How to identify and share successful teaching practice

Posted by Alexandra Spalding on 21 November, 2019

How did all of the students of 3rd grade teacher Mary Dunbar Barksdale in Brazosport, Texas achieve remarkably high scores on the statewide test, despite the fact that 94% of her students lived in poverty?

How did a handful of schools in Argentina’s Misiones Province achieve a graduation rate of 75%, when the overall completion rate for the province was only 50%?

How did the students in one school district in Mason, Ohio achieve very high scores on achievement tests and other outcomes when their peer districts performed so poorly?

What’s their secret?



Each of these cases have three things in common:

  1. They’re outliers; their outcomes deviate significantly from their peers.
  2. The outcomes they achieve are positive; students demonstrated dramatically improved educational outcomes.
  3. Most importantly, they achieved these outcomes without receiving any additional support or resources.

In fact, administrators were able to identify the specific behaviours and practices underlying their success and then scale those solutions system-wide (Singhal, 2013).

Within virtually every population of teachers, schools, trusts and networks, these “positive deviants” exist. This presents an incredible opportunity for achieving sustainable change in education: Positive Deviance inquiry, or, identifying and sharing successful teaching practices.  Read more about this concept here.


How to identify and share successful teaching practice

1. Define 

What’s the problem? What are the causes and the related community behavioural norms? What would success look like, described as a behavioural outcome in teachers and students? 

The first step in Positive Deviance Inquiry is to define the problem and to describe what success looks like. It’s important to remember that the problem needs to be defined within a specific context. Success should be clearly defined as measurable attitudes and/or behaviours. 

In the Vietnamese nutrition case, the problem was malnourished children. The related community behavioural norms were that mothers were not supplementing their diet with readily available protein sources. In fact, doing so was considered inappropriate or even dangerous. Success was defined as decreasing the number of children that are clinically malnourished: a clear, quantifiable outcome. 

2. Determine 

Are there any teachers in the community who already exhibit the desired behaviour or outcome? 

Now we need to identify the positive deviants. Who are the educators in your community that are already achieving your defined success? This identification should be data-driven, using clear metrics to identify teachers who are overcoming the defined problem and achieving successful outcomes. 

3. Discover 

What are the unique practices or behaviours that enable positive deviants to outperform others in their community? 

This is where video plays a key role. Videos of the classroom practices of successful teachers provide a means to identify exactly how they are being successful. These videos can be annotated with detailed, specific explanations of exactly what is happening in their teaching practice. When a novice observes an expert, they often miss the nuances of the performance. 

Also, many critical factors such as cognitions and decisions the expert makes simply aren’t observable. For example, formatively assessing student understanding by asking probing questions, adjusting the lesson plan in real-time based on these assessments, and subtle behaviour management techniques are critical to success, but can’t necessarily be seen.

The IRIS Connect video platform enables successful teachers to annotate their teaching practice using time-linked notes and analytical tools to make these implicit factors explicit. The video model combined with these annotations provide others with a rich resource that enables them to begin applying these practices in their own classrooms.

4. Design 

Design and implement an intervention that enables others in the community to experience and practice new behaviours (focus on doing rather than transfer of knowledge). IRIS Connect is the platform upon which such an intervention can be built. 

Successful teachers can record, annotate, and share videos of their practices across school districts. The focus is on doing, so others teachers need to put into practice what they’re observing. By recording their attempts, teachers can self-reflect, using rubrics to focus their attention on the key elements of the practices they’re emulating. 

But teachers shouldn’t always do this work in isolation. They can work collaboratively, sharing videos of their teaching within their professional learning communities. These communities can help them to identify successes and challenges, and provide feedback and suggestions for how to adapt the modelled instruction for their own classroom contexts. Teachers can also share videos with a coach to receive ongoing, individualised implementation support. 

5. Discern 

What is the effectiveness of the intervention? 

As teachers view models of successful instructional practices and begin to implement them in their own classrooms, they can use the analytical tools on the IRIS Connect platform to measure their progress. IRIS Connect enables teachers to collect objective, qualitative and quantitative data, linked to specific moments in their videos. This data helps them determine where they have been successful and where improvements can be made. Although formative professional learning is a sacred space that should be protected to allow teachers to take risks while learning, if they choose to, teachers can eventually share their videos with colleagues to demonstrate their mastery of effective teaching practices. 

6. Disseminate 

Make the intervention accessible to a wider constituency (replication/scaling up). 

Again, video makes dissemination of effective teaching practices easy. The IRIS Connect platform enables schools to produce libraries of annotated video models aligned with standards. These models are not meant to be prescriptions to be copied, but rather are a rich resource that prompts discussion, self-discovery, adaptation, and collaboration. 

So what other ways can video technology make positive deviance inquiry practical?  Download and continue reading our free Guide to Using Positive Deviance to Improve Education in your school >


Topics: Collaboration

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