Lessons Learned ~ The Art of Educating
Let’s consider the characteristics, which can be thought of as teaching synonyms, of our ‘best’ teachers. It is an important exercise because teacher characteristics are essential indicators of student success. What characteristics do we know teachers should possess that translate to student success? Or, if doctors could prescribe teacher characteristics to ensure well-adjusted students, what might those teachers be like? What is a teaching synonym? What’s the prescription for creating classrooms filled with eager learners who will be productive members of this fast-changing world?
Indicators of Student Success
Students of the 21st century must question, solve problems, they should be able to work on projects (often in collaboration), and we want them to find passion and dream of a better future. We might place these character traits under an umbrella called self-empowerment. Educators play a vital role in forming success for our youth. Success is found in teacher characteristics. First, teachers must possess knowledge of pedagogy. But that’s knowledge, not a character trait.
Perhaps the greatest gift the educator can bestow—or, develop in students—is to advocate in all they do toward building self-empowered learners, kids flexible in their responses to change. This takes time as well as patience, but developing self-empowerment and flexibility in youth depends on educators equipped with important qualities. Effective educator character traits might surprise you.
We know that relationships are built on trust. Students must trust that their teachers respect them, that teachers respect each other, and—above all—teachers are inspired by the job they’ve chosen. These are affective characteristics, and they tend to be observable by others. Relationship building lies upon foundations of caring, kindness, motivations, and honesty. This is communicated to students in actions and it’s even articulated in voice. Educators speak from humility in a manner reflecting devotion to others.
Desiring to learn others’ perspectives helps teachers form their own visions, and the best teachers’ visions involve elevating others’ successes. In the classroom, we see this in acts of questioning over telling. It is further observed in being patient because respect does not come quickly, and the impatient teacher will sow student outcomes of frustration and feelings of inadequacy.
This is not to say that the educator doesn’t allow a student to fail. Instances of failure are learning opportunities. We have all failed in some manner. The patient and respectful teacher will admit obvious failings: “Guys, I forgot the equipment, I’m sorry, and I’ll pack it in the car as soon as I get home.” Such is a moment of building trust and building relationships.
Relationships expand from the classroom, as all trusting teachers soon learn, when during meetings with family members, that teacher’s words are related back by smiling parents, and in voice and manner oddly sounding like the teacher’s own.
One cannot cite relationships without discussing approachability. The manner in which family members approach the educator are noticeably reflective of students’ relationships with their teachers. Families expressly know teachers’ values through student-instructor interpersonal relationships; they hear those values from their young. They understand, too, that despite circumstances, the relationship-building teacher will always work to elevate those with whom s/he works, it is obvious in all acts and mannerisms of the educator. They will observe, too, that their young are blossoming: the positive relationships with teachers beget positive relationships with others. The result is happiness, a satisfaction with learning and being, and an anticipation to be in school to share the joy of learning, endeavoring to learn and know more, of course.
The inquisitive mind—always questioning, always wondering—is a learner for life. Lifelong learning is appropriate. It is a positive educator characteristic indeed. Why? An inquisitive mind translates to respect for learning, an excellent example for youth to see in their adult cohorts. Moreover, remember young children we have known, their penchant for questioning, forever questioning, is their initial learning mode.
Yet, we too often observe the questions diminish, almost as if the onset of mid-childhood brings closure; the children questioned, they found the answer (or did not), so be it. “We’re done.” Such logic was fine a century ago, perhaps, but it is essential now to instill a love of learning through inquisitiveness.
A lack of inquisitiveness inhibits learning, we know, but we live among innovators who insist we adapt to changing needs and new technologies. Some might feel secure in their work knowledge, skills, and abilities, but how might they adapt to having to learn new skills when change disrupts their security? They’ve not wondered for some time, there was no need. School was the time for learning, pondering is for philosophers, they assume.
The inquisitive teacher, though, exhibits the beauty of wonder, of pondering, of wanting to know, and the excitement of inquisitive minds, of examining what, how, and why extends learning within its most natural environment, the classroom. If a teacher asks the first-graders to name the weather, will teacher extend the learning to also ask how and why? The best educators will.
Preparation and Organizational Skills
Preparation and organization are essential within the busy classroom-learning environment. Anything less can make for frenzied frustration. Substitutes can spot prep and organization in a minute. The day’s work is laid out (often in a bucket), student seating is tidy (just don’t look inside desks), preferably as group configurations (best for collaborative work), counters and floors are free of piles. The importance here is that teachers must be able to access daily work and filed information quickly.
Imagine a lesson, a class studying erosion. Discussion leads to sand’s properties, and the teacher recalls an instructive poem (Sand, by Meish Goldish), but forgets its name. Therefore, he is unable to quickly search the Internet. But, poems can be systematically filed in a cabinet or on his computer. The organized teacher’s search produces the poem in seconds, and learning’s flow, like sand’s expected response to water, naturally continues.
Each day progresses with potential that teacher’s desk will be strewn with clutter. Here’s an easy rule the organized teacher practices: quickly go through the mess and determine its fate by choosing to either
Act on it
“Ta dah,” the work of learning continues.
Know the Students
Everyone learns in different ways; some students are spatial learners who struggle learning by words. Others possess mathematical minds and may also prefer to learn on their own, Howard Gardner theorized learning modalities in his theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Though people learn within a blend of various intelligences, teachers must attend to all the needs of all students.
There really isn’t a stereotypical learner; therefore, savvy educators adapt strategies that best meet all student needs. Doing this is possible, and here’s how. The teacher adapts learning experiences to meet the needs of all students. Teaching targets many learning styles and student needs as students move, discuss, sing, organize, work individually and in groups, express their learning in word, music, diagram or puzzle, movement, performance, and more.
But, are basic needs of sleep and nutrition being met? Meeting those needs takes inquiry and observation. It takes time. Knowing students’ physical needs and learning styles provides guidance and direction, and it’s a characteristic that leads to successful learning for all.
Persist with Passion in Subject(s)
There’s bound to be times when teachers realize that their notion of subject matter falls short. The well-intentioned preparation is askew; students do not understand and instructors struggle to make sense of what exactly it is they are meant to teach. This is a learning experience, and it’s actually a great opportunity to model learning.
It is difficult to thoroughly know a subject matter. A microscopic view of various routes the teacher takes to rectify a lack of knowledge is instructive.
A teacher might generalize their response, especially at the elementary level, because there are so many subjects and concepts that teachers need to know; how can they digest every concept in depth? It is unrealistic to expect teachers to know everything about every subject.
But here’s an opportunity that all teachers should embrace. Questioning one’s knowledge out loud lets students know that it is okay—even good—to want to know more. The teacher is poised here to question out loud, to demonstrate how we question, what types of questions lead to gaining more knowledge. The educator who models questioning techniques is an excellent example for students who learn decision-making that surrounds questioning activities.
We can make a good prognosis for our kids’ futures. Upon close observation, we see the problems of overcrowding and overburdening, but some hopeful signs exist for our kids’ learning. Simply observe the best teachers.
Doctors will tell you that looking into the eyes reveals much about the health of the patient. We need only peer into the eyes of students whose teachers possess outstanding pedagogical characteristics. What we’ll see is sparkle and excitement. We’ll see questioning eyes, purposeful eyes that reflect confidence.
And when we look into the eyes of the successful teacher, we will see questioning eyes, reflections of pondering, “How can I make learning better for my students?”