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The three keys to a successful class

favicon I’m finishing Year 15 as a teacher, and right now, I’m at a low. My students are sleepwalking to graduation. They’re done when I’m just getting started.

Being negative, though, gets me to reflect on what makes a successful class. It’s pretty easy, actually. Here are the three ingredients, in order of importance:

1. All students come to class every day.
This builds a common experience.

2. All students are nice to each other.
This builds a safe learning environment.

3. All students turn their assignments in on time.
This accelerates learning.

Pretty simple, right? I wish. This year, attendance has fluctuated. I can’t have a successful class unless there’s a common, shared story. Even if absent students follow up when they miss class, they’ve missed the experience.

Though I’ve struggled with attendance, I’m happy to report that my students have, in general, been nice and respectful with each other. There’s no way to teach if that’s not happening.

Unfortunately, my students have had trouble turning in assignments on time. Tonight, for example, I received 18 out of 23 essays on time. That’s horrible and inexcusable. This phenomenon puts the student behind, makes me backtrack, and prevents the class from moving forward. Similar to #1, it hurts the common experience.

I’m old-fashioned when it comes to good teaching and learning. Despite my interest in technology, and despite my realization that we might be heading into more asynchronous learning environments, I believe that the best classes still include a group of students and a teacher thinking and working on something together. favicon


  1. Beth Silbergeld

    Mark, I consoled a student today who had watched his grade slip from F to C. He had missed school last Friday and had not done all his assignments. I wasn’t sure why he was so baffled as to not getting the product he wanted, when he hadn’t mixed in the right ingredients. Hoping that I can break down your top three today to him and other students. Thanks! Stay reflective.

  2. Mark Isero

    Beth, thanks for getting “the three keys” out there to students. It’s not always a normal thing for our students to come to school every day on time and to do their work every day. They look around, and they see teachers demanding it but their peers not doing it. It’s up to teachers to build a new normal. (I know I’ve failed with my advisees on attendance and punctuality. Lateness is a very deeply ingrained bad habit.)

  3. caitlin schwarzman


    The other “key,” which you probably take for granted,is meaningful content. Without meaningful content and activities, the rest of the keys are nice but are probably not going to lead to the kind of learning you expect. Of course, you’ve got content in spades!

  4. Mark Isero

    Hi Caitlin! Yes, you’re correct: Content is key. I suppose I should have specified that these three “keys” are what I hope from students. After all, the content can’t really happen unless the students are there to participate in the content. Then again, as you suggest, students aren’t going to show up if the content is boring. Since my students’ test scores have dropped, there’s more emphasis on skills-based instruction, which I don’t mind, but what I worry about is how to make good authentic curriculum with differentiated skill-building as a major component.

Please share your brilliant insights!