About RBT
  • What We Do
  • RBT's Impact
  • Programs
  • Consultants
  • RBT Staff
  • Our Leadership
  • Map and Directions

Research for Better Teaching
RBT is a school improvement organization of twenty-one senior educators with extensive experience in teaching and leadership. Founded by Dr. Jon Saphier in 1979, we work in-depth with over 100 school districts across the United States each year.

What RBT Does
RBT offers nationally recognized programs to:
  • Develop teacher evaluation systems
  • Train data coaches and data teams
  • Develop leadership skills for strong school culture
  • Build in-house professional development capacity to ensure skillful teaching.

RBT has the longest and most successful track record of any professional development provider in the United States for developing teacher evaluation systems (since 1982.) These evaluation systems  accomplish the overall improvement of instruction and the strengthening of school culture while at the same time building the skill and courage to dismiss low-performing teachers. We work under contract to the school districts themselves, supervise the complex process of developing the evaluation system with involvement of all stakeholder groups, and, importantly, deliver in-depth skill training and certification of evaluators on the skills of evaluation.

We will have knowledgeable educators, who believe in children, and who are working in schools with strong cultures and structures for professional practice.

Core Values

  • Substance – focusing on what matters most
  • Continuity – working in fewer districts for enduring change
  • Service – going above and beyond the call of duty and staying with you for as long as it takes

The mission of Research for Better Teaching is to build individual and institutional capacity to sustain increased student achievement. This means:

Teachers will

  • Communicate to all students that they can achieve at high levels
  • Help students develop a positive academic identity
  • Use multiple sources of data to make decisions about teaching
  • Provide expert instruction in every classroom
Leaders will support expert instruction by
  • Sharing a common language and concept system about teaching and learning with teachers
  • Creating professional communities that believe in continual improvement and engage in the study of teaching and learning
  • Distributing leadership throughout the organization
  • Developing political an structural mechanisms and resources that foster organizational growth
  • Ensuring shared responsibility and accountability for student learning
In summary, RBT will work to rally the courage and commitment of schools and districts to place an expert teacher in every classroom.

RBT's Impact

In existence since 1979, RBT has worked with thousands of teachers and school leaders to improve student achievement within individual schools and districts throughout the United States.

New Leaders for New Schools: 2001 - Present

“Helping Urban Principals Succeed”

New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) is an organization that promotes high academic achievement for every child by attracting, preparing, and supporting the next generation of outstanding leaders for the public schools in eight major U.S. cities. Their belief is that great schools are led by great principals who coach and inspire teachers to reach and teach every child and collaborate with their parents, families, and communities to make schools work.

New Leaders spend a year as resident principals in city schools working with mentor principals willing to train and empower aspiring leaders. NLNS provides courses taught by leading academics, thought leaders, experts, and master principals from around the country and one-on-one and group coaching. The ultimate goal is for each New Leader to become a highly effective and autonomous school leader with demonstrated results in their schools.

RBT has worked with NLNS since its inception. RBT consults on overall program design, delivers ten days of instruction on observation and supervision of teachers to all New Leaders, Fellows, and supports the Fellows with on-site feedback and coaching. RBT also provides yearly workshops and support for the distinguished retired principals who are NLNS city coaches.

Current NLNS leaders work in 330+ schools in Chicago, New York City, Washington DC, and other major U.S. cities, impacting 165,000 students daily. By 2008 New Leaders principals and residents will reach critical mass in several cities, with New Leaders in ~55% of DC schools, ~45% of Memphis schools, and ~40% of Oakland schools. They will be in position to effect significant change, not just at the school level but in entire school districts. Their performance will reflect the research-based practices of RBT.

Montgomery County Public Schools: 1997 - present

“Systematic Change Leading to Higher Student Achievement”

RBT joined with Montgomery County, Maryland, to develop and implement a professional growth system for the teachers and administrators in its 192 schools. The program trains and supports administrators and teachers in the research-based components of successful teaching. It helps them improve instruction, increase student achievement, and develop professional learning communities based on shared beliefs and accountability.

