The Best Teacher Is You

Yesterday’s post about peer coaching had me reliving some thoughts about great teachers and great teaching.  The comment that was posted added to the reminiscing and I challenged myself to think about three of the best teachers that I had the honour of being in their class.

In reflection, two of them were from my secondary school and one from university.  As I started to analyze each of them further (these are the sorts of things I do while cutting the lawn, btw…), I recognized that each of them was completely different.  I tried to find a common property that would indicate to me that this was what I was looking for in a teacher and I failed.  Two of them were big into designing activities for learning and one was a true lecturer.  I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

The only thing that I could think of when I tried to summarize my thoughts was that they were the best that they could be at doing what they do.  That’s an awkward sentence but I can’t think of any other way to express it.  They genuinely appeared to enjoy their job but they were so good at it in their own unique way.  Dare I use the word passion?

So, if I went the other way and tried to identify three teachers that weren’t the best, it was a great deal easier.  And, I think that I understood why – they were trying to be someone else and it just wasn’t working.

The whole exercise reinforced, in me, the power of the peer coach.  I think we’ve all had evaluations done of us by principals or superintendents where, at the end of the day, the evaluation compared us to the perfect teacher.  And, I certainly get the need for that.  There has to be certain things that must fall into place for that sort of administrative success that says, “We’ll keep you”.  But, I don’t think that the ultimate goal is to necessarily turn you into the best teacher you can be.

That potential lies within you.  You need to find some way of identifying what you are as a teacher and then work on amplifying that.   Therein is the secret to successful growth.  In my post, I made reference to opening the door and opening the mind.  Stephen’s comment about broadcasting a lesson using social media really reinforced this notion in a very concrete and practical way.  When you set the formal peer coaching environment, you ask the observer to look for very specific things about you and not some sort of model that has been defined as “teacher”.

I was interviewed over the phone later in the afternoon and a couple of questions made me really think and articulate what I’m currently doing.  One was about the goal of blog writing and the other was about delivering professional learning activities.  Both questions took me a little off guard but made me stop to explain my answer.  It came from within – my own personal goal for doing what I do – and not some artificial target dreamed up by someone else.  I rather enjoyed the exercise as it made me reflect at a personal level.

Goodness knows that I have my faults.  By identifying them and setting personal goals to work my way through them, I go about the process of personally becoming the best I can at whatever I want to do.  The answer lies within.  A trusted coach, whether face to face or otherwise, needs to recognize this and devise ways for you to tap into that because it’s only from there that you’ll bring out the best of you as teacher.

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3 thoughts on “The Best Teacher Is You

  1. Hey Doug,

    I always enjoy reading your blog – you often push my thinking and always have great resources and tools I hadn’t heard of before. This post and your post about peer coaching are essential reads for educators, in my opinion. “That potential lies within you. You need to find some way of identifying what you are as a teacher and then work on amplifying that.” Yes, I couldn’t agree more.

    I think, speaking for myself as an administrator, it is easy to get stuck in looking for a particular model or type of “best teacher”. We have ideals. However, I have come to realize that there are many things that go into making an amazing school team. And I want to be very explicit about that with staff members on my team. I don’t want everyone to aspire to be the same. We all have strengths and passions and the secret to assembling a great team is to find the right combinations. This is in line with Ken Robinson’s thinking and an appreciative inquiry approach.

    Now, let me tell you about why this post is incredibly timely for me. Yesterday I was at a PD session for admin and during a break I had a conversation with a colleague. Both of us are in a tight squeeze to replace teachers going on extended leaves pretty last minute (like, within the week). During our conversation (“Who do you know who would be perfect?” sorta thing) she looked me right in the eye and said, “I only hire excellent teachers.” I was a bit stunned, to say the least and I didn’t get a chance to follow up (yet) because our PD session started up again.

    Here are my thoughts. First of all, we all only hire “excellent teachers”. D’uh! But, and here is the crux, her idea of excellent and my idea of excellent are not necessarily the same. Yes, I have no doubt that we have some ‘non-negotiables’ in common – a serious commitment to the well-being of children, a solid handle on how to integrate literacy instruction across the curriculum, etc… But, here is where we might differ. Maybe. I look to hire for my students and for the team. I want interesting staff who represent a variety of interests and backgrounds. I want staff who are going to take risks and try new things. I want a balance of staff who are coming in extremely comfortable with digital tools and some who are looking to learn. And, the last thing I want is a staff team full of cookie cutouts. I think that there is way too much deficit talk about teachers and I wonder what it must do to students who learn in an environment where staff feel that they aren’t the “best teacher” and are constantly trying to fit a mould?

    As for the appraisal process, I see that as an opportunity for teachers to do exactly what you encourage – to find a way of identifying (if they haven’t already) what he or she is as a teacher and amplifying it. It is about appreciating what you bring to the table and I think I can model that through my interactions with staff. I may not be someone’s ideal leader, but I know that I bring some really great stuff to the table and man, do I have fun doing it.

    As always, thanks for getting me thinking this morning.



  2. Hi Doug (& Shannon),

    Great post – often read them but rarely get a chance to respond. I really believe in the individuality of a student, of a teacher and of a leader. The idea of unleashing the potential that lies within each of us is interesting. Doug says that only we can unleash that power. I do believe that is true but I also believe that others have a role to play in helping us along the way. Leaders in our system have an obligation to recognize the potential in each of us and allow us to grow into the teachers we aspire to become. Sometimes, it is our colleagues, or our online PLN who encourage us, sometimes family plays a role and sometimes a total stranger.

    I was visiting a take-out Indian restaurant today and the server asked about where I was from and whether or not my kids were born here. He then commented on the fact that Canada is a great country and that to be successful here, you have to be well educated. Back home he worked successfully as an engineer. I encouraged him to seek out the courses he would have to take to become more successful here for his and his future family’s sake. He seemed thoughtfully inspired by what I said. I don’t know if what I had said had any lasting impact, but I was glad that I said it. Any opportunity to help others to unleash their own potential should not be missed. Thanks for shedding some light on such an important aspect of ourselves.


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