Bill Gates has some back-to-school advice for teachers

Teachers need instruction too.
Teachers need instruction too.
Image: Gates Notes
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

It’s widely accepted that education for children, at its best, is interactive and collaborative. And yet when it comes to teaching the teachers, professional development generally is a one-way stream, in lecture format at big conferences.

“We would never do that with kids,” an award-winning middle school teacher recently told the philanthropist Bill Gates, “but we still do it with teachers.”

In this back-to-school season, Gates is sharing some advice from Katie Brown, named the best teacher in Gates’ home state of Washington for 2014. She points out that lectures are generally just about the worst way to teach, yet many teachers’ only ongoing training is occasionally being talked at in a seminar. That’s something that needs to change, Gates argues. His foundation has been working to support schools in low-income areas for years.

Brown teaches at Shuksan Middle School, a diverse school in a low-income area of Bellingham, focusing on kids learning to speak English. Gates describes meeting her and immediately thinking he’d love to have kids in her classroom. She also coaches other teachers.

Training needs to be integrated into teachers’ school days, Brown argues, so it’s relevant to what they’re doing every day. Expecting teachers to improve alone, at night, and at home is unrealistic.Something the school is doing seems to be working. Parents tried to keep their kids out of it at one point, Brown told Gates; there’s now a waiting list.

In an interview with Gates, Katie describes the approach her school has taken, which actively builds time into teacher’s schedules so they can work together on getting better:

The piece also touches on some of the most controversial issues in education, including the new, nationwide Common Core standards. Brown echoes something Gates says he has heard repeatedly when visiting schools. That no teacher is opposed to high standards, but that very few get anything near the support or time to get them right. A good place to start is the system Brown describes.

“We can take it on together as a staff,” she told Gates. “We have time built into our day to help each other learn and tackle it as a team.”