Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are you a Great Teacher?

This was post was inspired by Patrick Higgins who earlier wrote about Ben Wilkoff’s Academy of Discovery Wiki, and he attributes it to the folks as Science Leadership Academy, and he belives it is something everyone involved in education should examine.

Let’s take a look at some of the words that are used to describe an “Educational Hero” in this picture:

Provocative: the first on the list, and for good reason. What is someone in education if not provocative. By nature, information is meant to incite in us something that lay dormant or underutilized. Giving our students access to such provocation is an act that we need to do often.

Risk-Takers: We teach our students to take compositional risks, to make cognitive leaps, and to attempt to connect several disparate ideas into one usable and coherent whole. Why should we as teachers not be doing the same? By nature, our approach should be daring, and variable based on “teachable moments.”

Balance-Freedom-Guidance: I like the inclusion of these words, and of “nurturing,” because if nothing else, our students need to feel valuable and safe before they can take the risks that they need to. These words, these actions are what makes it easier for learners to reach from the solid ground of what they know towards that which is shaky, unknown, yet incredibly valuable.

Humble: When I work with teachers who are trying to shift away from being the sole arbiters of information in the classroom, I always stress humility over the stress of trying to know everything. Being grounded, centered and comfortable with the idea that you do not have all the answers, and that these students can help you continue to learn, makes it all beautiful, doesn’t it?
Want to be like them: Perhaps the highest compliment anyone in education can receive. With the omnipresent stream of role models of ill-repute, being someone that learners want to be “when they grow up” is no small feat. I remember the moments that some of my past teachers did something amazing, showed us a door that we didn’t know existed, and then thinking back to it years later as I was doing the same thing to a group of students. It is high praise indeed.

As we are all going through our first part of school, I ask each and every one of you.....Do you see youself acting on all of these traits on a daily basis? School life is not easy, and anyone who says it is, is probably not doing it right. However, I challenge you to try to take this task on for one day a week. Then when you can, take it a step further and do 2 days a weeks. The goal ofcourse is being actively involved in each of these components on a daily basis. If you notice that you are simply "going through the motions" try to do your best to come up with a new way of getting your activity done that you haven't tried before. Let me know what your thoughts are on this topic......


martin said...

Let me first say that as a fellow educator, i think that there are so many teachers out there who are our unsung heroes and many of those atributes that you mention such as Balance-Freedom-Guidance and humility are certainly virtues worth striving for.

However, I question some of these attributes like "Provocative". These characteristics are great if we want our teachers to be like those teachers in the Hollywood movies, but we don't have to be, and shouldn't feel as if we have to be. For example, although, I wholeheartedly agree that "By nature, information is meant to incite in us something that lay dormant or underutilized.". The verbs and actions that describe this are: to make manifest, to nurture, to animate, to inspire, and possibly even to transform. I do not believe that it is necessary to make our teachers feel that they have to be provocative to acheive this goal.

I have simlar thoughts on the risk-taker attribute. I agree that 'our approach shoud be... based on teachable moments', but that does not necessarlily require us to be daring. Thoughtfully and imaginativley creative would achieve this.

We all love the movies like Coach Carter, Dead Poets Society, etc, but what we love even more are the teachers who actually go into the classrooms everyday without clebrity status and teach our kids.

UltimateTeacher said...

That's a good point you made. Provocative does have an implication of a something greater than what we can normally achieve. Yet I believe, that being provocative, can simply be having a great hook, or lead when you are introducing a new unit of study. Being able to engage and grab your students with a thought provoking question is more than enough to fullfill this characteristic.

Being a risk taker, could be seen as simply encouraging your students to take risks in their work. To not be afraid of getting a wrong answer, and to simply encourage multiple ways of getting an answer.

I think by looking at these traits from this angle, you'll see that it's really not that hard, and probably something that you might already be doing in your classroom.

Patrick Higgins said...


I see your point about the verbage; however, when I originally wrote this I was looking at how to break cycles that were occurring in the classrooms I was visiting. What I mean by risk-taker is someone who is modeling, for lack of a better term, the scientific process of failure. We need to model the idea that our ideas don't always work. At the time I wrote this I was working with teachers helping them integrate technology into their lesson design and there was an overwhelming fear of failing in front of the students, or having a student know more about the technology than the teacher.

I think we need to get past that for the sake of modeling fear of failure. In no way was I advocating irreverence by teachers, merely the fact that our students need to see us as engaged in the same learning processes as themselves.

martin said...

@Patrick Higgins

Well i must say that I am impressed that you have personally responded to this thread, even though it is not on your own site ;)

What you and ultimateteacher are saying is quite valid and paints a clearer context of these particular attributes in a more constructive way.

I wholeheartedly agree that the idea of 'risk-taker' as being someone who actively tries new things himself/herself or at the very least encourages their students to try new things without the fear of failure crippling them is certainly something that any learning environment must actively and passionately nurture.

UltimateTeacher said...

Great points. It's great to have dialogue about these kinds of topics.

Thanks for clarifying that. I enjoyed your blog, and I'm looking forward to checking on it on a regualar basis.