Getting to great teaching

Dean Mia Tuan on the importance of investing in great teaching


On a picture-perfect summer day last year, I learned about how teachers are working to elevate their practice during a visit to Seattle’s Maple Elementary School.mia-0531-469w.jpg

I was there to observe two dozen local elementary educators participating in a teacher-led EduDesign Lab supported by the University of Washington. These educators came together for an intensive week dedicated to improving their practice in ambitious science instruction for all students.

Together, these teachers created, practiced and refined new instructional moves while taking up challenges they and their colleagues face on a daily basis—from ensuring English language learners receive the same high-quality education as their peers to incorporating the rigorous new Next Generation Science Standards into their teaching.

At the end of the day, I remember Christy Harris, a K-8 technology teacher, describe how EduDesign Lab had empowered her practice and leadership skills. She spoke about the power of co-creating with other teachers, of having space to try new things and not being afraid to fail. Christy shared how the experience sparked her to take on leadership roles in her district so that she could make a difference for more students.

It’s humbling to see that passion in action.

Teachers across our state and nation pour their hearts into their work every day, and that’s why teaching quality is the most important school-based factor impacting learning and student achievement.

Empowering teachers’ passion, giving it room to grow and spread, is essential if we are to make sure all young people have a strong and fair start.

But we need to go beyond simply trying to fill our classrooms with charismatic teachers. That’s not a sustainable, scalable solution. Nor is telling teachers to follow a prescribed curriculum, even the most research-based curriculum, without deviation.

Great teaching is hard. It’s complicated. It’s driven by the needs of the local environment, both within one’s school and in the surrounding community.

In this issue of Research That Matters, we unpack what great teaching is and how we can better support it across sectors and contexts.

You’ll hear how UW teacher educators are working with mentor teachers to create more robust supports for the master teachers who play an essential role in getting pre-service teachers ready for the classroom.

You’ll learn how fostering teacher leadership can help schools and districts strengthen teaching and learning, while empowering teachers to grow their practice and impact.

You’ll visit a Washington school district where UW researchers and district leaders are partnering to better understand how school leaders can support instructional improvement.

You’ll explore a project that’s studying how urban youth use mobile, location-aware technologies to map community assets for learning, and how educators can use these technologies to engage youth in community issues that matter to them.

Finally, you’ll learn about Teacher Education 3.0 and how the UW is working to give communities a bigger voice in preparing the educators who will teach their children.

These are just a few of the many ways the College is partnering with practicing educators, families and communities to ensure all students have access to great teaching.

Our future here in the Northwest and throughout the nation is inextricably linked to how well we prepare the scientists, artists, entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow to take up the pressing challenges that lie ahead.

Do we want today’s students to be critical thinkers? Active participants in civic life? Able to bring an entrepreneurial mindset to the challenges facing society? To be resilient and compassionate citizens? If so, we must invest in great teaching.


Mia Tuan

Dean, University of Washington College of Education