By Stephanie Knight, PhD
Faculty, College of Education
If one were to define “great teacher,” two words come to mind: servant leader. To elucidate what this might mean, let’s look at the qualities of a great teacher and how they embody this definition.
1. They notice the little things.
Just the other day, I was in a kindergarten classroom and it was time to clean up. The time was ticking away, yet one group of kids was still finishing their magnetic tower. Instead of impatiently scolding the students for not being quick to clean, the teacher stopped to admire the tower and praise the students’ hard work as she snapped their picture.
It’s so easy to be so task oriented that we often forget to notice how people are involved in each task. Great teachers stop to notice the fine details about their students.
2. They see beyond what the student can see.
Great teachers have a vision and they share what they see with their students. They use encouraging words and often are heard saying something like, “I see you using your creative writing skills in a book someday.” They have confidence in their students, both in the classroom and regarding their futures. This gives the students insight into a vision they might not have had for themselves.
3. They listen more than they talk.
Part of being an encourager means we get to know our students first. This means we understand that each student has his/her own story and are filled with feelings that accompany these stories. A great teacher allows their students to feel heard and affirmed.
Another way great teachers show they are listening is by allowing their students time to reflect through writing. The classroom can be filled with real conversations which can lead to deeper understanding of academics, but also a sense of mutual respect.
4. They seek out hard-to-reach students and face challenges.
It’s often necessary to spend more time with those students who can be harder to reach. This may mean greeting them at the door and showing them that you are listening. Great teachers can foresee a potential pitfall and can address them about it. Our classrooms will be filled with students who may have negative thoughts, and great teachers will find ways to address them in a constructive way.
5. They are great learners.
Great teachers cannot get enough of reading, researching or taking classes. This relentless pursuit of learning creates a passion and a want for others to learn. What occurs is a contagious spirit of learning in the classroom as well as a humility that comes with the knowledge that you will never really know it all.
6. They stay real.
Maybe the lesson went down like a lead balloon. Great teachers will adjust, modify and often have a conversation with the students as to what could have gone better. They also are never too proud to admit when they make a mistake. Students feel more connected to a “real” teacher, which results in stronger relationships. These bonds make students want to learn and be present.
7. They seize opportunities.
As a teacher, you must pay attention and be ready to make a lesson out of something that might be ignored by others. This might mean taking the extra time to explain the “why” behind something a student may ask. Maybe your students are excited about a day off for Veteran’s Day. A great teacher may veer off the planned discussion and share how the sacrifices of others have made this day off possible. Teachable moments are never scheduled, so it is the great teacher who can seize the moment and make it last rather than let it fly by unnoticed.
With these seven principles in mind, we can all strive to be great teachers and hence servant leaders. We can embrace our role as teachers, paying close attention to our students and being flexible so as to not miss one moment.
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