Good teachers teach the subject matter and they do it well. They know their academic area thoroughly. Their lesson plans are well thought out and hopefully creative. They are experts in their field. There are studies that prove that the best way to improve test scores is to thoroughly educate our teachers – to provide them with a deeper understanding of their subject matter. They then can pass this academic excellence along to their students.
I thoroughly agree with this strategy. BUT…if you want to become something beyond a good teacher I think there is so much more than academic excellence required. Great teachers don’t just teach academics, they teach people. The student precedes the subject matter. Great teachers don’t just teach an academic field. They must teach many things beyond the text. They teach concepts that help students live a life full of successes that they learn to create through experiences and activities that begin in the classroom.
The truth is I’ve written a whole book about this and it’s not easy to describe briefly. Also,even as I write this I can hear many good teachers saying,
I don’t have time for anything other than the academics!
I can’t cover all the material even now.
How can I add more?
And technically they are right. We don’t have extra time for unimportant concepts. But what I’m describing is important and effective teachers will realize it and integrate it into their lessons. Great teachers will custom braid success strategies throughout all of their teaching. weaving them over and under the academics they cover, strengthening their students’ learning path into a cord with triple the strength of mere facts.
We have to be honest and admit that we don’t know the world our students will be facing. Changes in our country within the past decade have resonated that message. We must prepare our students for an economy we can’t even predict. They will change not just jobs but careers. We must teach them entrepreneurial skills, creativity, perseverance, problem solving, and how to set goals and adapt when the ground under their feet begins shifting in a new direction.
Six Tips for Getting Started
- Read orally to students no matter what their age. We do this when they are young, but we give it up when they need it most. By carefully selecting short oral readings you can engage their minds using words from the greatest inventors, entrepreneurs, leaders, thinkers, and doers. You can expose them to the best advice given by the greatest minds in less than 5 minutes per day. Carefully choose, then read a 2-3 minute selection. Then have them orally reflect. Cap the reading and discussion with a challenge to apply it to their lives immediately. Check back on the results.
- Model initiative by talking about ways you are trying to improve your life. Talk about personal goals and share your progress toward a goal. List the steps toward your goal and check off progress as they watch. Challenge them to do the same. Have them identify a goal, write it down, list their steps and check off progress as a classroom challenge. Support one another. You must walk your talk on this one or it will have no impact. As teachers we are FIRST role models.
- But also share your failures with students. I don’t mean to air dirty laundry that is inappropriate for students, but I DO mean to reveal a time in your life you have faced a failure. This is uncomfortable for adults. We want our students and children to think of us as a success. They need to know we have faced failures and survived. If they never hear that, when they face failures in their future (and they will) they will feel like losers. They need to know we faced failures, what we learned from those failures and how we persevered. How much did it hurt? How did you recover? Is there success after defeat? What got you through it? Tell them. This is a life skill they need.
- When you reveal your vulnerabilities, as a side benefit, they will be more apt to approach you when they have an issue they need to discuss with someone. When this happens, don’t over react. No matter how large or shocking their problem, initially you must under react. If you over react, they won’t approach you again. They may never again approach anyone with a situation they need to discuss. This is a time for problem solving with them.
- Verbalize a student’s strengths at every opportunity. Always look for talents and verbalize them whenever you notice them. Young people often undervalue their skills. If they are good at something, they may think everyone does that well. It’s no big deal in their mind. They often FIRST see their future careers and successes through the eyes of someone else whose opinions they value. My grandson had to write a sample college essay in high school listing and describing his strengths. Once he described his athletic skills he stopped. More slowly he knew he had a sense of humor and admitted some leadership skills. But what he didn’t know was his greatest strength. He has a wonderful talent for making other people feel valued. When I told him this he said, “What do you mean?” I give him a dozen examples. It was a revelation for him. Why had I not pointed that out to him yet? Shame on me. He didn’t even know he had this unique and valuable skill. He will never forget this conversation. I’m sure of it.
- Choose activities and readings that make students aware of their self talk. The truth is we say more hurtful words to ourselves than any bully has ever directed at us. But usually students are unaware that they do this to themselves until you make them aware of it. I have my students carry a small notebook and record the internal messages they give themselves for a week. I share mine too! I think it is important to participate in the activities you assign your students. We have to take it further. We have to turn it around and replace it with positive self talk. I attended a small high school with a graduating class of only 81 students. Mike was a student in that class. He was not the valedictorian nor the salutatorian in a class of only 81. And yet he has made a huge success of his life (more about that in my book). Do you know what his self talk is? He was embarrassed to admit this and he says he NEVER says it out loud, but he continually says to himself internally, “Somebody has to be first. Why not me?”
I’m passionate about this topic and hate to stop here.
But I know if this post gets any longer, no one will want to read it at all. My book describes 100+ such strategies. I think the greatest gifts we give our students are the ones that go beyond the text books. I’m a career teacher and I’m sure of it. I belive great teachers TEACH…To Change Lives.
TEACH…To Change Lives
Available at Amazon.com