The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching

This blog post was written by Kelli Wohlgamuth. Kelli is a FIP Specialist for the Southeast Region, a part of a regional support system available to help your LEA advance the use of formative instructional practices.

When was the last time you read a book about teaching that made you feel excited about what you do in the lives of children? A book that spoke to you, connected all the dots for you, and even gave you a focus to make it easy to put what you have read into practice? Well, I just read such a book. I was really drawn to what Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell were sharing in their book, The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day.

Over the past three years I’ve met some incredible teachers who, despite their passion, have gotten lost in all the reform efforts and can’t seem to find a way forward. This book, which has a strong alignment with the core components of FIP, helps teachers stay focused on what is important by using a “checklist” strategy. Checklist items include:

  • Use standards to guide every learning opportunity
  • Ensure students set personal learning targets for each lesson
  • Make performance expectations clear
  • Measure understanding against high expectations
  • Engage student interest with every lesson
  • Interact meaningfully with every student
  • Use feedback to encourage effort
  • Create an oasis of safety and respect in my classroom
  • Make the most of every minute; teach bell to bell
  • Help students develop deep knowledge
  • Coach students to mastery
  • Help students do something with their learning

Helping teachers align what they do daily is essential to move student learning forward. Educators have a responsibility to build environments that encourage risk taking, support learners at all levels, and give opportunities for students to have the right feedback so they have something to own.  It is not “one more thing we have to do.” It is what is really at the heart of what you do every day.

I have been hearing teachers say, “Our students don’t really own their learning, or they don’t care.”  It’s easy for teachers and leaders to place fault on the students, not realizing that student ownership actually starts with teachers. Teaching is a complex process and we need strategies or a “checklist” that keeps teachers focusing on the most critical or essential elements. The “12 touchstones” allow teachers to keep a focus on the “big ideas” of what it takes to be a great teacher: the ability to be demanding, supportive, and intentional.

FIP Quote of the Day

“When a teacher is with students in a way that is empowering to them, students can transform. When this begins to happen, the transformation takes place. The work of teaching becomes the joy of teaching because they are in a mutually empowering relationship.” 


This quote comes from The Best Teacher in You: How To Accelerate Learning and Change Lives, written by Robert E. Quinn, Katherine Heynoski, Mike Thomas, and Gretchen M. Spreitzer.

Do We Have Time for Effective Feedback?

A stereotypical day in the life of an ELA teacher…

A daunting stack of writing samples collected…all on the same day…all on the same topic…all written in basically the same format with about the same textual evidence. Ugh! Who would want to grade 100 essays like that?

Maybe the old cliché often attached to essay feedback will work? Just toss the stack down your stairs. Whichever ones land at the top of the staircase earn the A’s. The B’s and C’s are, of course, in the middle of the staircase, and those poor souls whose papers landed at the bottom of the staircase, “earn” the D’s and the F’s. Sounds like a bell curve to me!

The words 'effective feedback' can sometimes wreak havoc on a secondary ELA teachers’ level of efficiency and even create a roadblock for instruction. The above scenario might not have been exactly what happened to me in my formative high school years, but it sure felt like it had. My own teachers’ feedback was limited and, after receiving it weeks after the assignment, seemed completely out of touch. I am sure we have all felt this at some point in our education. 

Effective feedback should allow students to determine whether they are on the right path or not. Are they on target for their learning? Are we on target for our instruction? Can we as instructors identify where student success is and where intervention is needed? Not on the staircase we can’t.

How about we change the scenario for the ELA teacher? How about we work with our students and talk through feedback during the process? How about we train our students to participate in conversations about their writing process and resulting responses? To change our prior teaching approaches, we need to retrain our students’ minds and get them involved in the process of their own learning, starting with small writing samples and working our way up from there. 

It’s a valuable experience for all those involved, and the more casual you make it, the better; take some of the pressure off your students and help them see you’re invested. A typical feedback conversation in my room consisted of a timer, two comfy chairs, and a writing sample. Or in an ideal situation, a Google Doc where the conversation can take place within the document itself via comments or chatting.

Oftentimes, teachers try to provide feedback in too many areas at once and unintentionally bog down the process, overwhelming their students and causing them to shut down instead of progress. We need to keep in mind that it’s okay to limit ourselves and our students to one specific learning target to be addressed in one conference. Here’s where that change from prior ELA teaching practices comes in: Instead of focusing on every nitty-gritty detail in the paper, we focus on a goal and/or individual learning target, conferring about progress toward that goal and that goal alone. 

With individual goals geared toward personal growth, that stack of writing samples might not seem so daunting. In fact, it might even seem a little bit exciting as each of those samples become personal for you and your students.

Pinterest for Educators

This blog post was written by Amber Fannin. Amber is a FIP Specialist for the Southeast Region, a part of a regional support system available to help your LEA advance the use of formative instructional practices.

My name is Amber, and I am addicted to Pinterest. It wasn’t so long ago that I was living a Pinterest-free life. I had heard about it in passing, but had not really had the time to find out just what it was all about. One Saturday afternoon, I decided to “take a glance” and peruse a few boards. Five or six hours passed; it was getting close to dinner time, and I was still pinning!

I created a few personal boards to keep track of tasty recipes and DIY projects, much like everyone else on Pinterest, but the bulk of my time and effort went into my Stuff for Teachers/FIP Board. It started out as an attempt to find resources that would help teachers with formative instructional practices. Now, there are over 350 different pins and over 150 users following it. Pinterest continues to give me a way to connect with teachers and add tools to their FIP toolboxes. At first, I was skeptical about using Pinterest as a professional development tool, but it’s incredible to see how many educators are spending their evenings, summers, or holiday breaks to gather ideas and tips for improving their practice.

