… but most of us have to work really, really hard at it.

While wandering around the Twitterverse, I came across the 9 characteristics of a great teacher. I don’t disagree with any of their choices, but I don’t know that I would identify the same ones as my top nine – and I wonder what yours would be.

9 Requirements of a Great Educator

  1. A great educator knows that building relationships is key in education – with admin and the district, with their colleagues, with support staff, with students, and with parents. Our willingness to try new things, our willingness to put in effort, our willingness to ask for help – all of these come from strong, supportive relationships. This is the first requirement, and it is primary over all the others.
  2. A great educator is constantly learning and pushing themselves forward. They know that greatness comes from effort, and that what is “great” now may not be so in a year, or ten. If we want our students to be lifelong learners, we need to show them that we value that in ourselves as well.
  3. A great educator is creative and willing to try new things or think outside the box. They are willing to fail, but they put a lot of work into trying to be prepared enough not to fail. Some lessons go well, some lessons blow us away, and some lessons flop like a dying fish. Learn from all of these, and adjust for next time … which leads me to the next requirement:
  4. A great educator reflects constantly. They reflect on their students’ strengths and areas for growth, and how to move them forward. They reflect on their own strengths and areas for growth, and how to move themselves forward. They reflect on current research around education (and I’ve found some of the best books to help me become a better teacher in the business, parenting, and psychology/brain research areas as well). And they reflect on their lessons.
  5. There is a corollary for numbers two and three, which is this: A great educator does not try to do and learn everything at once. They know that to develop a skill, they must practice it regularly, and if they are so caught up in multiple areas for growth, they will not do any of them well. Rather, they are likely to become burned out from trying to be perfect and end up leaving the profession. We are not perfect. We cannot be perfect. We can simply do what we can with what we have, and build our skills slowly along the way.
  6. A great educator knows when to be the “sage on the stage” and when to be the “guide by the side.” Sometimes our students need direct instruction – you can’t think outside the box if you don’t have the knowledge that is contained within it. Basic facts and understandings will always have a place in education. However, if we are going to inspire our students, we can’t only teach that way. They need an opportunity to explore and connect this new knowledge to what they already know, and then need the opportunity to follow their own interests and passions. We never learn so well as when we’re learning about something that inspires and excites us. This is where we need to guide students, giving them time to investigate problems and questions related to the content without standing in front of them and handing them the information.
  7. A great educator takes advantage of teachable moments, leaving the planned lesson when something happens in the classroom, the school, the community or the world that needs to be discussed. Sometimes that can be as simple as a comment by a student that leads to a thoughtful and involved discussion; sometimes it is an event that has occurred recently somewhere in the world that students need the opportunity to process; sometimes it is a concept or discovery that has the potential to impact the students. By being aware of what is going on outside your classroom and your discipline, you are better able to help students interpret the world around them and find connections to their lives and their understanding.
  8. A great educator is involved in their school community. They know that connecting with students and staff outside of school helps build the relationships that are so crucial to education, and they want to make a difference in their school. Sometimes that may mean sponsoring a student group or athletics team; sometimes it may mean sharing their learning and resources with other educators (particularly ones new to the profession or subject being taught); sometimes that may mean noticing when something seems off about a student or colleague and letting them know that you are there to listen or to refer them to someone who can help.
  9. Finally, and nearly equally important to the first requirement, a great educator knows that they need to find balance in their life. It is all too easy to become caught up in what’s going on in your teaching life, to worry about students, to push yourself to do just a little more before going home far too late, to take on too much and say yes to too many things. You are human, you matter, and your mental health is crucial. You cannot be a great educator if you are not taking care of yourself – and by taking care of yourself and prioritizing balance and mental wellness, you can teach your students how to do the same. We live in a society that seems to celebrate excess, where saying that you work sixty hours a week or more is seen as a mark of pride instead of an indication that you’re losing out in other areas of your life. This is not something to celebrate, it is something to fix. For you to be able to do the things that make you great, you need time off as well. Take it, and never feel guilty for that.

This is not an exhaustive list – by any measure of success – but these elements are what I consider the most crucial to being a great educator … at least at the moment. Who knows how my views will change as I continue teaching?

I’m curious – what are the most important aspects of a great educator for you?