As 2015 comes to a close, I have been reflecting on the amazing opportunities I’ve had over the past few years to work closely with different teachers around the world helping them get better at what they do. In particular, I feel tremendously blessed to have had the chance to do this on a full-time basis during the last 6 months. Diving into my consulting role head first this past August has been an eye opening experience that’s been hugely rewarding from a professional point of view, but from a personal perspective has allowed me to connect with and get to know some wonderful people during this time.
As I grapple with what great teaching means and the change making potential that each educator possesses, the defining factors that makes teachers great at what they do is becoming more clear to me. There are distinctly unique differences between teachers that ultimately assists in separating the average and good from the great. And even the great teachers ride roller coasters of mediocrity at times when challenged by circumstances beyond their control but the major difference is their ability to look at the world and their teaching as if it were a renewable resource. There is nothing finite about great teaching.
Translating the definition of ‘finite’ over to our teaching carries with it significant meaning as it helps us to see that many teachers look at our profession as if it were a finite resource. However, excellence in teaching is dependent upon a certain mindset that reveals itself in multiple ways on a consistent basis regardless of how long someone has been in the profession.
1) An Infinite Desire to Learn More
Great teachers do not feel threatened when they do not know all of the answers. They openly admit things that they do not know and ask for help when needed. They are the first ones to work together with students to find out the answers to questions that both of them have.
Great teachers are the ones in staff meetings who ask more questions about what they don’t know rather than provide long winded explanations of the way things should be. They seek to learn from their colleagues and place themselves on a level playing field in and amongst their peers.
Without question, the very best teachers ‘know their stuff’ and the content of their subject area but the main reason for this is their infinite desire to learn, grow, and find out the answers to questions that they have about how and what they teach.
2) An Infinite Desire to Choose the Right Words at the Right Time
Great teachers constantly think about how they phrase questions and the words that they choose to use when interacting with their students. The ability to do this is directly dependent upon the relationships formed with their students and it’s truly knowing their students that allows them to do this.
Great teachers take the time necessary to think about how to respond best instead of reacting emotionally, especially in charged up, intense situations that arise in their day-to-day classroom experiences.
Does this mean that great teachers do not feel anger and frustration at times? Absolutely not as these are basic human emotions that every person experiences. However, they employ mindful strategies that allow them to deal with these emotions in a more positive way when dealing with students and to say ‘sorry’ when they know that they could’ve handled certain situations in a better way.
3) An Infinite Ability to Change Things Up
Great teachers can quickly assess when their lessons are not meeting the intended goals that they had set out to achieve. They know not to personalize this and beat themselves up over it, but to spontaneously determine how best to move forward in hopes of regaining control of the ship to ensure that learning stays on track.
This infinite ability to change things up also means simplifying their teaching at times, especially in a day and age when technology is taking over every aspect of life as an educator. Great teachers choose to integrate technology when it’s best for student learning.
4) An Infinite Capacity to Look at the Big Picture of Teaching
Great teachers never lose sight of the fact that they have potential to change lives forever. A good friend of mine, Ross Halliday, lives and breathes his personal mission statement in teaching on a daily basis. As Ross says, ‘We are not teaching with only the next 60 minutes in mind, but the next 60 years’. Ross has moved from teaching over to administration but still carries the belief and philosophy that we should be teaching with a much longer goal in mind.
Great teachers know that their actions can make or break students and that their teaching is not confined within the walls of their classrooms. They are not content driven but motivated more by knowing that what and how they teach will have a long lasting impact on the students who they are blessed with teaching on a daily basis. They never lose sight of the fact that even the simplest of words can have the most profound impact on those who they teach.
5) An Infinite Understanding of the Importance of Connection
Great teachers are willing to devote the time and energy to get to know each and every one of their students. They understand the power of connection and take the time necessary to connect on a deeper level with those who they teach. They respect each student’s introverted or extraverted tendencies and know how to respond accordingly. Even introverted students need connection, but within boundaries and a pace that they can handle. Great teachers pick up on this and connect in their own special way to these types of students.
The infinite soul of a great teacher is not dependent upon years of experience but is better correlated with a certain mindset that teachers bring with them as they journey through their careers. Striving to be the best teacher you can be means that you try your best to learn more, choose your words carefully, change things up, and consistently look at the big picture. This to me defines a great teacher as well as a great leader.
May 2016 bring you the very best as you endeavour to be the best educator you can be.
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.