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Teaching Matters Most

Teaching Matters Most
A School Leader’s Guide to Improving Classroom Instruction

Foreword by Deborah Meier, A Co-Publication With Learning Forward

June 2012 | 208 pages | Corwin

A laser-beam focus on improving instruction to improve learning

Saying "teaching matters most" is easy, and seems obvious. Making it the top priority for school leaders and staff is not so easy—in fact, it's messy. If we want to change how students write, compute, and think, then teachers must change how they teach. They must transform the old "assign-and-assess" model into engaging, compassionate, coherent, and rigorous instruction. The authors show school leaders how to make this happen amidst myriad distractions, initiatives, and interruptions.

Unlike other books that stop at evaluating teachers and instruction, this work demonstrates how to grow schools' instructional capacities with a three-step process that involves:

  1. Envisioning what good teaching looks like
  2. Measuring the quality of current instruction against this standard
  3. Working relentlessly to move the quality of instruction closer and closer to the ideal

The authors provide helpful guidance on issues such as hiring, induction, professional development, mentoring, and teacher evaluation. Each chapter offers specific action steps toward building the blueprint for improvement. Also included are frameworks for completing instructional audits in schools, and probes, instruments, and protocols for measuring and tracking the quality of instruction. Leaders will find excellent guidance for spearheading and sustaining a focused and aligned effort to improve the quality of teaching to impact all learners.

Foreword by Deborah Meier
Preface: Lessons Learned From Experience
A “New” Take in School Improvement

Central Theme

Organization of the Book

What Makes This Book Distinctive

About the Authors
1. What are common practices in schools?
What We Found in Classrooms

Truths Hidden in Plain View

Transforming Accountability

New Direction

Are There “Best Practices” in Teaching?

Bringing Best Practices to Scale

Are Some Practices Better Than Others?

The Poverty of Prescribing Best Practices

2. What distinguishes quality teaching?
Three Classrooms, Three Practitioners

A Simple Truth Hidden in Plain View

Disjointed Teaching

Why Teachers Are Frustrated

What Is Quality Teaching?

Observing High-Quality Teaching

Instructional Systems

The Road Less Traveled

3. How do we learn about the quality of our teaching?
How to Make the Case for an Emphasis on Teacher Quality

Three Leadership Requirements

Defining Quality Teaching

How to Engage School Personnel in Devising a Vision of Quality Instruction

Some Rudiments of Quality Teaching

The Importance of Curriculum Coherence

Learning From Students

The Current State of Teaching in Your School

How to Evaluate the Quality of Teaching in Your School

4. What should induction and mentoring look like?
Basic Components of a Teacher Mentor Program

Facing Critical Junctures Together

Planning for New Teachers’ Success

5. What should professional development look like?
What We Know About Professional Development

The Disregarded Truths of Professional Development

The Components of a Professional Learning Culture

Building Blocks of Professional Learning

Leading Professional Learning Communities

6. How can teacher evaluaiton become more meaningful?
“Drive-By” Teacher Evaluation

“Absentee Landords”

Lists and Rubrics Abound

7. How can we sustain a culture of exceptional instruction?
Ten Actions to Sustain High-Quality Teaching

Systems in Place

Sanctity of the Classroom

Envisioning Quality Teaching

Right People in Right Places

Balanced Leadership

Clear and Timely Communication

Standards for Professional Conduct


Reflection and Continuous Improvement

Ongoing Professional Dialogues

8. How do we face our leadership challenges?
Suppressing Distraction

Building Principal’s Knowledge

Building Trust

Influencing Resistant Teachers

Coping With the Pace

Final Thoughts

A. How Can You Spot a Really Good Teacher?

B. Framework for Observing Classes

C. Student Forum Questions

D. Teacher Interview Questions


"A comprehensive book that provides site administrators not only the opportunity to reflect on their own practices but challenges them to reconsider the daily operations of their schools. The recommendations meld theory and practice together in an administrator-friendly way."

Sammie Cervantez, Principal
Munsey Elementary School, Bakersfield, CA

"This is a good book principals can use for faculty book study. It will lead to authentic dialogue about good teaching: how to get to it and how to maintain it."

Patricia Long Tucker, Superintendent
Altadena, CA

"This is an excellent book for administrators to build a focused, long-term solution to improve what happens in every classroom on a daily basis."

Kathy Tritz-Rhodes, Elementary Principal
Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn Schools, Marcus, IA

"A major strength of this book is how it identifies and puts in one place the key elements needed to improve student learning."

Dr. Laurie Emery, Principal
Old Vail Middle School, Vail, AZ

"I recommend this book for new principals and superintendents in induction programs. The content will inspire thoughtful discussions and lead to effective action plans."

Dr. Gayle Wahlin, Director of Leadership Services
DuPage Regional Office of Education , Downers Grove, IL

"In Teaching Matters Most, the authors remind us that to provide students with the highest quality of education, we must refocus on defining the quality of instruction in the classroom and building support systems for the teachers providing that instruction."

Matthew Haug, Principal
Central High School, Burlington, IL

"I am grateful to, and appreciative of, the authors of Teaching Matters Most for their efforts to improve student learning through the examination of classroom instruction. The authors offer practical and useful strategies that allow teachers to review their practices through frequent reflections. The book guides staff through activities that focus on their instructional practices for maximum student learning. I believe that study of this book can be a continuous professional development activity for teachers and school leadership teams."

James Pluskota, Principal
Edison School, Elmhurst, IL

good text. wonderful!

Dr Kris Bista
Curriculum Instruction Dept, University of Louisiana - Monroe
October 8, 2013

This is on my recommended book list for EDUL 6333, Leadership for Curriculum Development. It is excellent!!

Dr Shirley Mills
Dept of Educational Leadership, University of Texas - Pan American
September 4, 2013
Key features
  • Provides school leaders with a vision of what exceptional teaching looks like and a blueprint for achieving serious improvement in the overall quality of teaching in their schools.
  • Focuses intentionally and sharply on a limited number of pedagogical priorities for growing the instructional capacities within their schools, including induction and mentoring, ongoing professional development, teacher evaluation that includes the use of student insights, and sustaining exceptional instruction.
  • Offers probes, observational frameworks for completing instructional audits in schools, instruments, and protocols to use in measuring the quality of instruction in a school at the moment, and tracking changes over time.
  • Each chapter concludes with Questions for Discussion and Reflection and Action Steps for Getting Started

For instructors

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ISBN: 9781452283883

ISBN: 9781452205106

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