RBT designed the process, facilitated the Steering Committee during the first two critical years, and initiated the training of administrators in “Observing and Analyzing Teaching” and the training of teachers in “Studying Skillful Teaching.”

In year three RBT trained a cadre of 14 internal staff development specialists to staff the Montgomery County Center for Skillful Teaching. The Center’s courses are now required for all newly hired teachers and administrators, and the courses, as well as on-site school consultations, are available to all staff in the county. Senior RBT consultants continue to supervise and support the MCPS personnel in advancing the Professional Growth System.

Dr. Julia Koppich, an independent researcher, conducted an evaluation of the program in 2004. Her findings indicate the following:

Impact on Teachers and Administrators

  • Teachers are assuming more responsibility for student learning. Before taking the “Studying Skillful Teaching” course, teachers rated a student’s home background and motivation as the most important factors in student learning. After the course they ranked home background 11th and ranked a teacher’s use of effective methods and a teacher’s enthusiasm or perseverance as the most important factors.
  • Teachers know more teaching methods and can match them with student needs. The course “changed the way I teach!” “I do a lot more looking at strategies and where they’re working for kids.” “I use my time in a more focused way.” “I know what to teach and what kids have to learn.”
  • The evaluation system has helped administrators be more effective in supporting good teaching. It helps them identify underperforming teachers and target these teachers for intense coaching and support. Between 2001 and 2004, 177 teachers were dismissed, chose to leave on their own, or did not have their contracts renewed after showing no growth during a year of intense support.
  • The teachers’ union recognizes that children’s interests must come first and fully supports the evaluation process and the resulting decisions. “It’s not good for a union to say anyone can walk into a classroom and teach. It diminishes the work we do.” – Bonnie Cullison, president of the Montgomery County Education Association
  • Professional learning communities are developing in the schools. These communities share beliefs, norms and values and are based on common language about teaching and learning.

Impact on Students:

  • In 2001 grade 2 students scored in the 68th percentile in mathematics computation. In 2003 scores were in the 83rd percentile.
  • The Broad Acres Elementary School is an urban school with disproportionately high mobility rates. In 2000 assessment data placed proficiency levels in Grade 3 at 13% in reading and 5% in mathematics on the Maryland Assessment exam. Resisting state pressure to disband the school’s staff, the superintendent and union president appointed a new principal. She required all staff to participate in “Studying Skillful Teaching” on site over a one-year period to build teaching skills and a focus on student achievement. In 2004 proficiency in grade 3 on the Maryland exam in reading reached 75% and in mathematics 67%.

Jeremiah E. Burke High School: 1995-2002

“Rising from the Ashes”

After the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, Massachusetts, lost its accreditation in 1995, four RBT consultants worked with its new leadership team for six years to help them regain and sustain it.

The Burke had a student body of 800 students, with nearly 50% speaking English as a second language. RBT trained the administrators in “Observing and Analyzing Teaching” and the teachers in “Studying Skillful Teaching.” RBT also worked with students, parents, teachers, and administrators to create an open and supportive school environment that continually strives to meet the needs of the students.

New accreditation was granted in 1998 and by 2001 100% of the graduating seniors were accepted to a two- or four- year college. Many of the teachers and administrators at the Burke during those six years are now principals of their own schools. They cite RBT’s involvement as a critical factor in the Burke’s turnaround.

Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS): 1989-1993

“Bringing the Study of Teaching to the Building Level”

RBT implemented a systematic staff development program for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools, a government agency with 154 schools serving 76,000 students in 13 countries.

The program addressed three goals:

• Provide ongoing professional development of teachers
• Train administrators as knowledgeable classroom observers
• Strengthen collegiality among school staff

With the help of RBT, DoDDS developed a worldwide cadre of 35 Skillful Teacher Trainers. RBT trained, certified, and supervised these in-house trainers and maintained the currency and preparation of replacement trainers for the next four years. All of these trainers came to Boston annually for a two-day conference with RBT senior consultants for update and extension training.

The implementation and success of the program were evaluated by the Rand Corporation over the three-year period 1989-1992. By year three 100% of the trained faculty reported that their expectations were met for achieving the program goals of professional development of teachers and strengthening collegiality among school staff.

