Checklists save lives in medicine – what about education?

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Research on education proves that effective teachers have the greatest effect on student success. For instance, we know statistically that those best teachers (top 20 per cent) can help students receive 18 months of learning for each year in the classroom. In other words, teachers can make a difference in improving children’s test scores.

The question we might ask is “What do the best teachers do in their classrooms to make them the best teachers for all students? What do the best teachers do differently than the other 80 per cent of teachers?”

One book that distinguishes the traits of good teaching is “The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching – A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day,” written by Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell in 2013.

The book is well written and should provide reason for thought as it compares the success that checklists have for the aviation industry and the medical field. The authors indicate that their checklist “aims to help teachers focus on the big things that absolutely, positively must be done every day.”

As the Chignecto Central Regional School Board prides itself in the Professional Learning Communities that operate in many ways in the school, I wonder if this book should be subject to review by all of our teams. At the very least it would start a healthy discussion about what matters most for great teaching to occur in our schools.

The authors note that there are three imperatives to great teaching and they require action every day. The three imperatives for highly effective teachers are:

1. “Challenge their students. Great teachers set high expectations for all students, challenging them with instruction that develops critical thinking skills.”

2. “Create positive classroom environments.  Great teachers develop positive rapport with students, creating engaging classrooms that motivate learning.”

3. “Are intentional about their teaching…” Know why they are doing what they are doing.

The three imperatives are developed into 12 touchstones that make every sense to me. As a school board member, I know that we have good teachers. Perhaps the application of teacher checklists when it comes to learning would result in more great teachers. As professionals, checklists may be something teachers should explore.


An education advocate, Ron Marks has been an outspoken member of local and regional school boards and is a former Stellarton mayor. His column runs weekly.

Organizations: Chignecto Central Regional School Board

Geographic location: Stellarton

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