Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teachers

With credit to Stephen Covey for the concept, here are my seven habits of highly effective teachers:
1. Desire: In order for you to succeed at anything, really, you have to want to do well. Teaching requires the professional to want to do the job. This profession can drain the emotional stability out of the most stable individuals. If you don't want to battle through the inevitable lows of the profession, you will find yourself simply earning a paycheck. When a teacher is simply earning a paycheck, they lose effectiveness.

2. Be Yourself: Nothing screams desperation more than a teacher trying too hard to fit in. Our students are savvy enough, and judgmental enough, to call out a teacher who hasn't discovered their own unique gifts. If making students stand on the tables and proclaim "Oh Captain, my captain," don't do it. If lecturing from the front while the In-Focus machine purrs away, don't do it.

3. Prepare: Certainly we should come to class as prepared as we expect our students to be when they enter the classroom. But preparation goes beyond the lesson plan. We must prepare ourselves to journey down an unexpected path when it arrives; or we should prepare ourselves to take a new approach if the original does not work. I know the frustration of a failed lesson plan. We spend time preparing our lesson and we expect it to work. Sometimes it doesn't. And yes, it is a sinking feeling in our stomach when those faces look back at us with the blank bewilderment we feared.

4. Don't Move on until the Concept is Understood: As a teacher who has taught seniors preparing for college, I say this with the utmost respect for my fellow teachers. But when I have a senior in high school who cannot punctuate the end of a sentence properly, or answer basic plot questions from their reading, we all look bad. I know that we operate in a system that can't leave children behind, so don't allow them to move forward if they haven't mastered the skills. I have felt pressure from my administration to lower my levels of expectations, and yet, I can't. I can't in good faith allow a student to pass a class if the basic skills have not been mastered.

5. It's about the students: This could possibly be the most difficult to achieve. Again, in a profession where Central Office "suits" dictate lesson plans, curriculum, and classroom pedagogy from a building ten miles away, it is easy to forget that we serve our students. We don't serve the community, though they have power and influence; we don't serve the parents, even the ones that actually take the time to get invovled; we don't serve our government, despite what they believe. We teach students. Don't ever forget how important those lives are to the future of our society.

6. Go with what works: Back when I student taught, my collaborating teacher spent an insane amount of time teaching grammar to ninth graders. Very few English teachers today spend a critical amount of focused, direct instruction on grammar. But, years later when five or six of those students enrolled in my Pre-College English class, I was thankful. He wasn't hip and he didn't believe in "standards based grading." But, his students learned--even if they went on to block it all out of their minds. Education fashion comes and goes. Your methods one year will fail the next. If the students learn from it, then use it.

7. Don't Give Up: This last one comes from experience. There were times this year that I wanted to give up on a student. I didn't want to feel that disappointment again. So at the end, when that student said, "Mr. McNamar, I can't thank you enough for never giving up on me," I understood that beyond the lesson plans and the standards, we must teach our students that they have value. Their value is not based on their grade. Maybe they won't enjoy the reward today, or at graduation, but years from now, when they press on in the midst of trying times, it will be because someone in their life taught them to never give up.


At 1:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interesting and stimulating post. I am working on a list of resolutions for the new schoolyear (see blog), based on things that I wasn't happy about this year. Thanks for inspiring me and my list!

At 11:25 AM , Blogger Jason H. Bowman said...

Thanks for the post. There's a reminder here for just about everybody!

At 10:57 PM , Blogger Stacey Shubitz said...

Inspirational post... thanks!!!

At 1:47 PM , Blogger Melissa said...

Mr. McNamar-
I'm so glad to have found your blog. I'm a first-year middle school English teacher this year, and I'm looking for all the resources I can get. What other blogs might you recommend?

At 11:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your service-oriented spirit of teaching that you shared with us. Thank you so much. I found it encouraging.

In that same spirit, might you be open to a couple of thoughts that may help these "7 Habits" to be even more helpful for readers?

Remembering each of the 7 Habits in the order that they were originally presented has helped many people to build a framework of understanding that has led them to really help students, their families, and many others.

Therefore, if you were to put "Be Yourself" as #1, then that might fit a little closer with Habit 1: "Be Proactive" (Being proactive and choosing our own responses based on our own unique gifts instead of reacting and copying others.) I love your examples in this one, by the way.

Then #2 "Desire" will fit well with the concept of "Begin With the End in Mind." And #3, "Prepare," is already right on with "Put First Things First".

#6, "Go with what works" seems to fit nicely with Habit 6:"Synergize" when one thinks about it. And the same goes with #7 "Don't give up." Habit 7: "Sharpen the Saw: Renew regularly" can help someone to not give up. One thing I like to do for renewal is to reflect upon the students and other people that my efforts may have helped, or may yet help.

I haven't done this for a little while, though. Thank you for the reminder in your paragraph on "Don't give up."

The second minor suggestion involves switching the order of #4 and #5.

"It's about the students" seems to fit very well with Habit 4: "Think Win-Win". The big win that you emphasized definitely is for the students and therefore for the future of our society. The other win that you hinted at is for those of us in the educational system, as teachers and administrators, that need to somehow continue to earn our livelihoods. Acknowledging the balancing of these two may help us find more ways to support the first. That, I would like to learn more of how to do. By referencing this concept as Habit 4, we can more easily share ideas about this concept of making sure that students are really benefiting from their education.

Finally, that leaves "Don't Move on until the Concept is Understood" to fit into the #5 spot, in harmony with Habit 5: "Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood." This also follows logically from your suggestion to remember that "It's About the Students." I agree that if it's really about the students, then for their sake, we need to make sure they've learned the subject before we kick them out into a highly competitive college and career environment.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your insights on the 7 Habits in relation to teaching. I'd like to read more of such explorations. I'm planning on reading more of your blogs. Good luck in your teaching. I hope you are able to fully realize these ideals.

At 6:23 AM , Blogger lakshmi said...

Wonderful, wonderful. You really put into beautiful words what I have felt for a long long time and conveyed to so many at different points in my journey as a teacher. Will cherish your writing.

At 6:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved your YouTube link to the "Yes We Can" speech. I had not heard it before today; it is a fabulous speech that may go in the books as one of the great speeches.... The multi-media collage made it a superior piece of art.


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