The recently released book, What the Best Law Teachers Do, is the culmination of a four-year study that sought to identify extraordinary law teachers. The book gives evidence-based examples of “the best” in legal education based on a national qualitative study of 26 law professors nominated as “the best” by their peers and students.
According to InsideHigherEd, “[a]lthough they vary in style and specialty, the professors share a common set of characteristics.” Those commonalities became the themes and sub-themes that are the basis of the book, fleshed out with examples.
Below are some of the common characteristics of “the best” law teachers.
- Personal Qualities:
Thoughtful, authentic, passionate, enthusiastic, positive, energetic, empathetic, expressive, humble, responsible, attentive, creative, knowledgeable, and inspiring.
- Relate to Students:
Mutual respect; concern; focus on student learning and success; see promise, potential, and have confidence in the students; care; be accessible to students; go beyond the call of duty; and view students as collaborators.
- Expectations for Students:
Clear expectations; confidence that every student can excel; inspire preparation, engagement, and excellence; model expectations and work ethic; depth of preparation and class participation; and responsibility.
- Preparation to Teach:
Prepare as if teaching for the first time, goal driven, take the student perspective, detailed teaching plans, and reflect on teaching.
- Engage the Students:
Four step process: (1) consciously structure class sessions to achieve learning goals, (2) show they care about students, (3) make classes relevant, and (4) are extremely effective with their chosen teaching method.
- Feedback & Assessment:
Provide opportunities to practice and get feedback, meet with students, and provide positive feedback and constructive criticism.
This book works as a wonderful example for other law professors, as well as anyone charged with the teaching and instruction of law students – namely law librarians.
Law librarians can apply some of the same principles while teaching legal research either in class or in other sessions that “the best” law teachers practice. We can remain passionate about the topic and continue to believe in and inspire our students through engagement and feedback.
The authors devote Chapter 10 to suggested uses of the book. They suggest using the book to set goals. “As you read and think about the teaching ideas in this book, identify one to three concrete aspects of your own teaching that you would like to improve during the semester or year.” It is simple, sound advice that anyone in front of a class should do every semester.
This book inspired me to be a better legal research instructor, and I hope it does the same for you.