Everything Speaks – I’m a learner, too!

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!


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  1. #1 by Lisa on August 11, 2009 - 10:12 pm

    You will not believe how much students observe what we do. I am in the process of earning my doctorate and some of the nosey girls would notice that I would have flowers sent to me by different people throughout the year on my desk. So one day the girls ask me why don’t you keep a boyfriend? I said excuse me? But I thought this is my moment to let them know something about self persevation and how nothing in life should deviate you from your goals. I had some girls speaking of changing goals in their Senior year for boyfriends so i was prepared to give them a lesson.
    I said see me lunchtime. Suprisingly, I had about 15 show up and I said what is going on? I showed them what my degree required of me and how much time I spent studying the material. Many times I can’t go out and enjoy this and that, so a man will move on and find someone who will. So, should I stop my goal and run to the movies or a play with him and fail my class or perserve and reach my goal.
    I told them to vote then I said be honest because this is going to happen when you enter college. This is when a lot of people flunk out of school their freshman year.
    Some girls stated well if he is hot I am going and fail the project. But you keep failing and then you are home working at the Supermarket.
    In conclusion,they said thank you for showing us that men come like trains, If you miss one get another ticket. I said okay.
    They don’t remember what we tell them but they will always remember our actions.

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