There’s no doubt that America’s public-school teachers are “essential workers.” One need only watch the news to see how teachers supported their communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Communities all across the nation leaned on the educational system to feed children and families. Teachers added stability in a time of fear and uncertainty. This is not a new position for teachers. Since the inception of our educational system, the country has required educators to wear various hats. Daily, educators may be expected to serve as givers of knowledge, parents (in loco parentis), nurses, counselors, lawyers, fixers of societal ills, judges, and social justice advocates. It is definitely a balancing act, and teachers must be proficient in all of these areas as well as able to fluidly move from one role to another as circumstances necessitate.
With so many expectations placed on schools, teachers must strive for balance and proficiency in their roles as educators. Unfortunately, teachers indicate that providing students with a high-quality education is often hindered by the deluge of non-educational challenges they face daily. These issues are important and often require a lot of time and effort to resolve. As a result, time for planning and executing instructional activities designed to meet individual student’s needs often takes a backseat or does not happen at all.
As schools reopen after the pandemic, schoolteachers must be on their “A” game. So, we have identified five essential skills that teachers must utilize to successfully educate students.
High-quality instruction demands that teachers not be overwhelmed when dealing with disruptive or distractive students.
1. Avoid distractions
Teaching and learning require that everyone involved in the process is focused on achievement. In order for this to happen, classrooms must be productive learning environments. High-quality instruction demands that teachers not be overwhelmed when dealing with disruptive or distractive students.
Typically, when classroom distractions come to mind one tends to think about disorderly students. However, this is not always the main source of distraction in the classroom. Often, students engage teachers in sidebar conversations that last way too long and disrupt the learning process.
When I was in high school my classmates would plan how to get out of doing work in our honors history class. Apparently, our teacher had three hobbies; 1) antique corvettes, 2) hunting, and 3) fishing. As we walked to class, students would strategize how and when they would introduce a new topic to keep him engaged in a conversation about his hobbies instead of the events that led up to the end of The Cold War. Many days as the bell rang, he said, “wow class is over". As we left class, my friends would laugh and give each other high 5’s.
The teacher was incorrect. The class was not over when the bell rang. The class was over before we walked through the classroom door. This type of teacher never allows unwanted thoughts to gain traction.
Effective teachers never allow their thoughts to stray to non-essential thoughts. This type of teacher never allows unwanted thoughts to gain traction. Unwanted thoughts often cause a teacher’s time and effort to become very unproductive. Effective teachers focus on accomplishing the goals they have established for the day, week, grading period, and year. In doing so, they and their students are more focused on the work and completing the identified learning task. These teachers stay focused and never chase the proverbial squirrel.
Several years ago, I was providing consultative services to an urban school district. When I arrived at a school, the principal was speaking with the police. When the conversation ended, the principal spoke to me, sighed and said, “what a week. On Monday, we found out that a student had been murdered on Sunday. That news caused an uproar in the school. Things began to calm down by Wednesday until we discovered that the alleged murderer was a student and he was in school. Then we had another uproar. But we are glad you are here for our Friday afternoon meeting. My staff has completed the tasks you requested, and they are in the cafeteria waiting to share with you”.
Nothing stopped them from completing the goals they had established. The teachers had unpacked their standards, designed lessons, developed formative assessments aligned to the standards, collected and analyzed the data from the formative assessments, and modified instruction to enhance practice and improve student achievement. During our meeting, content area teachers shared their insights and next steps. I knew that day that the school would be accredited because the staff did not allow any event (not even something as tragic as a student being murdered) to distract them from their work.
Keep your vision and goals in mind
Focus on only 2-3 tasks (reduce chaos)
Begin working on the 2-3 tasks as soon as possible
Know yourself and what internal things distract you
Remove or work through external distractions (you are in control of your actions)
Practice staying focused (When Tiger Woods was learning to play golf, his father made noises during his backswing to help Tiger stay focused)
Maintain the momentum (Taking true breaks makes it difficult to get back on track)
2. Communication skills
For a teacher, communication is connection, purpose, inspiration, and motivation – not just the transmission of information. Far too many times, communication in the classroom is a one-way street. Effective communicators are typically better listeners - listening to understand where people stand on an issue and then conveying a message to move folks in the desired direction. Teachers must realize, to effectively inspire students to want to achieve, they must use spoken or written words along with actions. Simply telling is not as effective as telling and showing. Additionally, many people fail to fully appreciate that the message is not just what you say; how you say it is equally important.
