Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers

What Great Teachers Do Everyday


Dear Teacher,

So I have told you much about my new position as a teacher this year.  This post is not about that, but I currently work at my district’s science center as a STEM teacher.  In this job I get to come into contact with many of the students in the district and areas near by, but more than that I get to see many, many teachers in action with students.  I get to talk to them and find out how things are going and what is working for them.  This is one of my favorite things about my job.

Let me just say, I have been able to meet and interact with some great teachers.  Some really, really excellent teachers.  And I have been impressed and humbled by them.  I do not know if I was in the same league as some of them when I was still in the classroom.  Seriously.

They all have many different traits, but I have been able to observe some commonalities between them.  It seems like there is a “formula” to being a great teacher.  However, I do not know how much it can be learned versus natural ability and personality.  They are not the kind of things that fit on a lesson plan, but, even so, some things are worth practicing and trying!

Image Source: http://www.adoptaclassroom.org via http://www.facebook.com.

The number one thing that I noticed among the great teachers I have met is that they know each of their students and have individual ways of interacting with each.  I don’t know if this makes sense.  What I mean is that their way of talking with and helping each student seems to be differentiated to the personality of each student.  This does not come easy.  This means knowing each student as an individual and know how to bring the best out of each.  This is an amazing feat and trait.  There is a video being passed around Facebook of a basketball coach and his team that shows this better than I can explain.

I love this video.  I have probably watched it at least 20 times.  The time it took him to know his players and develop these handshakes was probably enormous, but the relationship building that happened was priceless.  This is the kind of individualizing and differentiation I see among the great teachers.  Not necessarily with handshakes, but with the way that they approach each student.

The second common trait of great teachers I have seen is a willingness to put students first, even over schedules and non-essential policies.  Great teachers see what students need and bend the rigidness of their structure (or schedule) to make sure that learning happens or needs are met.  This is hard to explain much further because it depends on the situation on what this means, but I can give an example.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

When I see classes of students, it is usually in the form of a field trip to the science center.  There is a pretty tight schedule between arrival, labs, lunch, and departure.  Most teachers try to stick to that schedule, and rightfully so.  However, some of the great teachers work around the schedule a bit when their students are on the edge of making some real connections with content or concepts.  Some teachers will sacrifice a few minutes of lunch or be willing to take the fall for making the bus wait for them for a few minutes.  They know that what the students are doing at the center is worthwhile, and they are willing to take flack for the sake of their kids.  And I am sure this applies to situations in their classrooms, as well.

The next thing that seems to be a commonality between great teachers is that they do not waste one teachable moment.  The greatest teachers always have a way of making learning happen everywhere.  No situation is without something to spark curiosity, review concepts, or teach about life in general.  Learning is a way of life for those teachers, and so is teaching.  And it happens in every moment of the day is some little way.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Great teachers also always make great strides in making sure that everything connects.  Just like learning happens everywhere for these teachers, learning is also connected to other things and never stands alone.  You have to make every minute count, and that means that students need to see that content and concepts are connected.  Math relates to science which relates to social studies which relates to ELA…or any combination of this…and all of it connects to students lives and the world at-large.  This come back to making every moment a teachable moment.  If there is a connection that can be made between things that students need to learn, great teachers make sure that they try to help their kids connect those dots.

Last, but definitely not least, great teachers all tend to make sure that students see the impossible as being possible.  I am not talking things that are physically impossible like putting on a cape and flying, but the things that students see as impossible that are actually quite possible.  Students that struggle in reading can be great readers.  Students who don’t know their multiplication facts yet can be great math students.  Students who see school as a place where they can’t live up to the expectation can survive, thrive, and love learning.  Great teachers help students see what is impossible to them as possible and help them do the work to make the impossible possible.  Great teachers help students past their failures and through the work it takes to be a success.  It takes time, effort, and determination, but these teachers stop at nothing to make it happen.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

There are many other aspects of great teachers and great teaching, but I think these five are very attainable by all of us.  Does it take hard work?  Yes.  Are we going to have to make decisions that are “off plan?”  Sure we will.  Will we take flack for the choices we make?  You better believe it.  Will it be worth it for the lives and futures of our students?  More than we will ever know!

