Over the years I’ve had extraordinary teachers in different capacities. While there have been many worthwhile lessons – some positive and others less so – seven stand out as true gifts to my life and my career.
- Focus, passion and whimsy.
Even before I went to kindergarten, my dance teacher taught me the joy of using myself as a tool for expression, for simultaneously losing and finding myself in what I was doing.
Education starts with the student’s passion.
- Connection and competence.
My first day of kindergarten, I went in kicking and screaming. Rather than ask why I was crying, one of my teachers introduced me to a much happier girl who became my best friend and helped me transition into the new environment.
Educators are facilitators first and foremost.
- Content and discovery.
My third grade teacher had a passion for the explorers. She didn’t care about our penmanship or any of the other details that are so often the focus of primary education. She just wanted us to be as excited about Magellan, de Gama and the others as she was, and pointed us in the direction of resources to discover what most interested us.
Educators are access points to content and purveyors of the core ideas that help students create connections.
- Context and analysis.
In junior high school my English teacher was deeply respectful of students’ opinions about the American literature he loved. He created space for us to express and exchange our ideas in a free-spirited but intellectually rigorous way.
Educators help students integrate their own meanings to bring content to life.
One of my doctoral professors talked about making the familiar strange. He was a master at connecting with a group of profoundly diverse people and helping them own their differences before engaging in an inquiry where those differences, unexplored preconceptions and the puzzle itself came together to produce surprising results.
Educators point out the unexpected – even when it is hidden in plain sight.
While I was teaching, I had a supervisor with a facilitative rather than directive style. She offered invitations to consider ideas and observations – even when she thought something could be done better. She was always available as a sounding board, but she made it clear that the choice of action belongs to the individual.
Educational leaders emphasize elasticity – helping educators stretch and cultivate their own best qualities.
- Trust, collaboration and credit.
I was invited to be part of a team to create innovative professional tools and materials. At first, I really doubted my knowledge and ability to contribute. However, the team leader had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He created an environment where all of us could collaborate to develop amazing ideas and generously acknowledged each of our contributions.
Educational leaders create environments where ideas are freely exchanged and contributions generously acknowledged.
As the school year draws to a close I invite you to do your own reflection. Think about educators who have had an impact on you. What gifts have they given you?