During the 1990’s the DoDDS schools had the smallest achievement gap for children of color of any large school district in the U.S.

Fairfax County Public Schools: 1986-1994

“Making Teacher Evaluation Substantive and Growth-Oriented”

RBT developed a teacher evaluation system focused on a common core of knowledge about successful teaching for the Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, a district with 120,000 students. RBT trained all the administrators in how to observe and analyze teaching, document teacher performance, implement the new system, and establish reliability with one another. Then RBT certified and supervised a cadre of 10 FCPS in-house trainers to carry on the work and maintained the currency and preparation of replacement trainers for the next decade.

In the first year of implementation, 162 teachers were dismissed or resigned compared to single digits the previous year.

Professional Development Programs

RBT offers programs for teachers to support their professional growth, strengthen collegiality, and encourage experimentation through direct study of the knowledge base on teaching and development of peer coaching skills.

RBT works with evaluators and school leaders to enhance their individual leadership skills and to develop a set of durable, meaningful system-wide structures for creating a professional growth cycle that includes teacher supervision and evaluation.

RBT coaches leaders on strategies for change and procedures that strengthen school culture and organizational effectiveness at all levels.

RBT sponsors public institutes throughout the school year on current topics of interest in the field of education.

RBT publishes several books of interest to educators, focusing on teaching, supervision, and school culture.

View RBT Programs Summary

Macia Booth

Marcia Booth
Marcia’s experience spans over 20 years in education. She has worked with students and educators from elementary school through the university level as a teacher, curriculum developer, supervisor, and staff developer. Her initial consulting work was in the area of cooperative learning. More recently, her focus areas include working with teachers and administrators on improving instruction, engaging learners as cognitively active participants, cooperative learning, peer coaching, developing Data Coaches and high-performing Data Teams, and teaching adult learners.

Janice Burris

Janice Burres
Janice has worked in education as a classroom teacher and trainer and in the corporate world as a communication specialist for McKinsey, an international management consulting firm.  She trained teachers throughout the U.S. in cooperative learning and writing across the curriculum and trained and coached consultants around the world on their writing, presentation, facilitation, and interpersonal skills. She is particularly interested in helping teachers work collaboratively.

Ken chapman Kenneth Chapman
Ken has worked at the elementary, middle, high school, and college levels and has been both an assistant principal and principal.  He is the lead facilitator of the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals’ Association Principal Certification Program. Ken’s particular interests include developing effective leaders and high-performing teams, supporting administrators dealing with ineffective teachers and difficult school cultures, and managing change.He was a member of the National Association of Elementary School Principlas' task force that revised Proficiencies for Principals (1991).  His particular interests include leadership, change, and group decision-making. Ken has 36 years in education.
Laura Cooper Laura Cooper
Laura Cooper has worked as a teacher and administrator in urban and suburban districts in Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois. She helped create the Minority Student Achievement Network, a network of districts committed to eliminating achievement gaps between white students and students of color. She serves on the Leadership Team of Strategic Education Research Partnership that brings together researchers and practitioners to address problems of practice.  Laura has presented at numerous national education conferences and has written for educational publications. Her work focuses on addressing inequities in student achievement by improving teacher preparation for working with diverse groups of students, by changing school cultures, and by building partnerships between researchers and practitioners.
Renee DeWald

Renee DeWald
Renee has over 35 years of experience as a high school teacher and staff developer. She has designed and coordinated school-wide professional development program, including an induction program, has served as an instructional coach and an in-district facilitator of Studying Skillful Teaching. Her passions include applying the research on teacher and student beliefs, creating strong classroom cultures, and differentiating instruction.

Karen Falkenberg

Karen Falkenberg
Karen has been an educator for 25 years with experiences that include: teaching at the high school level, leading and contributing to large and small education programs and projects, and designing and leading professional learning for over a thousand educators. She has worked as a faculty member at a university teaching undergraduates and graduate students and directs an award winning summer learning program for middle school aged youth. Karen's focus areas include developing Data Coaches and high-performing Data Teams, using data to enhance student learning and impact school culture, science education, classroom management, instructional coaching, and supporting new and pre-service teachers. She conducts education research examining how mentoring and a sense of community impacts a student's self concept, peer efficacy, and sense of belonging in a learning environment.  

