What makes a great teacher? Can great teachers be created or molded? What things can I do to be a great teacher? One tenet understood and magnified by all great teachers is everything speaks. This is a focal point of the trainings we offer for educators, and one I continue to implement in my own profession. Simply put, everything speaks means that everything we do as educators sends a message to students about learning (and school). Great teachers understand the gravity of this tenet and pay careful attention to the messages they are sending to students. Some obvious examples of this tenet include teachers’ verbal communication, nonverbal communication, and dress/appearance. Many other examples exist, but one that struck me recently was how I am modeling to students that I am a learner.
A common goal for schools is for students to be “lifelong learners.” Am I modeling this for students? Do students see me regularly “learning,” instead of only “teaching?” When I was teaching at a large, suburban middle school, I made a point of participating in the Friday afternoon basketball games with students. After school, many teachers and students met in the gym to play basketball. I am NOT a basketball player. I did not do it growing up, and my lack of skills is painfully obvious. I gave it my all every afternoon, running back and forth and bravely defending my assigned opponent. The students saw me make a lot of mistakes (a sure sign that learning is happening), and I stayed with it. It was pretty embarrassing, and there were many Fridays I would have loved to stay in my classroom and grade papers, but I dutifully made my way to the gym. I think it meant a lot to students to see me learning.
What opportunities exist for you, a great teacher, to show students you are a learner? Participate in the faculty talent show. Sneak in to an art or music class and join the kids (with the teacher’s permission, of course). Help with after-school activities that are out of your comfort zone. Note: It’s not enough to do it without students knowing about it! If they can’t see you learning, tell them all about it. For example, if you’re doing a lot of learning in a graduate class, briefly tell your students about it (focus on how you overcome challenges and grow from your mistakes). Everything speaks! When we model learning for students, we send a powerful message that learning is important. Bring on the learning!