The Good Teacher 101

A few things this week have sort of coalesced into a seething and heaving sea of questions in my mind; making me somewhat nauseous if I try and pin a single thought down by staying stationary for too long. However, even if these thoughts aren’t quite at the fully-formed stage, I think it’s important enough to get the thinking down at this stage.

A small group of people in leadership positions at various schools in Melbourne have recently been considering the concept of the ‘good’ teacher and what constitutes ‘good’ work in schools. Can a good teacher fail to do good work? Can good work be done by someone who isn’t a good teacher?

In the Saturday Age’s Good Weekend (there’s THAT word, again!) of August 11 was an article titled ‘Happiness 101’ by D.T. Max that reported on the teaching of positive psychology according to the Science of Wellbeing. Apart from the feeling that this was being taught with almost religious fervour, and that its proponents looked to it as one would to a religion for a coherent set of structural practices with which to guide one’s life, I was entranced by the links that could be made to what might constitute what a good teacher should/could be.

The building blocks of positive psychology, according to this article, are optimism, gratitude, mindfulness, hope and spirituality. It struck me that these, apart from spirituality (perhaps my bias here), are all qualities that a ‘good’ teacher should exhibit. Teachers should exhibit these, not only to present an appropriate role model to our students and inculcate similar behaviours, but, also, teachers need to be able to work well within professional learning teams and I believe that teams of teachers won’t work well unless the teachers do exhibit these behaviours.

In another article I have read recently – The Imperative of Evidence-based Instructional Leadership by Ken Rowe (CSE, Seminar Series No 164 April 2007) -the author reminds us that research on what determines an ‘effective’ school suggests that they are characterised by:

  • purposeful educational leadership
  • challenging teaching and high expectations of students’ achievements
  • involvement of and consistency among teachers
  • a positive and orderly climate
  • frequent evaluation of student progress

The key factors I’d like to highlight here are ‘involvement and consistency’ and ‘positive climate’. If we look back at those building blocks of positive psychology, I think there seem to be some parallels between them. In order for teachers to feel, and be involved in, what they’re doing, I think that we need to be able to articulate an educational vision of our own devising, and in order to be happy in our work, these personal visions need to have common points of agreement with the vision that is put forward by the faculty and school in which we work. In this way I think that optimism and hope will result and provide a forward momentum that is beneficial for both teachers and students.

We need to exhibit more mindfulness about how our behaviours impact on others – our students and our colleagues…entertain a desire to view actions through multiple perspectives. To use a mathematical analogy people sometimes only see the part of the circumference on which they stand and fail to see the rest of the circle or the number of other angles that can stand on the same part of the circumference and that have an equally valid view.  

In The Sunday Age’s Life magazine today (August 12), there is an article titled ‘Lucky Stars’ in which the author says being goal-focused can sometimes act against happiness. If one has no particular goal in mind, one can fire an arrow into the air and where it lands, one draws a target and says ‘Oh look…another bullseye’. Similarly, stubborn people persist relentlessly despite circumstances that preclude success whereas some may drop it in order to return to it when the circumstances are more favourable. In addition, the ability to be flexible in thinking was touted as being a most favourable quality in order to believe oneself to be ‘lucky’.

So….What would ‘good work’ in terms of being a member of a professional team entail? Is this about the contribution one makes to a team? What form can these contributions take? Is it all about producing and sharing worksheets and handouts and meeting of deadlines or can an emotive contribution, such as always being positive and affirming of others, be just as valuable a contribution (if not more so) to a team? I certainly think that members of a successful team need to have a positive outlook and be supportive of each other.  In a professional sense, I also believe that a level of critical reflection is imperative so that everyone is always focussed on producing the best possible outcomes. I’d even go so far as to say that it needs to have members that are optimistic, have hope, are mindful of what needs to be done, as well as mindful of others’ perspectives, and can recognise when to express gratitude to others.   

Every teacher has the responsibility to decide on what activities, handouts, manipulatives etc are required in order to deliver the curriculum that has been developed. Every teacher should be mindful of how their behaviours impact on others. Every teacher should be willing to support colleagues and be actively mindful of what needs to be done, offering to do these things and then sharing this material with our colleagues.

We can all, I’m sure, recall times when we weren’t the greatest team players and didn’t make the effort to see things from others’ points of view…I certainly can! What do other people believe makes a ‘good’ teacher, what constitutes ‘good’ work and what makes a ‘good’ team of teachers?

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About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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