If someone had asked me this question during the first few years of teaching I would probably have said it looked like a prepared, highly accomplished and caring person with years of experience. However, now that I am in a different school and have a few more years of experience I have a different answer. A teacher who changes lives is a teacher who:
- helps students realise their potential, and encourages them to dream big
- engages students in metacognition, developing an understanding of how they learn
- facilitates the type of learning that equips students with skills for continuous lifelong learning
- makes themselves indispensable
- can ignite the love of learning
These are the things I believe are pivotal qualities and characteristics of a teacher who can and will change lives. Some of this thinking has been informed by a book I have been reading called ‘Teaching That Changes Lives: 12 Mindset Tools for Igniting the Love of Learning‘ by Marilee Adams, PhD. I have been doing a lot of reading and reflecting in the past year and I am very aware that students at the school I work at now are highly motivated and successful students who have the potential to do remarkable things. I am passionate about seeing those students set themselves goals that aim high; reflect on their learning experiences; embrace all opportunities for growth and learning; and, always love to learn.
If students are going to be like this then teachers will need to model it. Could it be said that students will only aim as high as they believe possible from what they have observed to be experienced by others? Would students seek out lifelong learning opportunities if they saw that teachers were not also seeking these types of experiences? Would students reflect on their learning experiences if teachers were not? One of the most asked questions in the entire universe has but three letters, WHY, and it is one I have heard my students ask many times. Why do we have to learn algebra? Why do we have to have such strict uniform policies? Why do we need to do homework and exams? When I’m asked a question in class, I love to try to ask one back to get the student to think first because more often than not, they know the answer but they want to just ask and get it. I want my students to be critical thinkers and reflective practitioners in their own right but do I think they will do this if they don’t see that I do this too? Students see value in what they see their teachers have value in when it comes to learning. I always share with students how valuable maths was for me in activating a part of my brain that nothing else could have, a part of my brain that I’m sure has been largely responsible for my critical thinking and problem solving abilities. I long to see that same result in my students.
Back to the book, ‘Teaching that changes lives’, it is written as a narrative from the perspective of a teacher who is struggling. The teacher is struggling to get results, struggling to work with colleagues and struggling to have the right attitude about her job and its purpose. It’s easy for us to fall into a slump and feel discouraged or cynical about our jobs sometimes but this book offers a mindset tool that can help us refocus and choose the right mindset in all circumstances. This is presented through the Choice Map by Marilee Adams. The Choice Map is a tool that outlines the path of a person who chooses the learner mindset and the path of a person who chooses the judger mindset. Now I think we all know which mindset is most likely our default but what I like about the map is that is simple and easy to apply if I just ask myself a few questions. I have included an image of the Choice Map and you can see these questions for yourselves. I choose the learner mindset and I want my students and colleagues to choose the learner mindset so the path is long and bright, with lifelong learner in sight.