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The Qualities of Great Teachers

Great teachers make great schools, but what makes a good teacher has changed over the last 5 years. In previous eras when information wasn’t ubiquitous, teachers with advanced degrees and massive content knowledge possessed traits on which schools needed to place a premium. A teacher’s interpersonal skills were secondary to their mastery and delivery of content. However, the explosion of information and technology has brought to the forefront a new set of skills on which schools should be focused. These skills are emblematic of the new paradigm in which we live and can be summarized simply as the ability to connect.

A teacher’s ability to connect runs in multiple directions.

The first of these is the ability to connect to colleagues in a meaningful, productive manner. As Vivian Troen and Katherine Boles wrote in their book, The Power of Teacher Teams, effective teacher collaboration leads to improved performance for both teachers and students as well as more student-centered teaching and learning. Teachers who are able to connect with colleagues in a collaborative fashion are better able to leverage their individual skills into a cohesive, school-wide culture of learning that permeates the entirety of a student’s experience.

When considering the student experience, teachers must be able to connect students to authentic learning opportunities, specifically ones in which students are asked to make real contributions to businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits, is the first of these connection skills. Teachers must take advantage of their location and develop relationships with local entities in which students can work with these entities to have real, authentic and impactful experiences. Of course, to do this, teachers must have a level of content fluency (usually in multiple disciplines) to be able to identify the most appropriate local resources available and be able to judge the most appropriate time in which to expose students to those specific opportunities.

In the same fashion, teachers must also be able to connect students with online resources that will inspire, engage, and motivate students to learn more about a given topic or problem. Teachers with a vast “online rolodex” of learning resources for students to engage with content and develop skills outside of school hours will give students the ability to learn in ways that even the most knowledgeable “content master” could provide. As with connecting students to businesses or nonprofits, teachers must have a sense of timing about when and how to expose students to these resources and must know their students well enough to be able to choose the appropriate online resource for a specific student at the most appropriate time.

Finally, and most importantly, teachers must be able to form real, meaningful connections to students and families. Teacher must be able to apply a deep knowledge of learning to assess how, when, and to what extent a student is developing the necessary skills in any number of academic fields. In order to do this, that teacher must be able to connect with the student on a human level, while providing guidance and mentorship in a safe, nurturing environment. Finally, that teacher needs to be able to connect with a student’s family in a way that creates a partnership in which each person is working to serve the best needs of the whole child. The human relationship between a quality teacher and young learner cannot be replicated by technology, and as such, the ability to develop connections with students is the essential skill  of a quality teacher.

Successful teaching used to be something that could be solely measured in a quantifiable manner; specifically, by the amount of content delivered to students. The next generation of teaching should be measured in both a quantifiable and qualitative manner. Great teachers will be great connectors, understanding a combination of skills to impact and improve the lives of their students.

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