That they’re interested. Students who know that their teachers are interested in them and in the things that they’re doing feel as though they have partners in learning. That knowledge comes from the genuine expression of interest, which takes time, but unfortunately can’t be replaced by things that don’t take time. Also, I would suggest that a student’s belief in the genuine interest of their teachers is pretty easy to come by initially, but if it wavers at all it can be tough to get back. When I see students unequivocally believing that teachers are genuinely interested in them, I also see great teachers who are consistent expressing that interest. They’re constantly saying things like “wow,” and “awesome,” and “how cool,” when responding to, and interacting students…and they always seem to mean it.
That they’re excited. Like interest, excitement has to be authentic to make its most profound impact. If you’re an educator, every once in a while you hear someone tell you that they’re not enjoying or engaged in learning because they’re bored. I tell my own children that “board” is in their heads because I believe that if you’re excited about learning you can be excited about learning anything in any circumstances. Sounds like a stretch but I believe it nonetheless. Think about some of the otherwise “boring” things that you get excited about and consider that maybe its true. Regardless, great teachers teach because they are in fact excited about learning. Engaged students know that about their teachers. I love to walk into a classrooms to see inspired teachers getting goofy with excitement over a great lead to a piece of realistic fiction or an alternate solution to a multiplication challenge. Fortunately, I get to do that on a daily basis because the wonderful teachers I work with are remarkable at showing genuine enthusiasm. They really dig in, and as a result their students dig in too.
That they’re prepared. Kids know when we don’t. In my experience as a teacher, the better prepared I was with knowledge and carefully constructed plans the better I was a getting and keeping the attention and active participation of my students. I’ve taught in multiple classrooms at various grade levels. It never failed. When I stumbled forward unprepared I lost them (and it did happened every now and again). When I took the time to get to know my curriculum, to build some serious connected knowledge, and to shake out as many bumps in the instructional road as I could before delivering it, my students reciprocated with enhanced, and in my opinion, increasingly meaningful engagement.
That they’re human. Now that we’ve strolled down fantasy lane let’s get real. Teachers are people. I do know many incredible teachers who have an uncanny ability to stay focused, energized, and positive nearly all the time, but even they lose it every now and again. Good thing too, because losing it is not only a common human experience, but it’s a wonderful opportunity for figuring out how to find it again. Great teachers take the time to invite their students into the process of falling down and standing up when it happens. Great teachers dialogue with their students about ups and downs. They openly celebrate great learning and they publicly reflect on challenges that surface along the way.
Of course it’s important to know your audience, to thoroughly consider developmental readiness and other factors that would preempt the sharing of one piece of information or another, but teachers who appropriately share the details of their learning journey with humility and courage spark the capacity for humility and courage in their students. Students see their own humanity in those kinds of teachers, they appreciate that connection, and they feel increasingly comfortable taking reasonable learning risks together. Engaging in learning partnerships can be precarious. The learning process is filled with marks of positive progress but it also exposes imperfections. When students see that their interested, excited, and prepared teachers are imperfect too, they’re more likely to feel comfortable taking the kind of risks that genuine engagement in learning requires.
Live. Learn. Lead.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.