What We Can Learn From Successful Teachers:
The teachers I admire most are those who remain intellectually curious and professionally vital both inside and outside the classroom for decades. They avoid stagnation at all costs and maintain an enviable passion for children and the learning process. They remain vivid in the students' memories forever because of their creativity, sense of fun, and compassion.
Here are the qualities I feel contribute most to a successful, durable, and happy teaching career:
1. Successful teachers hold high expectations:
The most effective teachers expect great accomplishments from their students, and they don't accept anything less. In education, expectations form a self-fulfilling prophecy. When teachers believe each and every student can soar beyond any imagined limits, the children will sense that confidence and work with the teacher to make it happen.
2. They think creatively:
The best teachers think outside the box, outside the classroom, and outside the norm. They leap outside of the classroom walls and take their students with them! As much as possible, top teachers try to make classroom experiences exciting and memorable for the students. They seek ways to give their students a real world application for knowledge, taking learning to the next action-packed level. Think tactile, unexpected, movement-oriented, and a little bit crazy... then you'll be on the right track.
3. Top teachers are versatile and sensitive:
The best teachers live outside of their own needs and remain sensitive to the needs of others, including students, parents, colleagues, and the community. It's challenging because each individual needs something different, but the most successful teachers are a special breed who play a multitude of different roles in a given day with fluidity and grace, while remaining true to themselves.
4. They are curious, confident, and evolving:
We're all familiar with the stagnant, cynical, low-energy teachers who seem to be biding their time until retirement and watching the clock even more intently than their students. That's what NOT to do.
In contrast, the teachers I most admire renew their energy by learning new ideas from younger teachers, and they aren't threatened by new ways of doing things on campus. They have strong core principles, but somehow still evolve with changing times. They embrace new technologies and confidently move forward into the future.
5. They are imperfectly human:
The most effective educators bring their entire selves to the job. They celebrate student successes, show compassion for struggling parents, tell stories from their own lives, laugh at their mistakes, share their unique quirks, and aren't afraid to be imperfectly human in front of their students.
They understand that teachers don't just deliver curriculum, but rather the best teachers are inspiring leaders that show students how should behave in all areas of life and in all types of situations. Top teachers admit it when they don't know the answer. They apologize when necessary and treat students with respect.
6. Successful teachers emphasize the fun in learning and in life:
The teachers I admire most create lighthearted fun out of serious learning. They aren't afraid to be silly because they can snap the students back into attention at will - with just a stern look or a change in tone of voice.
I often think of Disney Teacher of the Year Ron Clark who made one of his Essential 55 rules be "Do not bring Doritos into the school building" simply because he hated Doritos himself! This irreverent rule (sneaked in amongst the more important class rules) shows a silly, human side of the teacher while modeling for the students that we can have fun while we get work done.
For those of us aiming to increase these qualities in our professional lives, it can be intimidating to think that we have to do everything all at once. Instead, I recommend choosing one of these qualities to focus on each school year and expand your repertoire slowly but surely. Even the most successful teachers have to start somewhere!