Mary S. Poplin holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Texas at Austin. A former public-school teacher, she is currently Professor of Education at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California.
Dr. Poplin has come to the attention of those concerned with public education in America for two different reasons.
First, as the director of the Institute for Education in Transformation at Claremont, she has been a pioneer in the scientific assessment of the classroom effectiveness of different teaching philosophies and styles.
In the early 1990s, she headed a team that systematicaly studied the educational practices at four public schools in southern California for a year. This study led to the publication of a well-known white paper entitled Voices from the Inside: A Report on Schooling from Inside the Classroom.
A decade later, she led a study of 31 highly effective teachers in low-performing urban schools in Los Angeles. This study, which concluded in 2009,* found that the highly effective teachers tended to share a number of characteristics, including the following:
- Strictness – These teachers believe that discipline is necessary to create an atmosphere of safety and respect that is a prerequisite for effective teaching and learning.
- Instructional intensity – They make efficient use of every moment of class time. For example, one highly effective teacher had first graders march to the playground counting in unison by multiples of 2, multiples of 3, and so forth.
- Movement – They move around the classroom in order to spend time one-on-one with students, both to give them individual assistance and to get to know them as individuals.
- Traditional instruction – They overwhelmingly favored traditional methods of direct, teacher-directed instruction—repeated and patient explanation of subject matter—over such trendy methods as “cooperative” learning, “constructivist” (student-directed) learning, and the like.
- Exhorting virtues – They explicitly and repeatedly inculcated traditional values in their students, including mutual respect, hard work, taking responsibility, doing one’s best, persistence, excellence, hopefulness, honesty, and thinking ahead and considering consequences.
- Strong relationships – They evinced a strong respect for students and a faith in their abilities. This attitude in turn elicited respect for them from their students.
The other reason for Dr. Poplin’s prominence, especially in the past few years, has to do with her outspokenness about the difficulty of discussing traditional values in the context of the culture of the contemporary secular university, and the need to make room for openness about traditional religious faith as a foundation for such values.
Here is an engaging and thought-provoking lecture by Dr. Poplin on this last topic:
We hope to return to this important issue in a future post.
*See Mary Poplin, et al., “She’s Strict for a Good Reason: Highly Effective Teachers in Low-Performing Urban Schools,” Phil Delta Kappan, 2011, 92(5): 39–43.