New to Pinterest? Here are a few easy steps that I suggest for getting started:

  1. Set up an account at (hey, it’s free).
  2. Follow some boards: Pinterest is collaborative, so select a category from the list and click a handful of boards to get started. This will be your initial inspiration.
  3. Create & name your own boards: Now that you have a few boards that you’re following, create your own content-specific boards that align to your work, hobbies, or family.
  4. Conduct a search that fits your interest (FIP, clear learning targets, exit slips, exit tickets, formative assessments, feedback).
  5. Start Pinning. Pick your favorite things from all over the web. Pinterest allows you to grab photos, videos, and other resources.
  6. Adjust Settings: the great thing about Pinterest is it allows you to customize your experience, with opt-out options for syncing your Facebook or Twitter account. You can request email notifications if you want to be notified of new pins, or even create private boards for you and your peers. 

If there’s one thing I have learned in my 30+ years as an educator, it’s the power of sharing. There’s no better place to share than Pinterest; so let the FIP pinning begin.

Amber's FIP Board: Click to Visit

Holding the Spoon

This blog post was written by Sandy Shedenhelm. Sandy is a Senior Director of Powerful Practices at Battelle for Kids. She creates and leads professional development workshops and curriculum to help educators at all levels.  Sandy taught English language arts and social studies. 

 “We complain that our students want to be spoon fed, yet we don’t let them hold the spoon.”

Wow, this quote really resonates with the teacher in me.

For many years in the classroom, I definitely held the spoon. I liked it. I became a teacher so I could hold the spoon. Let’s face it:  loved the control. I thought my students would learn more if the spoon remained in my capable hands. I was directing the class. I was doing most of the talking and most of the doing. As it turned out, I was doing most of the learning, too.

Over time I learned that I needed to let go, and put a spoon in every child’s hands and teach them how to use it. Not only did stidents start to feed themselves, they started feeding each other, too. They were learning more. Better. Faster.

This “spoon-holding”, known as student ownership or self-reliance, is happening in so many classrooms. It is happening where students are being taught how to take control of their own learning. It starts with students being 100% clear about what they are learning, why they are learning it, and what it looks and sounds like when done well. It continues with teaching students how to self-assess, how to give and receive effective feedback, and how to communicate about their learning.

I was fortunate to spend some time at Reynoldsburg High School eSTEM Academy where students are holding the spoon; not every once in a while but on a regular basis. I want to thank the leaders and teachers who allowed me bring cameras into their classrooms so I could showcase a snippet of the amazing teaching and learning that occurs daily in Ohio classrooms.

I invite you to enroll in the online module below, FIP in Action: Spotting FIP in Engineering, Math, and Science Classrooms. You can hear from the students themselves. ‘Holding the spoon’ is just how school is for these students. And they love it.

Making the Most of FIP Resources

When I hear teachers describe their work with Formative Instructional Practices, it often occurs to me that no two stories are exactly the same. Teachers often take different modules, almost always set different goals, and inevitably take away slightly different messages from all of these experiences. It might be a silly example, but it reminds me a lot of the Hershey’s slogan “There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.” As long as teachers are open to change, allow themselves to try new things, and are passionate about improving their practices, there’s no wrong way to experience FIP.

But with the myriad tools and modules available to you through FIP Your School Ohio, it might be easy to become overwhelmed or miss a resource that could be most beneficial to your professional learning journey. Let us help you come up with a plan that best suits your needs and your experiences. As you read, it may be helpful to pull up the FIP Your School Blended Learning Page located here. You can then review the different modules under the tab by type and decide which ones will be best for you.

Many teachers begin their work with FIP in each of the 5 Foundations of Formative Instructional Practices courses. From that point, they may take a course in Creating Clear Learning Targets for their subject and grade level before adding on some of the FIP in Action modules to see how it plays out. Other teachers decide to start out with the FIP in Action modules and work their way back into the clear learning targets and each of the foundations courses. Either way works, and we encourage you to select the courses you think will be the best use of your time. After taking these courses, one teacher noted, “Now I realize the importance of using the objectives to be a more clear teacher. The students need to understand where we ultimately want to end up in the learning process, and why." Take a minute to review each section and choose several additional courses that you might be interested in taking.

Additionally, review the new Reaching Every Student module series for work with gifted students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. After taking “Reaching English Language Learners”, one teacher reflected that all of her colleagues “…could truly benefit from the module. It would help if they get an ELL student now or in the future. This year we have 6 first-graders who have ‘other than English’ as their home language.” Responding to student needs and differences is so universal, and all teachers can learn something new from each of these modules related to special populations. Add one or two of these modules to your list, maybe to deepen your learning about a familiar group or to gain new knowledge about working with an unfamiliar group.

Scrolling through the Blended Learning Page, you’ll also likely stumble upon Measuring Student Growth in Classrooms and the Designing Sound Assessment series. As a FIP teacher, you know how important it is to monitor student learning accurately. If you want to learn more about these practices, we encourage you to take these modules.

Ready for another challenge? Some teachers take modules that are outside of their grade level or content area knowledge to see how FIP applies to other areas in order to stretch their thinking beyond their own experiences. Typically, teachers walk away learning how to apply familiar practices in entirely new ways because they see FIP in a new light.

Whether you’ve been using FIP with your students for several years or you’re completely new to the practices, it’s worth it to take a step back and review some of the resources we have to offer to add to your repertoire. If you have questions about which modules are best for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are here to support you in your learning journey.