Superstar Teachers: Making Teaching Great Again

Superstar Teachers: Making Teaching Great Again
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We filed into the hall and found our pod. Sat down next to each other, we eyed our Grade 4 counterparts from the other schools. The cards were in a stack next to the moderator. The first card was dealt, face up. It was worth 1 point, so an easy start. On it was four numbers. Our minds feverishly set to work finding ways to combine them mathematically to get to 24.

I was a “Maths 24 Olympian” in our Cape Town community of neighboring schools. Massive street cred, it was not. But it fueled my passion for mathematics, and more broadly, learning.

The credit for this goes to my teacher, Mrs. Gail Beagley. She shared her passion with us and it was contagious. She also pushed us way out of our comfort zone by competing at this problem-solving card game.

I had a science teacher in high school who had the enthusiasm of a child in a white lab coat every time he did a chemistry experiment with us. Every time. That rubs off on you.

I had a math lecturer in college. Uli. German guy, tall and gangly. He would literally race back and forth in front of the blackboard, brimming with excitement at the problems he was showing us how to solve.

My college accounting professor, Mark Graham, preached about first principles and shattered the trap, for me, forever, of rule memorization that can plague the profession.

I am willing to bet you can trace some of your fondest learning memories back to individual teachers. – Click to Tweet

The historian David McCullough, put it beautifully when he said

“The great teachers—the teachers who influence you, who change your lives—almost always, I’m sure, are the teachers that love what they are teaching. It is that wonderful teacher who says ‘Come over here and look in this microscope, you’re really going to get a kick out of this’.”

Learning from teachers acts as a fantastic filter for learning something new.

Complex topics become manageable when you first filter them through one person’s perspective. Instead of getting swallowed up in the ocean of content on a particular topic, you can navigate it through the thoughts, talks, and recommendations of a single person.

The ability to branch out from there is never closed to you.

As Elon Musk has said, when describing how he learns:

“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.” – Click to Tweet

And so here I find myself today, the product in some way of these great teachers, branching out from the semantic trees they planted for me, and fascinated by the idea of Superstar Teachers.

Let us make teaching great again, shall we?

In this article, we’ll explore what it will take to build a future of Superstar Teachers, and what that might mean for education.

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So Many Teachers

There are 85MM+ teachers in the world. That’s just people who identify as teachers.

Anyone can be a teacher. In fact, if you’re helping one person change their business or their life with something you’re an expert at, you can help many people by acquiring the skill of teaching.

If you are one of these teachers or potential teachers, how do you get noticed?

The Power of the Internet

In The Economics of Superstars, Sherwin Rosen explores the trend of fewer individuals earning larger amounts of money as superstars of their profession. Think of how many people play golf, and how few have the star power of Tiger Woods. Think of how many play professional soccer, and how few have the earning potential of Cristiano Ronaldo (the sport’s first billionaire).

Rosen argues that this phenomenon is driven by two elements:

  1. You need outstanding talent.
  2. You have the ability to share that talent with a larger market.

We know that talent can be nurtured and developed and clearly was with these two superstars. The USGA provided Tiger Woods, a generational talent, with the platform to compete and display that talent. One could argue that Manchester United put a young Ronaldo on the map, before he cemented his greatness at Real Madrid, and now Juventus. Scouting networks and well-established youth systems helped unearth these gems.

Nothing like this exists for teachers, yet. There are a few examples of Superstar Teachers, most notably Rob Percival of the UK ($6.8M on Udemy), and Kim Ki-hoon of South Korea ($4M on Megastudy). Platforms like these help teachers with talent and product-market fit find a larger audience (which is why I’m bullish on all the creator platforms being developed now), but how would a system like this look end-to-end for the next wave of Superstar Teachers?

Clearly, the internet will be the enabler. Thanks to advancing mobile technology and the ongoing modernization of infrastructure, the number of internet users worldwide has been on the rise since 2005.

A better question becomes clearer: how do you train, get noticed, and achieve high status on the internet as a Superstar Teacher?

There are four steps:

  1. Learn how to teach on the internet
  2. Join communities of other teachers
  3. Build infrastructure
  4. Develop strategic partnerships

Learn how to teach on the internet

Woods and Ronaldo improved under the tutelage of great teachers. They had mentors and coaches. They spent hours and hours over years and years honing their ability, through deliberate practice.

Teaching is a skill, and like any skill, it can be learned. Teaching on the internet is a unique form of this skill, requiring a different approach and set of principles. But this too can be learned.

