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The Teaching Genome

Ed.L.D. student Doannie Tran has developed a web application that helps teachers better understand and communicate their own practice.

Doannie Tran
Although Ed.L.D. candidate Doannie Tran didn’t foresee himself starting a business, once he arrived at the Harvard Graduate School of Education his idea for an innovative web application — the Teaching Genome — aimed at helping teachers better navigate communication and understanding in practice began to take shape.

By that time, Tran had spent nearly 10 years teaching and training teachers, and he recognized that the field was largely under professionalized. Working in teacher development at Teach For America, he witnessed a recurring problem among the young teachers with whom he worked: “You could teach a teacher to be incredibly ambitious or teach a certain way, but as soon as they got into a school, they would conform to the [school’s] culture,” he says.

Tran heard again and again from teachers that his suggestions for instructional improvement were good ideas, but that they didn’t fit their style or their particular class. He realized what the teachers were talking about was their individual identities as educators. He also recognized that these identities often could differ greatly from others in a school.

“Research shows that 68 percent of teachers experience some collaborative professional learning time, but only 7 percent report that it’s any good,” Tran says. “People are bound by their own assumptions. And, people are trapped by their own perspective.”

He wondered whether there was a way to help teachers, who often work within groups during professional development, bridge the gap they may feel when their ideas about what good instruction looks like differs from the rest of the team. Soon he began asking teachers different questions about their morals in teaching, views on the purpose of education, and how they identified themselves in their practice. Tran could predict what a teaching style might look like based on asking a few questions about approach to instruction. But, what he noticed was that significant barriers in understanding and communicating one’s own teaching style often prevented change and progress among teachers in a school system.

It wasn’t until Tran entered the Ed.L.D. Program in 2012 that he began to outline the basic idea for an assessment tool that would provide insight into teaching patterns. As part of his course study, Tran was asked to think about ways to change the sector and he felt driven to revisit how to improve teacher practice and coaching. During an independent study with Professor Richard Elmore, he found time to build out the project’s fundamentals. Within a year, Tran had developed the prototype for the web application he now calls the Teaching Genome.


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