Mary Ann Haley-Speca Mary Ann Haley-Speca
Mary Ann has served as a K-12 teacher, program director, staff developer, curriculum coordinator, and coach/supervisor to teachers and administrators throughout the United States, in Europe, and in Asia. Her consulting work has focused on developing instructional expertise, mentoring new teachers, instructional leadership and supervision skills, standards-based instruction, teaching in a block schedule, and developing thinking capacities in students and adults. She is co-author of Activators (1993), Summarizers, (1993), and The Skillful Teacher (2008).
Judy Duffield Sue McGregor
Sue worked in Montgomery County, Maryland as a special and general education teacher in grades K-12, a staff developer, curriculum writer, instructional specialist, and administrator.  She has also been an instructor at the college level and has presented at local, state, and national conventions.  Her particular interests include critical thinking, questioning practices, curriculum and instruction, and assessment.
Andy Platt Alexander Platt
Andy taught grades K-12 science and mathematics in public, private, and international schools and served as an assistant superintendent for curriculum.  He has taught long-term supervision and evaluation courses to over two thousand administrators in the U.S., Europe, and Japan and has presented at Richard Elmore’s Harvard Institute for School Leaders. He is a regular presenter at the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA).  His consulting work focuses on coaching principals in urban schools in how to raise the quality of instruction through supervision. Andy is lead author of The Skillful Leader: Confronting Mediocre Teaching (2000) and co-lead author of The Skillful Leader II: Confronting Conditions That Undermine Learning (2008).
Laura Porter Laura Porter
Laura has broad experience as a K-8 classroom teacher, staff developer, curriculum designer, mentor, peer coach, and facilitator of inclusion practices for students with special needs.  Her professional interests include building responsive classrooms that address differentiating instruction, building classroom teacher leadership, and strengthening professional learning communities that focus on rigorous and meaningful learning.
Deb Reed
Deb is an educational consultant  working with school systems throughout North America and in Central America, where she offers courses and institutes, coaches and consults with teachers and administrators on topics such as; standards-based instruction, curriculum development, developing instructional expertise, alternative certification programs for teachers, organizational development and school culture, leadership, supervision skills, mentoring new teachers, teaching in a  block schedule, co-teaching, managing inclusion classrooms, and differentiated instruction.  Deb has over 30 years in education.
Harriet Scarborough Harriet Scarborough
Harriet has over 30 years experience as a K-college educator in the United States and Central America and has served as a literacy specialist, senior academic officer for curriculum, instruction, and professional development, and as an adjunct assistant professor.   A former English teacher, she has trained teachers in many areas including language acquisition strategies, standards-based instruction, Reading Apprenticeship© principles, and collaborative practices, and has been a frequent presenter at state and national conferences.  Her publications include Writing across the Curriculum in Secondary Classrooms: Teaching from a Diverse Perspective and numerous articles for professional journals.  Harriet is particularly interested in leadership development, collaborative practice, adolescent literacy, tiered intervention, and intercultural proficiency.
Ruth Sernak Ruth Sernak
Ruth worked in Montgomery County, Maryland, as a middle and high school teacher, staff developer, curriculum developer, administrator, and Johns Hopkins University graduate-level instructor for effective teaching.  She also served as president of the Maryland Council of Staff Developers for three years.  Her particular areas of interest include team building, promoting creative and critical thinking, accommodating different learning styles, and strengthening conference skills. She enjoys working with educators to create professional growth systems that promote professional learning communities, build and support teacher leaders, and increase effective teaching strategies.  Ruth has 40 years in education.
Kathy Spencer Kathleen Spencer
Kathy has worked in education as a teacher, curriculum developer, assistant principal, and principal. In 1993 she was one of 12 Kennedy Library teachers of the year. She has also served as a Commissioner for the New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. Kathy’s areas of interest include curriculum mapping, unit design, meeting standards for accreditation, supervision and evaluation, mentoring, and developing professional learning communities.  Kathy has 35 years in education.
Ann Stern Ann Stern
Ann has worked as a middle and high school teacher, a curriculum specialist and staff developer for K-8 teachers, a coach for middle and high school English teachers, a project manager for education reform, and an undergraduate and graduate lecturer.  In addition to teaching courses on effective teaching, she has conducted workshops and seminars on explicit instruction of thinking skills, questioning, and formative assessment.  Her particular interests include urban education, cultural proficiency and minority achievement, and new teacher coaching and induction.  Ann has over 30 years in education.
Caroline Switch

