It’s almost Thanksgiving and I can’t help but turn inward and examine my own practice as an educator and stand in gratitude at the opportunity to work with so many fine educators. As part of my reflection, I got to thinking, “If I could distill the essence of a master educator into just a few qualities what would they be? What do great educators have in common?” Don’t let the list overwhelm – you choose one or two to work on and you will be surprised how much more mastery you can develop. Here’s my PECKing Order” and some strategies to inspire you to even greater heights of mastery:
P = Passionate
Look back at the day you decided to become an educator, to really give it everything. Why did you make the choice? I call this “The Spark” and it is often enough to ignite your entire career. In my case, my spark was the lack of opportunities in traditional settings for kids that learned like I did. I was labeled “class clown” and “behavioral problem” when what I really needed was a mentor and teacher who was courageous enough to try new approaches and techniques. I became that teacher – with lots of active approaches and strategies – and decided to make those opportunities available for all the students I now mentor.
Key indicators of a passionate teacher:
- Do you persist in reaching difficult students where others have given up? Why should you?
- Do you feel ready to get into the classroom Monday morning? If yes, why? If no, why not?
- Can you connect the often tedious work of everyday education with The Spark? Can you see how connecting your spark makes all seemingly dull tasks and duties a jumping off point for being present and inspired?
E = Evolutionary
You are a master educator! You are a work in progress who is always evolving and innovating. How do I know that? Because you have these characteristics:
- You are open to new ideas, ways of doing things, iterations and innovations in education. You don’t reject the new; instead, you study and integrate it into your work. You view new programs and ideas, as unwelcome as they initially appear, as challenges and opportunities.
- You reflect on your own performance in the classroom and create “hacks” or small, incremental improvements and workarounds to make things better for you and your students.
- You are open to feedback from trusted sources and peers.
- You are true to the curriculum but within appropriate parameters you also experiment, loosen things up a bit and add some fun to the mix.
C = Connective
What do great educators do? They are connectors. Do you have the skills and strategies to:
- Create new and engaging activities using music, art and movement that connect to the curriculum? How could you get those skills?
- Connect what you teach to “real world” with relevant and colorful examples?
- Engage in new professional and development opportunities that connect you with other like-minded educators and peers?
- Connect students to positive activities like clubs, teams, summer programs and afterschool programs? Are you a resource for students and parents/guardians?
- Mentor and coach struggling educators? You aren’t afraid to reach out and be a positive force in your school and connect people together!
You “work” the classroom on foot and shun “command and control” methods from a central position. You know that walking around the classroom, checking work, getting a conversation going about learning and praising student effort creates a connected and cohesive classroom.
K = Knowledgeable
Knowledge is inspiring and when it is harnessed to be useful to the lives of young people, it becomes deeply powerful and transformative. As a master educator you:
- Strive to “deep dive” into your core subject areas. The more you learn, the more you want to learn. You know how to solve problems in multiple ways. There are many cool techniques to write a poem. There are differing versions and opinions on what happened on a significant historical day. You seek multiple paths of understanding.
- Study best practices for the classroom. You KNOW what works and what doesn’t while keeping an open mind.
- Assess yourself on your strengths and weaknesses in core subject areas, behavior modification strategies and arts integration/interactive techniques. You have a plan to harness your strengths and to improve your weaknesses.
Yes, “The PECKing Order” is a tall order. But shouldn’t we, as the most important educational role models outside of parents and guardians, be striving toward mastery? We are more than educators, we are prime influencers of the potential-filled lives of young people.
The master educator Tristan de Frondeville writes, “As a teacher, my goal was to go home at the end of each day with more energy than I had at the beginning of the day. Seriously.” I find that inspiring on my journey towards mastery and I hope you do too!
Happy Thanksgiving and may your holiday be filled with rest, reflection and rejoicing.
Rob Levit, an acclaimed musician and artist and 2013 Innovator of the Year from the Maryland Daily Record, has created award-winning innovative “Life-Skills Through The Arts” programs for adults with mental illness, the homeless, adults in drug and alcohol recovery, youth in domestic/sexual abuse counseling, foster children, hospital patients, veterans and many more. He is currently Executive Director of Creating Communities and was the first Artist-In-Residence at Hospice of the Chesapeake, where he created and infused healing activities for the well-being of staff, families and patients. Email Rob.