Talk to students not at them. An engaging interactive dialogue develops rapport and trust
Make a point, followed by an example to support the point then check for understanding
Organize message and refine your delivery
Actively listen in order to respond to the student’s needs, while simultaneously enhancing their understanding during the dialogue
Dedicated effective teachers assess their current reality and make thoughtful decisions regarding their strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, they use their strengths to improve their weaknesses. These individuals thrive on challenges and see failure not as evidence of inability but as a catalyst for growth and for stretching their initial skills and talent. Teachers must believe that their basic qualities (talents, aptitudes, interests, or temperaments) can be cultivated through their efforts. Although people may differ in every which way, everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
Set big goals
Identify specific skills you need to improve
Read educational journals and blogs to stay abreast
Be coachable. Participate in professional development to learn new skills independently
4. Presence and accessible
Good teachers have a positive, vibrant, and visible presence in the school. Modeling the importance of learning, teaching students how to learn, and motivating students to learn is crucial to the success of a classroom teacher. In addition to these qualities, effective teachers are excellent planners and gifted strategists.
Today, teachers have a plethora of resources and tools to use with students. The true challenge is choosing the strategy or resource that is going to make the most difference for the students. Actually, teachers are mandated to try so many strategies that they really need to be able to identify the ones they will not use.
These decisions are tough and nuanced. Teachers have to identify why things are the way they are, and then know what to do to make a difference. This is why the most effective teachers are able to push the levers that make the biggest improvements in students.
Analyze assessment data and student work (error analysis) to identify their strengths and weaknesses
Identify and track the strategies that work with different groups of students
Identify when students need more practice (they make a few careless mistakes) or a different strategy (they are totally lost or cannot use the strategy that was taught)
5. Loving your students
Educators often say, “We spend 90% of the time on 10% of the students.” Strangely enough, it is true. It is easier to focus our energies on the negative students and interactions and spend a significant amount of time discussing and even complaining about them. Effective teachers never fall into this trap. Effective teachers realize that schools can be messy and difficult organizations, but they value the challenge to connect and interact with all students, especially the aforementioned 10%. Effective teachers make the effort and are willing to sacrifice to build relationships with all students. These teachers realize that they will not be given a perfect classroom with perfect students. Likewise, they realize they are not perfect, but they are devoted to teaching and learning and dedicated to making sure all students achieve. These teachers know, “students don’t care how much they know until they know how much they care”.
Be courageous enough to let down your guard and open up. Let your students see that you are a real person too
Get to know your students (their interests and dislikes). Ask them questions that cause them to open up and share
Forgive students and remember students are all human, too. Teaching is from the heart and it is easy to be hurt. When this happens, reiterate your expectation, forgive and move
Be accessible to students. Teachers must be available when students need support and assistance
Mediums that provide knowledge: always evolving
The role of the teacher must be expanded to incorporate a shift from just “telling,” or working in terms of instructional activities, and toward an emphasis on learning. In order to achieve this objective, effective teachers with strong content knowledge are not enough; success will require redefining the role of the teacher. Barriers to student learning must be removed by reducing emphasis solely on what is being taught to how it is being taught. Additionally, the bureaucratic structures and procedures must be streamlined to provide teachers more time to facilitate the teaching and learning process. Last, and possibly most importantly, relationships with students must be reinvented. Let’s face it, humans are designed to be interconnected and intertwined. Teachers are not teaching content they are teaching students. The standards movement and all of its good intentions forced teachers to focus their energies on tasks and not the students in their classroom.
The dramatically different role of the teacher as a facilitator of learning will create generations and generations of lifelong learners. For this to happen, teachers must be part of the decision-making process and focus more efforts on the basic tenets of teaching and learning. It will require the leveraging of time, the participating in ongoing professional development, developing and fostering a culture of achievement, using resources to support a diverse educational game plan and, lastly, the desire and zest to continually improve.
For teachers to truly thrive in the role of facilitator of learning, they will have to work to liberate themselves from being mired in the daily challenges and bureaucratic aspects of teaching. They must spend their time and effort in improving their craft. Needless to say, improvement in instructional methods is a goal we want to accomplish. When successfully implemented, the teaching and learning process allows students as well as teachers to create a more meaningful learning environment. Ultimately, it enables them to better control their destiny.
Good teachers have a positive, vibrant, and visible presence in the school. Modeling the importance of learning, teaching students how to learn, and motivating students to learn is crucial to the success of a classroom teacher.