Caroline Tripp
Caroline has been a teacher, director of a Title IV program for gifted and talented, an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, a faculty member for the Boston Principal Fellows Program, and a lecturer for the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Her consulting work has included instructional and teacher leadership development, teaching in standards-based classrooms, curriculum planning, design and implementation of supervision and evaluation systems, and understanding and steering systemic change.  She is a co-author of The Skillful Leader: Confronting Mediocre Teaching (2000) and The Skillful Leader II: Confronting Conditions That Undermine Learning (2008). Caroline has 40 years in education. 

James Warnock James Warnock
Jim has served in public education as a teacher, staff developer, high school principal, and assistant superintendent.  He directs the Sino-American Seminar on Educational Leadership for the University of Vermont’s Asian Studies Outreach Program and has traveled and worked extensively throughout China. Jim’s particular areas of interest include instructional leadership, improving classroom instruction, teacher hiring and induction, and supervision and evaluation. He is a co-author of The Skillful Leader II: Confronting Conditions That Undermine Learning (2008).
Aminata Umoja Aminata Umoja
Aminata has been a classroom teacher and professional developer in urban school districts for over 30 years. She has also
served as a Model Teacher Leader and is the founder and director of a home school tutorial project. Aminata’s areas of
focus include developing Data Coaches and high-performing Data Teams, helping struggling readers achieve success,
equity, culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogy, differentiated instruction, transforming schools into professional
learning communities, and inquiry science for elementary and middle school students.
Tracy Wright Tracy L. Wright
Tracy served the children of the District of Columbia for over a decade as a teacher, social worker, assistant principal, principal, and mentor principal for new and aspiring administrators within the system.  Recognized for her success in working with children and families in poverty, she was appointed to lead the administrative teams of two schools that were restructured because of low student achievement, hostile school-community relationships, and challenged school climates.  As an adjunct professor at Trinity University and a mentor principal at New Leaders for New Schools, she has led the charge of improving urban education.  Tracy has 15 years in education.

Marion Text


Carole Fiorentino

Office Manager

Joanne Krepelka

Assistant Director Client Services

Cyndi Pennoyer

Director of Finance


Kathy Robinson

Online Content Manager


Ivy Schutt

Curriculum and Resource Manager

Gail Vettrus

Publications and
Accounts Manager

Rebecca Vettrus

Office Assistant


Nancy LoveNancy Love
RBT’s Director of Program Development, Nancy is a leading expert in school data use and professional development. She has worked with schools across the country to develop Data Coaches and high-performing Data Teams and to put research about effective professional development into practice. As former Director of the National Science Foundation-funded Using Data Project, Nancy led the design and implementation of a comprehensive professional development program to improve teaching and learning through collaborative uses of school data. Participating schools significantly increased student achievement, teacher collaboration, and uses of data to improve instruction.

Nancy has authored, co-authored, and edited several books and articles, including bestsellers The Data Coach’s Guide to Improving Learning for All Students: Unleashing the Power of Collaborative Inquiry with K. E. Stiles, S. Mundry, and K. DiRanna (2008) and Using Data to Improve Learning for All: A Collaborative Inquiry Approach (2009). Her most recent book is Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics, 3rd edition(2010) with S. Loucks-Horsley, K. E. Stiles, S. Mundry, and P. W. Hewson.A dynamic and engaging presenter, Nancy is in demand as a motivational keynote speaker and workshop leader. In 2006, she was awarded the Susan Loucks-Horsley Award from the National Staff Development Council in recognition of her significant national contribution to the field of staff development and to the efficacy of educators.

