or a year.

2. Doing right

We assume good intentions amongst our trainees. But when we see our people doing something that doesn’t seem right, we call them on it right away and try to identify the error or misunderstanding.

I would add: very few future teachers are guilty of "avarice." But insecurity (theirs) and arrogance (ours; inherent in any prescriptive training program is the obvious belief that our way is effective) are possible pitfalls.

3. Ingenuity

We use outside evaluators to blindly observe our program graduates to see how they do compared to other rookie teachers.

We compile survey data on every hour of training (i.e., data on several hundred hours of training over the course of the year); every Tuesday, we pore over it, and make changes for the coming week.

When someone has figured it out better than us - like Lee Canter and "real-time coaching" - we adopt their methods quickly.

In addition to these 3 precepts from Better, Gawande advances another "Big Picture" idea in a different book that we'll examine soon: The Checklist Manifesto.