The world's greatest athletes make fascinating subjects for observation and study. Part of the fascination stems from witnessing extraordinary performances that raise the ceiling of human potential ever higher. Much of the fascination also derives from the contradiction between what we recognize as greatness and what we perceive as relatively little effort in achieving it. For example, most people find it difficult to fathom running a marathon (26.2 miles) in under two hours and 20 minutes, but those who can do it often appear to glide comfortably along as they traverse miles of asphalt at a blistering pace. Many conclude, therefore, that what is showcased by the expert performer must be the product of nature's rare gift to the fortunate few. Yet, what is truly fascinating about expertise in sports is that, in the vast majority of cases, this conclusion could not be further from the truth.
Contrary to common thinking, it turns out that there is very little evidence to support the existence of so-called natural talent. Conversely, a great deal of research illustrates the compounding effects of practice in reaching superior levels of sport performance (Starkes & Ericsson, 2003). The natural appearance of expert performances in fact belies the planned and purposeful process galvanizing the expert's every move toward greatness. This tends to be true not only in sports, but in many other performance domains, as well. And, as you have probably guessed by now, it just so happens that teaching is one of them.
Extraordinary teaching emerges in much the same way as expertise in sports. Although teachers at the top of their game often make teaching seem easy and natural, those who reach and thrive at the highest levels of instructional expertise do not bank on some innate advantage to carry them toward excellence. Instead, they commit to continued practice and engage calculated strategies designed to guide them toward better teaching. Expert teachers recognize and monitor both their limits and advantages and then take focused action to maximize their potential. Essentially, this is how successful teachers reach personal bests and continue to do so over the course of their career. This article reveals the secret to wondrous teaching by sharing how expert teachers foster excellence through self-monitoring, and explaining how any teacher can adopt this critical practice on the road to expertise.
What Is Self-Monitoring?
Educational psychologists define self-monitoring as observing and tracking one's own professional performances and outcomes (Zimmerman, 2002). Chi, Glaser, and Farr (1988) explain that self-monitoring is a common practice of experts. Years of experience enable experts to identify their strengths and limitations more accurately than their less-accomplished contemporaries. Until recently, it was not clear how exceptional teachers use self-monitoring to their advantage, but new research suggests that they focus on and monitor key aspects of their performance--a practice that leads to the development of strategies for professional maintenance and growth (Schempp, McCullick, Busch, Webster, & Mason, 2006; Schempp, Webster, McCullick, Busch, & Mason, 2007). Self-monitoring is not merely a way to improve instructional practice; it is a way to continuously advance one's level of expertise in teaching.
Learning to Self-Monitor
The intuitive self-awareness that experts acquire is a product of profound and virtually uninterrupted introspection over many years. Developing expertise in teaching through self-monitoring requires an unflagging interest in rediscovering and renewing oneself in relation to professional goals. Recent research indicates that expert teachers self-monitor four fundamental aspects of their teaching: (1) instructional skills (2) teaching perspective, (3) personal characteristics, and (4) knowledge base (Schempp, et al., 2006).
Instructional Skills. First and foremost, expert teachers self-monitor their instructional skills (Schempp, et al., 2006). Rink (2006) defines instruction as "a process that involves both teacher and students in a highly interrelated set of events" (p. 14). Therefore, instructional skills encompass the competencies teachers need to effectively interact with students during a lesson. Presenting tasks to learners, providing useful performance feedback, and reinforcing desired student behaviors are all examples of instructional skills in teaching.
Videotape feedback can be a useful exercise for learning to self-assess one's instructional skills …