Applying the 3 P’s of TOCs, for example, acts as a framework for transforming how you teach in a classroom into an approach suited for a virtual environment.

I’ve developed and continue to work on many more frameworks like this to prepare experts to teach what they know online. But instead of learning from only one person, the next step is to accelerate what you can learn from someone like me by working alongside people doing the same thing as you.

Join communities of other teachers

Tiger Woods was competing in age group amateur tournaments at the age of seven. While golf is an individual sport, there is no way he would’ve improved as quickly as he did if he was only practicing with his Dad or private coaches. Ronaldo was the same. In fact, also at age seven, he joined a club on the Portuguese island of Madeira where he grew up and played in Portugal’s youth systems right up until he made his first-team debut for Sporting at seventeen.

We learn best from each other. In fact, we actually learn more from the mistakes of others than we do from their successes. But most importantly, the accountability of working alongside other ambitious people is what drives peak performance.

This was the case for athletes like Woods and Ronaldo and will be the case for teachers too.

At this point, anyone with the passion and dedication to become a great teacher of TOCs can develop that ability.

How do you satisfy the second of Rosen’s requirements then, to find a larger market to share that talent with?

First, you must scale your ability to teach. Then you must generate momentum to scale.

Build infrastructure

In order to scale the ability to teach, Superstar Teachers need infrastructure that allows for a mix of online instruction and offline implementation, feedback, and peer support. An infrastructure that provides students with a way to consume content at their own pace, while also providing access to opportunities for face-to-face discussions with mentors, coaches, TA’s, and peers.

Choosing the right platform for delivering your specific knowledge is important. Thankfully, this can also be bootstrapped at first due to the rise of No-Code tools and skills. Technology is no longer the limiting factor, it is the enabler.

How to use technology to deliver transformations at scale is the next challenge. Best practices like using Destination and Journey groups are being constantly refined. Working with other course creators in a community is a great way to stay on top of these use cases, and even add to the community of practice.

Ok, you might be thinking, I can build it, but will they come?

Develop strategic partnerships

As we touched on earlier, the USGA, and later the PGA, provided a platform for Tiger Woods. Manchester United did the same for Ronaldo, to share his talent with the largest market imaginable.

(It’s worth noting none of this was an accident. Pulling together all the practice and talent is the ability to tell a story about what you can offer. This is part of the puzzle in getting noticed, and why marketing skills are an important part of learning to teach on the internet.)

The final piece of this puzzle, the way to generate momentum to scale, is to partner with people and institutions with large audiences to add fuel to the fire you’re dropping as knowledge.

If the partnership can provide a guided pathway for students through lifelong learning opportunities that incorporate the best of what you offer, you’ll have created a never-ending journey of development that leads to sustainable growth and a way for you to scale your impact.

Imagine a marketplace where anyone with specific knowledge and the ability to teach it can offer their expertise alongside other Superstar Teachers for students to build their own learning stacks.

Any organization that nails equal access to this opportunity becomes the perfect filtering mechanism to identify the Superstar Teachers of the future.

Democratizing Education

It is no secret that the education system is broken.

As Erik Torenberg pointed out in his newsletter, schools were built for the static industrial age.

“Schools do an excellent job of training for excellence, where there are clearly bounded domains, and it’s known exactly what has to be done to be successful. But they’re terrible at training for genius — innovation no one can predict.” – Click to Tweet

The good news is that practitioners get this. The people out there “doing the thing” know this, because they succeeded despite the system. And I have met enough that are also passionate about sharing their expertise with others to fill me with confidence that the future of education is bright.

Superstar Teachers realize that the system needs to flip, as Erik points out, “from a “push” to “pull” mentality — from “you tell me the right answer” to “ask the right question and then find the answer”.”

Research in the paper Equalizing Superstars points out the downsides of a “winner-takes-all” system for the teaching population – anyone with inferior skills in teaching and communication will likely see opportunities decrease. This will be partly offset by new roles as “on-the-ground” teaching assistants to complement the online delivery of Superstar Teachers.

But the real winner here is clear: students. Learners. Anyone who can benefit from the talent of Superstar Teachers.

Imagine a world in which your children can learn science from Ranjitsinh Disale’s online lessons, and then go to a school anywhere in the world where TA’s help them implement the lessons, giving feedback to help them improve.

Imagine a world in which you can learn how to make YouTube videos from MrBeast or about blockchain from Balaji Srinivasan, and find local communities of like-minded learners to help you put your ideas into action.

The schools of the future will be a blend of best-in-class online instruction and Italian-style salons for the offline facilitated community.

Superstar Teachers will be leading the way.

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