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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

There's a lot I love about being a teacher. Teaching is one of those rare professions that keeps your brain young, allowing you to continue your own journey as a student and a lifelong learner. We as educators speak often about creating lifelong learners, but if we aren't buying into it ourselves, then our students don't stand a chance.

Michelle Pfeiffer once said that being an actor allows her, with every new character, to learn something new, immersing herself in a distinct universe with each project. Being a teacher is that and so much more.

Keeping It Real

Each school year brings new people into your life. Each unit and lesson brings new perspectives. Each failure, when looked at formatively, can help you solve new problems. Each success, when used reflectively, can be even greater the next time.

Sharing oneself, thinking aloud, and being honest about what's working and what isn't is not about making the environment "softer." It's about creating a classroom in which students are at their best in attitude and character. It's about classroom management being better because students want to be there, learning from a teacher who is also willing to learn from them. "The one who does the teaching is the one who's doing the learning," as they say.

Teaching is a job that encourages your own growth because to do it well requires your own continuous education. Some might say that's a bad thing, but growth is about facing your demons -- or just your imps -- and dueling yourself for greater knowledge.

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

I believe true growth as a person can happen only by challenging yourself with situations that are not familiar to you. Throwing yourself into a job in which you can encounter people of different ethnicities and religions and with different philosophies, learning styles, and backgrounds can only cause you to grow as a person, and public education provides that environment.

And you never know how that will eventually translate. For some, it will mean a growth in empathy. For others, the fact that your brain learns something new every day becomes a means to fight old age. Remember those nuns from Wales featured in Time magazine a few years back? This group of long-lived nuns had theories about their own longevity as it related to their active brain activities. Learning, they believed, kept Alzheimer's at bay and helped their minds stay intact even while their bodies aged.

Whatever your beliefs are, the fact is that a good teacher continues to be a student. This could mean you continue to be a student in a graduate class, or you could simply be a student of your own school community.

In my ten years of teaching, I learned more from other teachers, my students, and their parents than I learned from any class in my teacher-credential program. (True, that's not difficult to do -- but that's another post.) In turn, when they saw my own enthusiasm for learning, students were more inclined to learn from me. And that's how my own happiness and growth has translated into the success of my students.

What impact has a passion for lifelong learning had on your teaching? Please share your thoughts.

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Lisa Little's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank You Heather AGAIN for your helpful advice! I am in the Northern San Diego area...so not too far from you. As you know, there have a been alot of layoffs! I will be checking in for your articles about finding a job! Thanks again!

Adrienne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Heather! This is my first time blogging and I really enjoyed your post. I am 22 years old, and I am a first year teacher. I feel the student's really enjoy working with me, because I am upbeat and always doing interactive hands on activities. Teaching is one of the few professions where it really does and will keep you young. I teach kindergarten and first grade, and not a day has gone by where I didn't laugh or smile because of something my student's had said or done. There is always something new to learn, and always room for improvement. I still remember the teacher's I had that were always up with the latest fads, and I always admired them! I still have a lot to learn, but I truly enjoy my job and can't wait to continue this lifelong journey!

Angela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the section on stepping out of your comfort zone. It is so true that you grow as a person when you do this. When I began teaching I thought they couldn't pay me enough to teach kindergarten. Well, I am currently a kindergarten teacher. I have grown more than I could have ever imagined. The five year-olds that I teach truly bring me joy. They have stretched my patience and perseverance to new bounds. I used to feel that I wanted to teach second grade, but now I can't imagine teaching a different grade. I feel that every day brings a different experience and I am learning right along side of the students at times.

I agree that teachers must stay lifelong learners in order to be and stay effective. The students are ever changing, and teachers must be ever changing as well. I think that it is great to take professional development classes and further your education, but learning comes from your students as well.

Thanks, Angela

Sharon Greenen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I guess I never thought of master in that context but Dumbledore definitely would be a great example of a master. The problem that I am having is, because this is my second career,teachers, in general, along with administration believe I do not need help or guidance because I am order. That is so far from the truth. They never teacher you what you need to know to get you started in the classroom.

