It takes about 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a field, according to Dan McLaughlin, who has picked up on Malcolm Gladwell’s theory. McLaughlin is applying it to become a professional golfer. On his website, The Dan Plan, McLaughlin describes his experiment as a project in transformation and says that he “hopes to prove to himself and others that it’s never too late to start a new pursuit in life.”
McLaughlin estimates that he should have achieved his goal of becoming a professional golfer by December 2016, having started in April 2010 and having never previously played 18 holes of golf.
On his website, McLaughlin has broken golf down into its requisite skills and has developed a training program focused on improving in all of them. He’s also been willing to drop everything and put in the time to practise all day, every day. He knows what he wants to achieve, he knows the component skills that he needs to improve to reach his goal, and he cleared his diary for six years to have time to do it.
For those among us who are feeling like it’s time for a change, Dan McLaughlin’s experiment provides a ray of hope. But what about those of us who simply want to get better at what we do already? Are there any lessons here for teaching and school leadership?
In the popular imagination, teachers often come to us pretty much ready-made – or in current parlance, “classroom-ready.” Think about films like Dead Poets Society, To Sir, With Love or Goodbye, Mr Chips. The teachers inspire in their students a love of learning; calm troubled waters; know when to speak and when to let the interplay between children run its course; are experts on content, but humble enough to allow students the joy of discovery; are wise and just; and care deeply about the children they teach.
Presently, initial registration as a teacher in Australia requires completion of a four-year Bachelor’s degree. Once teachers have initial registration there is an expectation that they will continue to engage in professional development and improve throughout their careers.
Clearly, there is a recognition in this framework of development that good teachers are not born, but are instead made classroom-ready. Certainly, my recollection of my own career progression is that I got better as a teacher and school leader through experience. I certainly didn’t come to the profession or leadership roles ready-made.
On reflection, my own improvement as an educator seems to have been relatively unplanned. Over the years, my professional growth has been influenced by a range of things: the policy imperatives of school systems, the focus of the schools where I have taught, the needs of particular students, the interests of my colleagues.
Yes, I became a better teacher over time and I engaged purposefully in professional learning. But if you asked me now, I could not really show you the map I followed to become better at teaching, by how much I improved and what influence my improvement had on the learning of the students I taught.
So what about you? In planning your professional development, have you mapped and targeted the specific skills you need to become a better teacher or school leader?
As an educator, the lesson I draw from the Dan Plan website is that diligent and persistent practice will make you better at your craft. It seems to me that good teachers really are made - and they can be made even better if they can break down and sequence the skills required for development and implement a systematic plan for improvement.
That’s where the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers come in. The Standards provide the framework that I now recognise was lacking during my own development as a teacher. In addition, you can prepare for or enhance your school leadership by learning from AITSL’s School Leadership eCollection, which is a carefully crafted repository of educational wisdom from around the world.
I’ll confess that a part of me still has a feeling that some truly great teachers are born. After all, teaching is a vocation and to excel you really do have to love what you’re doing. It has to be part of who you are, not simply what you do for a living.
I wonder what you think.