So, as you write your lesson plans, remember the things that don’t quite fit on the plans.  The needs, personalities, and futures of your students.  Remember what comes first.  Don’t be afraid to leave the lesson plans and fly without a net from time to time.  It’s what great teachers do…and I have a feeling you are one of those great teachers!  Do remember, though, that the impact you make by doing these things may not be something you see for quite a while…but you will be making a lasting impact.

DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2016 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

You are an amazing teacher!  I know that you put students first.  Know that this is what makes you a great teacher!  Keep doing what you do and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

PS… A quick update.  After I wrote this yesterday, I saw this video posted on Facebook.  This is a great teacher.  She gets it.  Students are more than can be measured (especially measured by a test and a formula of how much computer time they “need”).  She is a great teacher…we can talk later about how so many of the great teachers seem on the verge of giving up.

Posted in #HowToTeacher Rules, Note to Teachers, Pep Talk, Perseverance

#HowToTeacher Rule 2: Every Learner Can Learn


Dear Teacher,

Yesterday, I presented the idea of the #HowToTeacher Rules and gave you Rule 1 (if you haven’t read it, go there first…this post will make more sense if you do).  I feel like that rule is key to being a great teacher.  All other things that great teachers believe and do stem from the passion for teaching and learning.  Rule 2 is tied very closely to the first, but it focuses on who you teach.  These two rules are the key to all of the others!

You know what?  Maybe I should tell you what Rule 2 is before I talk about how great it is.  🙂  Let me do that now.

#HowToTeacher Rule 2: Great teachers believe firmly that ALL students can learn and they act on those beliefs.

Great teachers believe firmly that ALL students can learn an they act on those beliefs.  This is just something that is in the DNA of great teachers.  There does not seem to be any challenge too big for them.  They are relentless in the idea that every student in their classroom can learn.  It seems like they have a million tools in their bag of teacher tricks to try.  Nothing that students can throw at them will change their minds that every student can learn.

Students with IEPs?

No problem.  They have been to trainings, talked to other teachers, and read strategies for this just for fun.

ESOL students that have little to no English?

Great teachers have workbooks, translators, and are even learning the language the best that they can (almost enough to almost enough to say a couple of things to parents during conferences).

Class with five ADHD poster children all at once?

Multiple seating options, standing desks, a focus corner, and lots and lots of back-up activities for different learning styles.

Apathetic students?

They don’t know who they are messing with.  “I can’t” or “I won’t” are not words that great teachers understand.  They will find a way to reach those students (or die trying)!

I could go on and on, but you get where I am going here.  Great teachers are not stumped by students with difficult situations or difficult students.  Their belief in the ability of every student to learn trumps the challenges to make that happen.  They live for the teaching and learning process (Rule 1), and they will not accept that anyone is not able to be a part of that process.

You know the teachers like this.  They make other teachers frustrated with their refusal to think that any student student can not learn at the same level (with scaffolding) as the others.  These teachers make the other teachers want to try harder and find a way to reach each and every student.  They are relentlessly relentless!

This is the key to great teaching.  You must not only believe that this is true, but you have to act like you believe it.  Never give up on a student.  Never stop finding ways to reach them.  There is some way for each student to learn and you will find it!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

How to find paths for each student will be covered in other #HowToTeacher Rules, but the belief that every student can learn has to got to come first!

