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Disrupting the Teacher Opportunity Gap

Disrupting the Teacher Opportunity Gap
Aligning 12 Processes for High-Expertise Teaching

August 2023 | 456 pages | Corwin

The teachers aren’t the problem—it’s the system that needs fixing.

The missing element in 70 years of school reform is a surround-sound focus on High-Expertise Teaching. We could have it in any district, regardless of zip code, if we reengineered the twelve processes that impact teachers’ knowledge and skill. A handbook for action and a persuasive case for making every school a reliable engine of constant learning, this book outlines the actions necessary to ensure High-Expertise Teaching reaches more children, more of the time.

Informed by a substantial research base and decades of implementation, scholar-practitioner Jon Saphier presents the foundational elements of High-Expertise Teaching in this capstone work, along with

  • A comprehensive plan for effective implementation to scale
  • An assets-based approach to high expectations, culturally responsive teaching, and rigor
  • Templates for re-engineering school- and district-based processes
  • Guidance for leaders on honing their own skills to implement change

Excellent teaching is complex and demanding, with challenges beyond what any teacher-preparation program can cover. That’s why we must create a workplace environment that enables and prioritizes continuous professional learning about High-Expertise Teaching.

Defining the Problem
The Blind Spot in Policy, Reform, and Long-Term Planning

The Solution -- Elevating High-Expertise Teaching: the Missing Element in School Reform

School-based Processes for High Expertise Teaching
The Skillful Culture Builder

How to Make Decisions that Stay Made

To See into the Soul of a School, Visit Common Planning Time Teams (CPTs)

BILTs Building Instructional Leadership Teams – Charter and Operation

Crafting the Role of the Coach

District Based Processes for High Expertise Teaching
Where to Show Up and What to Do

Teacher Evaluation for Constant Learning

Supervising and Developing Principals

Leadership Skills for High Expertise Teaching
The Nature of Professional Knowledge

Leadership Preparation Programs

The Courage to Lead

Political Savvy and Mobilization

System Issues
High Expectations Teaching

Rigor and Curriculum Coherence

Ports of Call on a White Educator’s Journey to Culturally Proficient Instruction

The Rest of the Story
The Plan

The Unwritten Chapters – Seven Potent Processes Hiring, Hiring, duction, Access and Academy, Pre-Service Education, Certification and Recertification


Strange as it may seem we have forgotten teachers in the free-fall nature of what education and learning is for. Jon Saphier, in a marvelously comprehensive re-positioning of ‘high expertise teaching,' has given the 'system’ and all of us as individuals a fundamental and stirring wake-up call for action. Read and consume this new ‘bible;’ it makes expert teaching come alive exactly at the time we need it most.

Michael Fullan, Author and Professor Emeritus
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Jon Saphier is a national treasure. At the time of our greatest teacher shortage in a century, Saphier provides a guide for developing and maintaining a commitment to a culture of excellence in every school. This book sums up not only the latest and best evidence, but also a lifetime dedicated to the teaching profession and the development of high-expertise teaching. He calls leaders, policymakers, and parents to account for the fact that we routinely tolerate mediocrity from the classroom to the board room. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. This is a book to be read, studied, and re-read by people joining our profession and to experienced teachers who, like Saphier, are committed to making every day that they serve our children better than the previous year.

Douglas Reeves, Author
Fearless Schools

"Jon Saphier’s starting point is recognizing the complexity of teaching. Then he explains clearly and powerfully what and how we can put practices in place so teachers can develop the expertise they need to address that complexity. Coaches, leaders, and teachers who want to understand how to prepare teachers for the art and craft of teaching (and shouldn’t that be everyone) need to read this book and put its ideas into practice."

Jim Knight, Senior Partner and Research Associate
Instructional Coaching Group (ICG), University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning

"The greatest crisis in education relates to courage—the courage to call the low and high levels of expertise among educators, the success or otherwise of central offices to support and scale up expertise, and the courage of the profession itself to scream from the rooftops that student success is fundamentally due to their expertise. We have so much expertise, but we lack the courage to call it when it is not present, blaming the structures of schools, the funding, that parents sent the wrong child to the class, the curriculum, the tests, and so on. This is a brave book, as Saphier screams for a focus on expertise.  He knows success, sees expertise, and appreciates the strong evidence base. But he argues that the inattention to teacher capacity is titanic, the pathway to a collapsing profession, and cause of lower student success. Every educator needs Saphier sitting on their shoulder as they make decisions to improve the learning lives of every student."

John Hattie, Melbourne Laureate Professor Emeritus
Melbourne Graduate School of Education

If you could choose one focus for school reform, what would it be? Jon Saphier, the renowned master of instructional practice, says there can only be one right answer: good teaching. He argues, citing research, experience, and common sense, that Highly Effective Teaching is not only the most vital element, but is also fully understood and achievable. In this important book he gives us a detailed blueprint for how to make it possible. Education would be better everywhere if we followed the advice in these pages.

Ron Berger, Senior Advisor for Teaching and Learning
EL Education

"Veteran educator Jon Saphier offers a comprehensive, thoughtful, and timely contribution to the field. Combining the keen observations of a cultural anthropologist and skilled ethnographer with more than 60 years in the profession, Saphier makes the case that High Expertise Teaching (HET) is the primary route to improved student achievement. He shines the light on the 'teacher opportunity gap' to learn HET and describes what educational leaders can do to fill that gap. If current and aspiring educational leaders could only read a single book this year, they should choose this one."

Jay McTighe, Consultant and Co-Author
Understanding by Design® series

"If you think we can’t give all kids the education they deserve, think again. In his compelling new book, Jon Saphier not only urges us to rely on the knowledge we have to create the schools we need, but he shows us how to do it. By developing reliable systems to support skillful teaching throughout their school, educators can proceed with confidence and certainty rather than chance or whim."

Susan Moore Johnson, Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor
Harvard Graduate School of Education

"Drawing on a lifetime of scholar-activism in combating inequity in the nation’s schools, Jon Saphier’s new book focuses on something that school districts can actually control:  the systematic supports for teacher learning that districts are in a position to provide—but in general do not.  The book is a call to practical action that the leadership of any district or state agency can choose to hear or ignore—with the greatest of consequences for students in our schools."

Steve Tozer, Founding Director
Center for Urban Education Leadership, University of Illinois, Chicago

"Jon Saphier is the country's leading authority in explicating the skills and knowledge needed for skillful teaching. In this volume, he takes it up a level, offering a similarly comprehensive approach to building the systems and culture needed to support excellent teaching. Synthesizing more than five decades of research with his extensive practical experience, Saphier offers a one-stop-guide to everything a school or district leader needs to create wall-to-wall high expertise teaching."

Jal Mehta, Professor of Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education

"One of Jon Saphier’s gifts to the field has been his highly-detailed guide to effective teaching. Now he’s taken the same practical and comprehensive approach to describing the conditions needed for that quality teaching to take root in schools and districts. It’s a daunting task, but Saphier provides readers with a detailed map, an abundance of tools, and frequent concrete examples to help us envision quality leadership practice. With this wise book as a guide, leaders will know the most important steps to take to ensure every child receives High-Expertise Teaching."

Sarah Fiarman, Leadership Consultant
Co-Author of Unconscious Bias in Schools and Instructional Rounds in Education; Author of Becoming a Principal

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