Design and Technical Excellence

Design and Technical Excellence

"Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility."

Watch a great teacher teach a lesson or manage a classroom; it's amazing how effective one big human can be at commanding the attention of so many little humans.

This doesn't happen by accident; it's a function of technical excellence. Technical excellence, like craft in writing or word working, typically arises out of conscientious repetition. Even after we get something right, we keep trying to get better at it; we keep improving our technique; sometime, we over-learn things so we have near-instantaneous access to them.

Technical excellence is partly a function of repetition but fundamentally it is rooted in good design.

We design many things in teaching: lessons, units, curriculum, assessments, activities, procedures. Good design gives us three advantages: (1) It makes things easier to learn, (2) It makes things easier to change, and (3) It makes things easier to communicate with others.

Each of these is vital if we want to make significant improvement, not only in our work, but in the work of others as well.

You know you've got something well-designed when you can use it year after year in a variety of situations and it never lets you down. Regardless of the situation, the basic design holds up, even allowing you to modify it to account for changing circumstances.

Good design and technical excellence make good teaching easier to maintain. Instead of throwing out everything you've learned each time a new adoption sweeps through your school or district, take heart. Well-designed tools, executed with technical excellence, can be continued with the same good results or, if need be, easily modified.


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Steve Peha

Long before I got into education, I watched my mother and many of her friends—all career teachers—struggle with new adoptions, new programs, and an endless stream of fads. Nothing in teaching seemed durable. Even moving from grade to grade, subject to subject, and even school to school could cause serious upheaval.

I didn't think that was very efficient, and I certainly didn't think it was sustainable, so I concentrated in my own work on the design of teaching tools that would stand the test of time and afford me the opportunity to strive for technical excellence through repetition. To get good at things, I needed to be able to use them many times. And to use them many times, they had to be designed for use in many different situations.

Knowing that I have a large repertoire of well-designed tools that I can use in almost any setting gives me the confidence to walk into just about any classroom where I'm consulting and teach just about group of kids without significant preparation.

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