Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Is A Great Teacher?

What makes a good teacher? Is there a distinction between a good teacher and a great teacher? What skills do teachers in the classroom, right now, need to posses?

Last night on #edchat, participants tried to determine what skills, traits, or characteristics were necessary for "21st Century Educators."

Here is what people were saying:
  • Enthusiasm, dedication, compassion, ability to think on your feet. Tech is not a requirement, but helps students learn through a modality they are familiar with. As much as I hate to admit it, the best teachers I know aren't the ones that work 8-2. They stay late, work at home, come in on weekends occasionally. That shows dedication and passion. -A Teacher
  • Willingness to Collaborate and not be all-knowing islands of knowledge; the sea of knowledge is too great for any person to truly be an expert all by themselves. Model being a life long learner by being willing to 'not know everything', admit the limits of your knowledge, and embrace the knowledge their charges bring to the learning environment. -A Systems Administrator
  • Education is necessary to equip children to life. If we bear in mind the world of today, in which collaboration and team-play are important, the number one skill is interpersonal communication, or simply people skills. Children look up to their teachers, and, as role models, we need to show them the power of working together to achieve great things. It doesn't matter whether you're not good at A or B, education is empowering. Education brings down walls and eliminates differences. We can only show learners this by reaching out to them. Learning to communicate effectively and responding to their fears, anxieties and concerns in the best possible way. -A Teacher, Director of Studies
  • Necessary skills- flexible in the moment, rigid to stay on task, wide enough to cover all personal, social, and academic aspects of a single student, narrow enough to care for that student, Able to learn with students, unable to leave the students alone to learn, give every student the possibility to learn, withhold the ability to give up on an unmotivated student. I believe all these are important because we are the models for students. Skills that should be considered and valued - Caring, sharing, collaboration with other teachers, ability to let others in and be transparent. All teachers need to be openminded and willing to take risks. It does take time and effort to adjust to change, but it is worth it. -A Teacher
You can read more of what was said here, and the archive here.

Before I go into what I think the skills should be, I first want to address this title of "21st Century Educator." Look...its basically 2010 people.We are 10 years into the 21st Century. The terms "21st Century Students," and "21st Century Educators" are so far outdated. Students are already "21st Century." So this is not, and should not be a conversation about "21st Century Teachers." It should be, and will be a conversation about what Great, Effective, Teachers do and are. Can we all agree to stop using the term 21st Century, please?

If I ever become an administrator, in the position to hire teachers or other school faculty my first question to a potential new hire will be for them to demonstrate to me how they collaborate. I want to know how they work with others. Do they have a PLN that they have created? Do they even know what a PLN is? Who will they turn to when they have a question about teaching or subject-matter? Going even further, how will they foster collaboration in their classroom. When I walk by will I see drones in the seats or kids, excitedly learning, talking, working together?

If you wanna move from being a good teacher to a great teacher, its all about collaboration. We need teachers who look beyond themselves and want to work with others, who want to reach out to others. But we also want teachers who are willing to create an environment in their classroom where kids can work together, problem solve, put their heads together, collaborate.

After my question about collaboration I would ask about reflection. Demonstrate to me how you reflect. When do you take time to look inward, at yourself, your teaching and your classroom? What about looking at your kids and how they are progressing? How do you know they are on the right track? And, how do you teach kids to reflect? What opportunities do you give kids to look at their own work and learning?

I want a teacher who is willing to take a risk and it not work out. I want a teacher who fails to sit down and look at why they failed, what failed and what can be done better. Moreover, I want a teacher who feels success to reflect on what worked and why it was successful. (In both situations, after reflection, I want them to collaborate, to talk about failures and success.)

Authentic Learning....
The classroom is made up of 4 walls. But does that mean learning has to stay within those 4 walls? We get so bogged down with curriculum and testing that we often forget there is a whole world out there that we need to expose our kids to. Its easy to sit at our little desks and get out our Time For Kids and read about Holidays Around the World. But really how fun is that? You could take it one step further and have your kids research about different cultures and even do a holiday party, dressing up and serving traditional dishes. Yeah, thats kinda cool. But are you really exposing your kids to the world or simply assigning a task to be completed? What if you used Skype to connect with 5 classrooms from around the world to ask, virtually, face to face, other kids, what they do for the holidays? Is that not more meaningful? I can read about what kids in all corners of the Earth do, or what their culture is like or whatever, but, if I am a teacher, do I not provide a more authentic learning experience if my kids can ask kids in another part of the world a question? If I am hiring I want a teacher who thinks of ways to take the restrictions that are put in place by strict curricula and testing requirements, and provide authentic, connected learning experiences for their kids. Not ones who complain day in and day out about testing and curriculum. Be innovative, be creative.

Are those the only requirements of Great Teachers. No. But for me those are the most important. Do you agree? Or are there others that are more important than these? I welcome your comments.


  1. Fantastic post! I will be sending this off to other administartors in my district. You are asking questions of teachers that very few admins ever ask or are even afraid to ask. This will be a part of my next goal setting meeting with my teachers. As always, your work is inspiring!

  2. After reading this, I feel vindicated. For so many years, I've been told I spend so much time studying and incorporating the underlife of the classroom that the material is not being presented. I beg to disagree! Almost all of my students tell me they learn more in my class than in any other. I read the above posts, and, at the risk of sounding my own trumpet, I've been doing all these things FOR YEARS! How wonderful to know so many other educators agree with my own philosophy! Thank you!

  3. Steven,

    Thanks for once again summing up an evening of #edchat. You certainly make an overwhelming task look easy. I am going to post a link to this on our school's blog and hope for some feedback from parents and students.

    Great teachers - Let me see, I think they are able to facilitate discussions so that learners are actively engaged and learning with and from other learners. Hmmm?! Sounds like #edchat and and these great discussions that you and the other moderators lead.

    Thanks again! Now onto the task of trying to model the great examples that are out there for all of us if we look for them.

  4. Thank you for a great summary as I missed the edchat while I was at the Holiday Choral Concert.

    I'd like to add my primary criteria of a great teacher: a love or passion for children. I have interviewed many people who hardly mention children even when prompted repeatedly. I know teachers at the various schools where I've worked who truly seem to dislike children. All of the master teachers that I've ever met show their passion for the children and for teaching and learning.

  5. I enjoyed reading your summary and sent to our teachers. There are great points of information for teachers to reflect upon and new areas of information to expand upon. Thanks

  6. Thank you for adding reflection to your list of qualities. Too often I get caught up in the work, the next thing, the planning, and all of the other work that teachers have to deal with daily. It is important to set aside time to really reflect on what is working, what isn't, and why. For me it is my time for self evaluation and I skip that step too often. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. "Ninjas don't do schoolwork or eat breakfast, and you can buy them from airports." My favourite five year old student's first words at 8:00AM.

  8. You're right! Teachers need to very very reflective on how to deliver instruction considering students' learning styles and their own pace. Not all children learn at the same time. Besides, we need to train students to collaborate with others and be supportive with their team members