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If you’re a teacher who wants to transform teaching now and for years to come, you’re not alone. Educators all over the world are discovering new and interesting pathways for connecting with their modern digital learners through teaching innovation. But this can mean so many things.
Our purpose here is to provide you with a few truths that will bring true changes to your profession that you may not have considered. From the practical to the philosophical, here are seven fundamental truths that can literally transform teaching.
7 Truths that can transform teaching
- Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care
- You can be better than you were yesterday, and model this for your learners
- What matters most about feedback is that it’s useful
- Collaboration is about connection, communication, and compassion
- Interest always comes before learning
- Never skimp on your shoes
- Your students are your greatest teachers
1. “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Educationalist Dylan Wiliam discusses this quote in an article he wrote for Tes. The quote itself is often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. William claims that the essence of this wisdom resides in being able to see our learners not as students to be taught, but rather young people to be respected and nurtured:
“When teachers start from the basic assumption that the pupils in their class are people—sometimes little people, to be sure but people, with all the human rights that we accord to adults—then good things tend to follow.”
More than anything, our learners want to know that they are cared about by those who teach them. First and foremost, they have a need to feel safe and supported in their learning environments. All the credentials in the world make no difference if a teacher is unable to connect with their pupils on levels that serve to fulfil these essential needs.
2. You can be better than you were yesterday, and model this for your learners.
Why is there so much expectation for teachers to be perfect? It’s because the pressure is on them once school begins to play an integral role in preparing children to be prosperous in the future—a responsibility one cannot take lightly.
From parents to admins to other professionals in the community, all eyes are trained on teachers. The way to transform teaching and learning is not to strive for perfection, but simply to be better than you were the day before.
All the credentials in the world make no difference if a teacher is unable to connect with their pupils on levels that serve to fulfill these essential needs.
This applies just as much to learners as it does to educators, which is why we strive to model lifelong learning mindsets and holistic personal development attitudes as teachers. We incorporate Fluency practices into instruction that encourage valuable debriefing and reflection, and work with mindful assessment to help learners “grow as they go.”
We promote useful failure and self-reflection to guide improvement in learning and instruction and teach global digital citizenship values to foster a broader understanding of how we are all connected online and offline.
No matter what anyone says, none of us can be perfect. What we can do each new day is ask ourselves, “How can I be better than I was yesterday?”
3. What matters most about feedback is that it’s useful.
In previous articles, we’ve spoken about best practices for feedback and why it’s important to get it right. As teachers, your words and the intentions behind them have real power, the power to change our learner’s lives. The feedback that merely points out what’s wrong with no attention given to both what is right and how to improve is more than just superficial—it’s malpractice.
Useful feedback that can transform teaching and learning has 5 unique characteristics:
- It’s timely: We must give it often and in detail during learning for it to be effective.
- It’s appropriate and reflective: It should reflect a learner’s abilities, maturity, and age. Also, they must be able to fully understand it in their own way.
- It’s honest and supportive: The goal is to always give feedback that’s honest and supportive. It’s the kind of feedback that will make the learner want to continue.
- It focuses on learning: Any feedback we give must always be linked to the purpose of the task. Beyond being constructive, it should be both actionable and tied to the specific learning objectives you are reaching for together.
- It enables deeper learning: Students must have opportunities to utilize what the feedback we give is meant to teach them. Students can also thrive on constructive feedback from their peers.
Useful assessment feedback pushes our learners to excel in ways they didn’t know they could. It should be used to enable and inspire them to grow, and make them feel good about where they are and excited about where they can go.
4. Collaboration is about connection, communication, and compassion.
The ability to work in teams toward common goals with real and virtual partners is a crucial ability for modern learners graduating into the workforce. However, it’s more than just knowing how to work in a team. It’s also about understanding people and connecting with them on emotional levels that offer a different kind of support.
If our learners were meant to collaborate with others merely to execute tasks and to knock off milestones, then why not simply work alone all the time?
As teachers, your words and the intentions behind them have real power, the power to change our learner’s lives.
Effective collaboration incorporates qualities that are defined by the 3 Cs of connection, communication, and compassion. People have more than just culture, gender, and belief to make them special. We possess fundamental values, opinions, and ethics that shape our personalities.
Everyone in a group has viewpoints and insights that deserve to be heard and that can take a project to unknown levels once incorporated into the mix. Those who have a hard time expressing those ideas also need support from the other team members, as not everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts no matter how brilliant they may be.
In the end, team building starts with knowing and appreciating the diverse complexities of everyone in the group and learning how those complexities can take the team from good to great. People in successful teams don't just learn about the project they're working on; they teach and learn about both themselves and each other. This is how we enrich both our work and our life experiences.
5. Interest always comes before learning.
Richard Saul Wurman, the author of Information Anxiety, has this to say about the connection between interest and learning:
“Learning can be seen as the acquisition of information, but before it can take place, there must be interest; interest permeates all endeavours, and precedes learning. In order to acquire and remember new knowledge, it must stimulate your curiosity in some way … “
He goes on to explain that content that is presented without interest or relevance is like having only one side of a piece of Velcro—the content just doesn’t stick. This is the key to understanding how essential relevance is to the learner in order for practical and meaningful learning to take place.
For learning to occur, there must always be relevance; not to the teacher, but to the learner. Relevance is the first and most vital component of instruction in any modern learning environment, and providing it to our learners is a powerful part of the quest to transform teaching.
6. Never skimp on your shoes.
One of these things is not like the others, we know, but this is more than just about looking and feeling good while you’re on your feet all day. What we’re talking about here is giving due attention to an often-overlooked personal health detail that can affect everything about your job, how you perform it, and what effect that can have on your students.
Our feet represent our structural foundation, and they endure an unbelievable amount of stress and pressure throughout the average day which can end up expressing itself in negative ways in our personal environment. The following is from an article on NetDoctor regarding how our foot health directly affects our overall health:
“Poorly chosen and incorrectly fitting footwear can impact negatively on our feet … If footwear is incorrect then short term problems can become long term ones with an unwillingness to pursue activities such as walking or even affect the ability to work in a chosen occupation with consequent mental, emotional and physical implications.”
We learn here that neglecting our feet can have cumulative physical and psychological consequences across the whole of the body that affect mood, performance, concentration, awareness, and much more. A healthier happier teacher means the same for both your profession and the children who will experience you at your best.
The answer for a teacher on the move is to invest in the right shoes, no matter what it takes. Your body, your mind, and your teaching will all benefit from it.
7. Your students are your greatest teachers.
It’s been said that when two people in a relationship agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary. The relationships we have with our learners can present some of the best opportunities we have for personal growth and development. Our learners inspire us, surprise us, frustrate us, and challenge us to realize why we decided to become teachers in the first place.
It’s because of our passion for learning that we chose to teach others, but sometimes our students end up teaching us. Their fingers are on the pulse of the digital world in ways that ours are not. They are more insightful than we know and they have much to say about where, when, and how it can often be best for them to learn. If we only listen, we can reach new levels of connection that can truly transform teaching.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jun 10, 2019, updated September 21, 2021