While speaking with a colleague a few weeks ago, we got into a discussion about what it takes to be a good teacher. Obviously, there’s no list of characteristics floating around the world that tells us everything we need to achieve as educators. We began wondering if, within our own school system, we could create something which would enable us to work towards a defined list of things a teacher in our system should aim for.

While this process will take time, effort and lots of thought, I’ve been thinking on my own about what it means to be a good teacher. There are many, many articles and books and websites dedicated to creating the best teacher but how helpful are they? With the diversity of classrooms, students, contexts, and curriculums, can one list ever suffice for every educator no matter where they are? I don’t think so, but I do think that there are some characteristics that might be more generalizable than others.

There is one particular quality that comes to mind above all others and something that I have not seen in many teachers throughout the past few years: the constant effort to improve or be better. As a teacher, I have always believed that the most important thing I could ever do for my students is to regularly focus on my own growth and development and to try and be better every day, every week, every year. If I can’t make myself better, how can I expect achievement from my students?

In my mind, this quality relates to the growth mindset (Carol Dweck) as it refers to the idea that we all need to know that we can be better at anything we do, rather than feel as though characteristics are given at birth to a random selection of people. Instead of referring to ourselves (or our student) as smart, we should focus in on the specific things we (or they) have done to achieve the goal at hand. We cannot plateau into the mindset of thinking we’ve become good at one type of activity or subject and then give up trying to be better at it; there’s always room for improvement.

If all teachers vowed to continuously work to be better at what they do and what they teach, how much more successful would our students become each year? Moreover, it makes me wonder what my example would spark in students’ minds about their own learning and growth.

Alas, I feel as though there are teachers who get to a point of success and stop thinking that there is any improvement beyond that. Or there are teachers who float through their work without ever even wondering if things could be done differently or in a better way. Also, unfortunately, due to the pressures and workload of our profession, many feel as if there just isn’t enough time to do everything and still spend enough time on our own development.

Although it happens in baby steps, I have made efforts to try and focus on my own growth as a teacher and as a coach/mentor. I have spent time each week researching and applying new practices to my own work. I never feel like I do enough, but at least I know I have set aside a specific time to work on my skills and this ensures that I am thinking about growth every week. This helps me take small steps towards my own development as a teacher and helps me feel as though I am not just accepting my own status quo.

It is from our effort to improve our practice that we are able to continuously assess student needs, assess our own abilities and strengths and try to fill in our gaps. If we lose this way of thinking, a profession whose very core relies on growth could become stagnant.

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