Klea Scharberg

The Educator’s Essentials

In this era of school reform, turnaround, and educational change, it is easy to overlook the basics of why we educate and what we want for our children. Usually when we talk about "getting back to the basics," the conversation is student-focused, if not always student-centered. These basics of learning vary from the 3 Rs (reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic) to STEM to 21st century skills.

But what are the basics of teaching? How are we (as educators, professionals, and colleagues) designing, even transforming, our instructional practices to meet the demands of today and tomorrow? Teacher Kevin Parr believes that we need to get back to teaching with kids, not just their test scores, in mind. His teaching basics are for educators to trust their teaching, create the conversation for change, and let social and emotional learning lead the way. In their new ASCD book Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding, authors Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins advocate creating a culture of inquiry so that all members of the educational community—students, teachers, and administrators—benefit from the increased rigor and deepened understanding that emerge when essential questions become a guiding force for learners of all ages.

In examining what makes a question "essential," McTighe and Wiggins find that they are

  • Important and timeless and that answers may change in response to reflection, learning, and experience;
  • Elemental and foundational and reflect the key inquiries within a discipline; and
  • Vital and necessary for personal understanding and comprise what students need for learning core content.

"A good education is grounded in such lifelong questions, even if we sometimes lose sight of them while focusing on content mastery," write McTighe and Wiggins. "Such questions signal that education is not just about learning 'the answer,' but also about learning how to think, question, and continually learn."

What are other "essentials?" What are the fundamental elements and habits that bring us together and set the stage for lasting, comprehensive, and sustainable school improvement?


The Whole Child Podcast is one of the many ways ASCD shares stories, insights, and discussions about what works in today's schools to achieve these goals and ensure that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. This month's episode, "Glowing, Growing, and Getting Back to the Real Basics," was taped in front of a live audience at the 2014 ASCD Annual Conference in Los Angeles and features special guests from the Washington Montessori School, the 2014 winner of the Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award.

You'll hear from founding principal Sharon Jacobs, literacy impact facilitator Shanta Buchanan, math impact facilitator Paulita Musgrave, and teachers Erin Deal, Gillian Hill, and Eileen Martin as they share the tale of their school's transformation from a priority school to a school of progress. In getting back to the "real" basics at Washington Montessori, teachers have learned that if you approach teaching with positivity and engage students thoughtfully despite the challenges, you'll find, as Martin says in the episode, "[T]hat when kids enjoy coming to school, they enjoy learning and you will get your results."

Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read this month's newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

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