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Practice with Purpose Panel

On April 25, Deans for Impact convened a panel to talk about our latest publication, Practice with Purpose. Watch the full panel and check out the highlights from the panel below.

What is deliberate practice, and how does it apply to teaching or teacher preparation?

Examples of deliberate practice, both in and out of the classroom, were given by many panelists including Anders Ericsson, a leading researcher on the science of expertise, and Dylan Kane, high school math teacher.

Ericsson talked about the principle of “pushing beyond one’s comfort zone” in order to improve in a skill. Runners, for example, won’t improve just by jogging at the same speed every day; instead, Ericsson said they use interval training — short bursts of maximum effort followed by a longer cool down period — to improve their overall speed and fitness. This also applies to weightlifting — improvement only comes from choosing a weight slightly higher than you’ve lifted before.

Kane spoke about comparing his own mental model of good teaching, and what he hoped his interactions with students sounded like, to the actual audio recording of his class, which he reviews on a regular basis.

“Our craft can be the nexus between research, practice, and accountability”

Dilara Sayeed, chief education officer of the Golden Apple Foundation, an organization that works to develop, support and award teacher excellence in Illinois, made the point that despite its availability and quantity, research is often underutilized in actual classroom practice.

In our opinion, using research like the science of expertise, practice using the principles of deliberate practice, and a focus on outcomes (a guiding principle of Deans for Impact), the field of teaching and teacher preparation can be pushed forward in the same way the medical and law fields transformed their practice in the 20th century.

Change requires unlearning.

An audience member asked about the “unlearning” and change management that might go along with incorporating deliberate practice principles into a program. The science of teacher expertise is, after all, a relatively new idea.

Ellen McIntyre, dean of UNC-Charlotte College of Education, and spearheading an innovative pilot program herself, talked about her mental model of “dean-ing,” one where she “always pushes, but with respect, support, and love.” This method, according to McIntyre, helps entice more early adopters and limits the number of holdouts. This same mental model can be applied to working with faculty in a college or cooperating teachers and other district partners.

As our own John Roberts wrote, improvement can require as much unlearning as it does learning.

Focusing on specific goals can be empowering.

Teachers want to improve in their craft, but several attendees questioned how teachers, already working very hard, are supposed to incorporate the principles of deliberate practice without feeling even more overwhelmed. Kane said that deliberate practice actually allows him to focus his energy on the things that work.

Kane said instead of trying to improve everything at once, he zeros in on one or two discrete skills at which he really wants to get better – an example of the deliberate practice principle of focusing on specific goals.

Instead being intimidated by the idea of improving, a natural reaction, Kane was empowered by the principles of deliberate practice, as they helped him understand how to improve in a focused, efficient way.


David Kallison

Communications Associate


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