Here are a couple of common situations every teacher will face over the course of their career:

  1. Situation 1: Student A, a student with a history of “behavior problems,” does not exhibit challenging behavior in Teacher X’s class, but does exhibit challenging behavior in the classes of Teacher Y and Teacher Z.
  2. Situation 2: Student A, a student who does not have a history of “behavior problems,”  does not exhibit challenging behavior in the classes of Teacher Y and Teacher Z, but does exhibit challenging behavior in the class of Teacher X.

Over the course of your career, sometimes you’ll be Teacher X, sometimes you’ll be Teacher Y, and sometimes you’ll be Teacher Z. There are a lot of factors involved here.

Situation 2 is easier to understand and analyze. A peer, coach, or supervisor could probably observe Teacher X’s class or Teacher X’s interactions with Student A and begin to understand why Student A (who, remember, does not have a history of “behavior problems”) is exhibiting such behaviors only in this environment.

Situation 1 is a little bit more tricky, but ultimately still solvable. Teacher X could offer tips or advice for working productively with Student A; Teachers Y and Z could observe Teacher X’s class and debrief with Teacher X; Teacher X could observe the classes of Teachers Y and Z and debrief. Teachers Y and Z could potentially learn how to improve the relationship in a way that might lead to fewer challenging behaviors (whether or not this would actually happen depends a lot upon how those involved viewed and handled the situation).

Now, in Situation 1, Teacher X (remember, the kid is only “good” in her class) probably feels pretty good about herself, her teaching, and her ability to build relationships. And she should, right? What she’s doing is working–as long as by “working” we mean that in the confined time frame that Student A is with Teacher X, the student is a productive and contributing member of the class community.

So, the question I want to ask is: Is Teacher X successful? 

Most of us (especially teachers) would say yes. They would say that it’s impossible for Teacher X to influence or “control” Student A’s behavior when the two are not together. What is Teacher X supposed to do about Student A’s behavior in Teacher Y’s math class when Teacher X herself is down the hall teaching 30 different students in her science class?

So, the philosophy behind the “yes” response is: the best that the individual teacher can do is to positively influence student behaviors while the student and teacher are together. 

Would anyone say “no, Teacher X was not successful?” Only if their definition of success was different. As a teacher of students, Teacher X is certainly doing a great job–she took a student with challenging behaviors and reduced or eliminated them. But if Teacher X took a new job, or was switched out of her current position, or moved to a new city, what would happen to Student A? If the effect of Teacher X’s work doesn’t last until even the next class period, I think it’s safe to say that her work won’t sustain Student A’s progress when Teacher X leaves.

Perhaps we can say that while Teacher X was successful to the best of her ability, it is actually the failure of School B (or Administrators C and D) to successfully replicate Teacher X’s success or facilitate the spread of Teacher X’s approach that is the real problem.

Every school wants Rock Star Teachers like Teacher X who can turn around troubled kids with their mere presence. But unless a school develops the ability to staff a school full of rock stars with a pipeline of rock stars to replace them if/when they leave, this will always be a losing strategy. Schools need to figure out what rock stars like Teacher X are doing that is successful and then figure out meaningful ways to teach those techniques (or some variety of those techniques–some of them may simply be unique to Teacher X’s personality) to Teachers E, F, G, H, etc.

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