I know you are one of the never-give-up teachers!  You are one of the amazing ones that won’t take “I can’t” for an answer!  I applaud you for that.  You are an awesome teacher!  Thank you for all that you do to reach your students!  Never stop!  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

 

 

Posted in #HowToTeacher Rules

#HowToTeacher Rule 1: Passion for Teaching & Learning


Dear Teacher,

Throughout my time in the classroom, I made great efforts to meet, talk to, and observe as many teachers as I can.  In my role now as a STEM teacher at a Science Center, I see teachers with their classes everyday.  Through the process of observing and talking to teachers, I have been able to come into contact with some of the greatest teachers…and there are definitely some commonalities and trends among them.

I have decided to try and put words to what I have seen and experienced when it comes to great teaching, and I am calling these observations the “#HowToTeacher Rules.”  Take them for what they are worth.  🙂  With this post I would like to present Rule 1:

#HowToTeacher Rule 1: Great teachers are passionate about the teaching and learning process.

Great teachers know that the journey of learning is more important than the destination of specific content.  How students learn how to learn on their own is of the highest priority.  No matter what the system says, great teachers (like you) make this rule one each and every year and day!

image

If you are reading this, something tells me you agree with this rule.  You are one of those great and amazing teachers.  You know that it is more about how to learn than rote knowledge.  You stand up for what you believe when it comes to this…and that is one of the things that makes you awesome!

Keep on believing in the heart of education, keep up the good fight for it, and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

PS…I apologize for any typos – I wrote this with my phone. 🙂

Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, More Than Scores, Pep Talk, Quotes to Inspire, Teaching Power, You Are Awesome!!!

The Easy Button for Increasing Classroom Engagement


 

Image Source: www.staples.com
Image Source:
http://www.staples.com

Dear Teacher,

If you have been teaching for any length of time, you know one thing to be true above most others…there are no silver bullets.  There is no “one thing” that will be able to fix all things in your classroom or for your students.  There is not a magic teaching pill that will cause all students to learn, grow, and find success.

No, you no the very real reality that teaching, learning, and education take work.  And I am not going to go against that.  Not one bit.

There is much truth in the fact that you have got to be an active learner yourself and find out best practices and new ideas.  You have to practice those best practices.  You have to know your content.  You have to be creative.  You have to figure out new ways to plan and facilitate learning in your classroom.  You have to keep up with technology and how to use it as a tool to help students learn more effectively.  Speaking of students, you have to do the very challenging and messy work of getting to know them and building rapport and relationships with them.  The same goes with your students’ parents, other teachers and staff, and administration.

Teaching is work.  Difficult work.  Rewarding work, true, but hard work.

Um, so far this post is pretty much the opposite of your title…where is the easy button?

Everything said so far is what we know in our teacher reality.  But…there is one thing that does make all of this a lot easier and will increase student engagement in your class.

Image Source: http://www.authormedia.com/mybooktable-1-3/
Image Source: http://www.authormedia.com/mybooktable-1-3/

That easy button is….wait for it….

Oh no.  Is this one of those times where you give the big build up and the one answer is me?

You guessed it.  The easy button for making some of the hard parts of teaching and to increase engagement is, indeed, YOU!

Just like all of the other times I have set you up for a big secret in education, the key is you.  Something inside of you and about you can unlock the easiness to making tough things seem less tough.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Maya Angelou:

If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

There is so very much that we can change about education and what needs to happen in our classroom.  We can’t change the content we are required to teach.  We can’t change the students (not directly, at least).  We can’t change their parents.  We can’t change their home environments.  We can’t change expectations from administration, districts, and the state (again, not directly).  We can’t change what needs to happen for teaching and learning to truly happen in our classroom.

No, there is not very much that we can change in education…but we can change ourselves.

There is a lot of ways that we can change our attitudes as teachers, but I want to just focus on one…above all else, we need to love what we do!

I am not saying that we have to love all of the bureaucracy, paperwork, and struggles with the harsh realities that our students have to deal with…no, I am not sure that anyone should love that.  I am saying that we need to love the fact that we get to teach students and open them up to wonders of the world and the awesomeness of fighting to understand something new and the thrill of the moment when it all clicks.  We also get to have the hope of being a part of changing the lives of our students for the better and helping them realize how learning new things changes possibilities!  That is what we live for.  That is why we teach.

