Benjamin Franklin apparently said. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” But what do we REALLY know about effective learning a hundred years later?

Many respected economists and educators from the world’s leading universities researched this topic. They discovered that many things don’t matter, such as classroom size, new technology, or fancy uniforms. Their evidence suggests that the secret to thriving learners are amazing teachers. Here’s what they have learned.

First we have to acknowledge that teaching is a highly complex skill. It involves a deep understanding of the subject matter and the ability to explain complex issues in simple ways. But it also requires an understanding of psychology, pedagogy, as well as a wide range of management skills in order to get the learner’s first quiet and then excited.

Rob Coe, Professor at Durham University reported that many widely used methods don’t work: for example grouping learners by ability, giving unearned praise, or the idea that learners can discover complex concepts by themselves. Instead, master instructors have high exceptions and maximize the lesson time. But most importantly, they combine high-quality instruction with pedagogical content knowledge. They don’t teach a subject, they teach their learners how to learn it for themselves.

In order to get it right, we have to treat and train teachers like brain surgeons. After all, they also operate on human brains. Like aspiring doctors, they are best trained in the field where they receive professional feedback when they made mistakes. Effective schools of education, therefore, train teaching like a craft, rather than an abstract science. At Sposato, a Graduate School of Education known for creating effective teachers, students teachers spend a lot of their time tutoring or assisting professionals.

Teachers who are already in the classroom, need regular professional feedback on the job. A vast study by Roland Fryer from Harvard found that teachers who receive precise instructions together with specific regular feedback from a lead teacher will improve the most. Other good ideas to improve teachers are to ask the learners for feedback or to record lessons on video and let the teachers watch themselves.

Doug Lemov, the founder of UnCommon Schools and author of Teach Like A Champion, identified many methods that great teachers use: they greet each learner at the door so learners feel welcomed and acknowledged of their existence. Later they use a strong voice and don’t stop talking until they have everyone’s attention.

Plus, they teach for mastery learning to ensure learners get it 100% right before they proceed. But maybe most importantly, great teachers first get their learners excited and then keep their attention through storytelling and engaging activities that spark their imaginations.

A paper published by Stanford in 2009 showed that leadership makes a big difference too. At low performing schools, principals hardly ever show up in the classrooms but instead spend most of their time on administration, documents or finance. Schools with better learners have principals that get out of their office and spend a lot of time in the classrooms, supervising and developing the teachers. Together, they can make a big difference in their learner’s life.



Economist Raj Chetty and his team analyzed the data of 2.5 million US learners and 18 million test results. He thinks that teachers who are good at teaching to the test, have a big impact. On average, having such a teacher for just ONE year raises the learners exam marks and cumulative lifetime income by R114 500 – in 2011.

On early childhood education, he has another hypothesis: Great preschool teachers help to develop social skills, discipline, and character. Their impact does not improve exam marks during the school years but surprisingly re-emerges years later, when their former learners apply those skills to advance in their careers and find meaningful and well-paying jobs.

Eric Hanushek, Professor at Stanford University, recorded how much good teachers really matter. He found out that top teachers get learners to learn 50% more each year than an average teacher. Poorly trained ones, just half of the average. That means that 10 years at school can either result in 15 years of actual learning or just a mere 5 years. This is a massive difference that mainly hurts children from low-income families who can’t afford extra classes or changing to a better school.

Raj Chetty

Professor of Economics, Stanford University



Cold Calling


Sposato School of Education


Teachers Effectiveness


Time Spend by Principles


What makes Teaching Great



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