Jon SaphierJon Saphier
Dr Saphier is the Founder and President of Research for Better Teaching, Inc., an educational consulting organization in Acton, Massachusetts that is dedicated to the professionalization of teaching and leadership. Since 1979, he and his RBT colleagues have taught in-depth professional development programs centered on the knowledge base on teaching to educators throughout the United States and internationally.

In 2001, Dr. Saphier was appointed a panel member for the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to study the best methods for transferring well-established educational research knowledge to classroom practice.

He is much in demand for inspirational keynotes and conference presentations across the country. Sloan-Kettering’s annual IDEA Institutes voted him “Best of the Best” for their first 25-year history. In recent years he has led large-scale district improvement projects forging working alliances between superintendents, union leaders, and school boards. 

Dr. Saphier is an author and co-author of eight books, including The Skillful Teacher, now in its 6th edition. The Skillful Teacher has sold over a quarter of a million copies and is used in degree programs in more than 175 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Other publications include: How to Make Supervision and Evaluation Really Work, How to Bring Vision to School Improvement, How to Make Decisions that Stay Made; and John Adams’  Promise. In 2005 he published a chapter entitled Masters of Motivation which was featured in On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities, edited by Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, and Rebecca DuFour.

Sandra SpoonerSandra Spooner, Ph.D.
The professional career of Sandra Spooner, the Executive Director and Director of Client Services of Research for Better Teaching, Inc., of Acton, Massachusetts, spans more than 35 years and includes teaching grades K-12 and at the college level, as well as school and district leadership in culturally diverse educational settings in the United States and Europe. Her professional background includes expertise in reading and language arts, English as a Second Language, and leadership. While serving as Assistant Director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Title I Program, the school department received an award from the U.S. Department of Education’s (USDOE) Outstanding Compensatory Education Program, based on statistically significant improvement in student performance and successful parent involvement programs.

As Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in the Cambridge (MA) Public Schools, Dr. Spooner forged partnerships with city hall, community agencies, and businesses to provide integrated services to students and their families. She also created an Office of Grants Development and Program Assessment, which brought much-needed funding to the school district for innovative projects that still serve teachers and students in the Cambridge Public Schools. In 2004, she was awarded a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

In her role at Research for Better Teaching,  Dr. Spooner is “first responder” to client requests, assisting, as needed, in the design of professional development programs and coordinating requests based on consultant availability and expertise.

One Acton Place (526 main Street)
Acton, MA 01720
978-263-9449 – www.RBTeach.com

From the East (via Route 2A)

Take Route 2 West to the prison rotary in Concord, MA.
As you enter the prison rotary, take the second right onto Route 2A West (sign reads Route 2A/119 Littleton/Groton).
In approximately 3 miles, go left onto Route 27 South at four-way intersection and traffic light. (See gas stations on right and left.)
Follow Route 27 for 0.8 miles.
At the first set of lights, make a right, at the 3-story office building with the Robb Report sign. Proceed to the upper, back parking lot and enter the Conference Center at the rear of the building.

From the East (via Route 2)

Take Route 2 West to the prison rotary in Concord, MA.
As you enter the prison rotary, take the third right onto Route 2 West (sign reads Harvard /Ayer). You will see an EXXON station to your right as you enter Route 2 West.
Follow Route 2 West for approximately 2.6 miles.
Take Exit 42 off Route 2 (sign reads Acton/Maynard).
At the end of the ramp, go right toward North Acton/Route 27 North.
Follow Route 27 North for 1.3 miles.
At the set of lights, make a left at the 3-story office building. Proceed to the upper, back parking lot and enter the Conference Center at the rear of the building.

From the WEST (via Route 2)

Take Route 495 to Exit 29A East (sign reads Route 2 to Boston).
Follow Route 2 East to Exit 42 (sign reads Maynard/Acton).
At the end of the exit ramp, go left onto Route 27 North.
Follow Route 27 for 1.5 miles.
At the set of lights, make a left, at the 3-story office building. Proceed to the upper, back parking lot and enter the Conference Center at the rear of the building.

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