We need to love what we do!

We have to be excited about what we are teaching in our classes.  If you don’t love all of your content, be excited about the way that you are teaching it!  Don’t love how you teach something?  TEACH IT DIFFERENTLY!  You are in control of that.  You have got to find a way to love what you teach and how you teach it!  You have to!  This is what makes students take notice and want to be engaged in the process of learning.

It is our passion and love of the teaching/learning process that draws students in.  That is the key.  That is the easy button.  Our engagement in the process makes them not want to miss out and be a part of whatever has you so excited!

Think about the great teachers you have had or that you know…they were passionate about what they do, weren’t they?  I bet the answer is yes.

Teachers who love and are passionate about teaching breed students who love and are passionate about learning.

Teacher, love what you do!  Let it show.  Make it obvious.  The students will want a sip of what you are drinking, I promise!  They will be engaged!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

You are awesome.  I bet I was preaching to the choir the whole time, wasn’t I?  You do love what you do.  You aren’t afraid to show it.  Remember to keep that passion for teaching and learning going!  Help students be ignited by your fire and their passion for learning will be contagious to others!  Keep on loving what you do and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

Posted in General Inspiration, Pep Talk

The Secret Ingredient to Being a Great Teacher…


Dear Teacher,

We live in an interesting time to be in the field of education, do we not?  This is not a set up to talk about the trials and tribulations of being a teacher or administrator in this day-and-age, though there are a lot of difficult and harsh realities for us right now.  There is another side to being an educator right now…

Resources.

We have some of the most amazing resources available to us.  Some teachers have more than others, but we all have more than teachers had at any time in the past.  We have the internet (if not readily accessible to student, you have access to it for planning…you are reading a blog right now, aren’t you?).  We have technology (very few teachers do not have the availability of some kind of tech).  We have each other (we can connect with educators around the world and collaborate and learn from each other).  The list is endless.

We have so much.

Yet, do we have more great teachers than ever before?  I am not sure about that.  It seems like we should, but there is probably the same average amount of great teachers as there ever has been (which is a large number…I am not saying this to knock education).  Great teachers will always be great teachers…no matter the resources.

So how do great teachers become and stay great teachers?

There are A LOT of factors here…

  • Studying education and the latest research
  • Workshops and staying in touch with other great teachers
  • Focusing on students more than content
  • Knowing when to teach more and when to teach less
  • Mastering the art of facilitation
  • And so many other things…

But there is one secret ingredient that I think matters the most and is common among most of the great teachers in history, and it is amazingly simple.

The secret to you being a great teacher is you.

What?

Great teachers know themselves.  They know their strengths and weaknesses.  They work on the weaknesses and play to their strengths.  They do not deny who they are as people, and this lets their passions for teaching and for life play themselves out in the classroom.  Their zeal for what drives them pushes students to strive harder and become interested and engaged.  Because great teachers are keyed into who they are, their dreams are big and they fight to achieve them.  They also know what they need and go after those things…for this reason fund-raising seems easy for them and  “personal PD” is not a new idea because it has been a theme of their lives!

Great teachers are aware of themselves and this makes the more aware of their students and what needs to happen  in their classroom.

Resources are not what make great teachers great…great teachers make all resources great because they are keenly aware of how to use them.  The type of resource or school “realities” are not limitations…they do not really know limitations!

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Great teachers know who they are and do not hide it.

Great teachers share their passions and interests and make them a part of their instruction.

Great teachers have a sense of what they need and this gives them a sense of student needs.

You are a great teacher…you just have to get to know yourself to bring the great teacher out!

You are the key to you being a great teacher!

You are a much greater teacher than you think  you are!  We can all be greater…so lets work on it.  You are amazing!  I know you are a great teacher!  You are making a difference because you are completely awesome!  Keep working at your greatness and keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher