What Great Teachers do Differently

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What Great Teachers do Differently

By Todd Whitaker


Great teachers focus on expectations. Other teachers focus on rules. The least effective teachers focus on the consequences of breaking the rules.

The key is to set expectations and then establish relationships so that students want to meet these expectations.

Effective teachers understand that what matters is not whether student leaves the office mad, but how the student behaves in the future.

I believe that what I am saying is important, and of course I want my audience to give me their full attention – but it’s my job to gain, and to keep, their attention. If I’m not doing that, I need to change my approach.

If the students are not focused, great teachers ask what they themselves can do differently.

The main variable in a classroom is not the students. The main variable is the teacher.

Effective teachers treat everyone with respect, every day.

Great teachers understand the power of praise.

You don’t have to like the students; you just have to act as if you like them.

Our behaviors are much more obvious than our beliefs.

Learning how to praise maybe a challenge for many of us. As teachers, we find it all too easy to spend our time looking for what is wrong, pointing out errors, and focusing on mistakes. However, an effective teacher looks for opportunities to find people doing things right and knows how to praise those people so they’ll keep on doing things right.

Every time I praise someone, at least two people feel better – and one of them is me.

Whether we are aware of it or not, our behavior sets the tone.

If we have great credibility and good relationships, students work to please us. Students come to class each day wanting and expecting us to set the tone.

if our attitude shows we want to be there, our students will reflect that positive energy back to us.

We are very fortunate to work in education; sometimes we just forget how blessed we are. But consistently filtering out the negatives that don’t matter and sharing a positive attitude, we can create a much more successful setting. Consciously or unconsciously, we decide the tone of our classrooms and of our school.

One of the things I noticed about the best teachers is that they sell them engage in the behaviors that cause harm to students. They don’t make cutting remarks or issue smart retorts. They don’t run students down or embarrass them in front of their peers. Quite the opposite: the best teachers consistently complement and praise students.

The best teachers have high expectations for others, but much higher expectations for themselves. The best educators work hard to keep the relationships in good repair – to avoid personal hurt and to repair any possible damage – and others notice.

We can never be sarcastic or demeaning in our tone of voice or body language.

Focus on prevention, not punishment.

Effective teachers reinforce these behaviors; they also take advantage of teachable moments to help other students build the skill of repairing.

Great teachers have an incredible ability to ignore. This doesn’t mean they are oblivious – great teachers are aware of almost everything that happens in their classrooms. Nor does it mean that they have vast reserves of patience (although that helps). Rather, it reflects their mastery of the situations that arise daily in the life of schools. They know how easily one or two students can disrupt the flow of learning, but they also know when to go with the flow, went to take a stand, and how to quell minor disturbances without further distracting others.

Great teachers have learned from experience which issues demand immediate attention and which will wait for a more teachable moment.

A great teacher resembles the master chef who can keep a busy kitchen cooking along in the midst of what looks like chaos to the uninformed. The great teacher has the ability to ignore trivial disturbances and the ability to respond to inappropriate behavior without escalating the situation. The great teacher has the ability to pay attention to students, to recognize and praise their achievements, and the ability to overlook minor errors. It’s a fast-paced and delicate balancing act; The great teacher has mastered this is essential skill.

One hallmark of great teachers is that in their classrooms, very little happens at random. Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do. If things don’t work out the way they had envisioned, they reflect on what they could have done differently and adjust their plans accordingly.

The teacher who needs to prove, over and over, who is in charge of the classroom is wasting precious energy on a losing battle. Great teachers do not try to prove who is in charge in their classrooms; everyone knows.

Great teachers find a way to keep every student in gear and moving forward.

It’s important not to put any student in the position of being seen as the teachers pet. They may lose respect for, and even resent, the one singled out for special treatment.

Nurture the superstar students you have, and work to cultivate others.

Make it cool to care. I wanted everyone – every student, every teacher, each staff member, all the parents – to think it was cool to care.

The real challenge, and the real accomplishment, is to get all the students to care about what happens in the classroom. Once we achieve that, anything is possible. Until we achieve that, any obstacle can seem insurmountable.

Preparing students for life, this is what teaching is all about.

Touch the heart, then teach the child.

Until we connect with them emotionally, we may never be able to connect with their minds. Great educators understand the behaviors and beliefs are tied to the emotion, and they understand the power of emotion to jumpstart change.

The legacies we build last far beyond our years. Students care about great teachers because they know great teachers care about them.

The teacher is the filter for whatever happens in the classroom.

The quality of the teachers determines the quality of the school.

Success comes from people, not programs.

Being a teacher is an amazing profession. It is challenging, dynamic, energizing, and draining – but most of all, it is rewarding. Our impact extends far beyond anything we can imagine. We know that our students talk about us; so do our colleagues, and so do the people throughout our community. We can decide what we want those conversations to be like.

Here to Serve,

Jeff Bush

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