In a series of five-minute talks, professors from the University of Washington’s College of Education share insights on some key elements of great teaching.

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The wide-eyed teacher who makes a profound difference in her students’ lives is a Hollywood mainstay, a trope that nonetheless inspires legions of young people to walk into classrooms with the best intentions — only to flame out in a few years, disillusioned and exhausted.

This was the path that Megan Kelley-Petersen started down as a third-grade teacher at Seattle’s T. T. Minor Elementary. She had been raised with a sense of mission, a belief that she could save her students.

It was, she realizes now, the height of arrogance.

“If I walk into a classroom with students that look completely different than me and think that I’m the one who can make their lives better, then I am placing myself above them, as having more value,” Kelley-Petersen said from her office at the University of Washington College of Education, where she now trains hundreds of future educators.

“Kids can absolutely read that. I thought they would just like me and listen to me and act as I had when I was a student, though I had no idea what excited them or who they really were. It was all about me.”

Not surprisingly, her first year in the classroom was difficult.

“I remember a lot of crying,” Kelley-Petersen said.

These were hard-won realizations, shared last month in a lunchtime talk she gave to other educators gathered at Aki Kurose Elementary School to discuss key elements of great teaching.

Structured like the popular TED Talks online, the five-minute mini-speeches addressed more compelling ways to teach history; the role of professional development; and the importance of cultural competency.

“There’s a lot more to teaching than that, but we wanted to highlight a few of the most important things,” said Dustin Wunderlich, a spokesman for the UW.

Improving the practice of teaching will be part of any long-lasting solution to closing achievement gaps between students of different backgrounds, he added.

Role-playing is also helpful, according to Walter Parker who trains social studies educators. For many years Parker taught Advanced Placement U.S. Government in Colorado, where he learned that reminding high school students of the sensory realities –”the stinking heat” of a contentious meeting full of young men hammering out our Constitution — has powerful effects.

AP Government may be a “gold standard” in the high school curriculum, Parker said. But it must also be “rigorous, authentic and fun.”