I may have a lot more life experience but that is not much when you walk in one morning and you have 28 students relying on you to keep the day moving. I feel, I will always be a novice at least at one or more things at a time. My concern right now is learning some strategies to just master my classroom from day to day. I believe 28 students is just too many..
Thank you for all words of encouragement with my new experience at blogging.

All feedback and advice is welcome.

Sharon Greenen
Bernard Black Elementary School 4th grade "after starting with 6th"
Phoenix, Arizona.

Jamie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also wanted to comment on the comfort zone section. I always imagined myself teaching high school chemistry. My experience was at the high school level. My first job opportunity came at the middle school level. I was very nervous to take on the challenge of middle school, however I did choose to step out of my comfort zone and have loved being a middle school teacher. I would not change it for anything! If I had not taken a risk, I never would have known what teaching could be like.

Gdunn118's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


This is my first blogging experience. And I'm not going to lie I am doing this for my master's class. Having read a bunch of blogs over the past several days, yours is the one that stood out. Your blog is from the heart and right to the point. I too love teaching! I am only in my 3rd year, however not a day goes by that I dread my career choice. Working with children keeps me grounded. I am amazed at some of the things that come out of my kids mouths. You are absolutely right I have learned so much from my kids alone, that I feel will aide me in my years ahead. From the mistakes that I have made as a teacher, to the way I discipline my students. All of my experiences (good and bad) are molding me into the teacher that I want to become.
Thank you for your blog and opening a new world to me!

Jennifer Fowlkes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I absolutely agree with everything you have written in this article. In choosing teaching as a profession, it has to be where your heart is. You must remain student-centered at all times in order to be completely effective. I believe that all effective educators are born leaders. The most important skill embraced by a teacher is knowing her students. Teachers need to connect with their students on both academic and personal levels in order to tap into student interest, strengths, and weaknesses during lessons. Students should also be permitted to get to know their teacher on a personal level. Sharing likes and dislikes as well as goals and dreams is an intricate part of connecting and will enhance the learning process. In doing this, the teacher is constanly learning about her students and adjusting her lessons accordingly. The bottom line is that the teacher must be there for the students. And if the teacher's heart isn't in it, then the students are the ones who suffer. So teaching is the type of profession where you better love it, or leave it for the sake of our future leaders!

Jennifer Fowlkes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I experienced the same sort of situation ten years ago when I was looking for a kindergarten, first, or second grade position in Maryland. I interviewed at a few schools and found one that felt like a perfect fit for me. This school, however, was offering me a fifth grade position, which was totally out of my comfort zone. After contemplating my choices, I took the fifth grade position. I learned so very much about teaching and myself as a teacher in those three years. It was hard work, but well worth it. It proved to me that when you challenge yourself outside of your comfort zone, you grow personally and professionally. We ask our students each day to challenge themselves in doing new things, so why shouldn't we do the same? Now I can not say that fifth grade was where my heart was because I have recently gone back to teaching kindergarten - which I absolutely love! But, I hold that experience near and dear to my heart and continue to use the skills and strategies I learned even with my kindergarteners!

Thanks for bringing me back to that experience!

Emily's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather. I was caught by stepping outside your comfort zone. I am not good at that at all. That is a goal of mine to be better about this year, I am a perfectionist and doesn't like to be wrong. I am just starting my master's degree. That is one of the reasons I was looking around at different blogs. But, I feel like I had to step out of my comfort zone to get myself here and working. Now that I am doing that, I'm happy I did it. I feel like I need to show my students that it is alright to try something even if I am not sure what exactly is going to happen.

I also totally agree with learning from your students. I am always picking things up from my students. I think my students respect me more because I am more "real" with them when I admit I don't know something or that I learned something from them.

michael 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoy the first paragraph where it talks about allowing a teacher to become a lifelong learner. I believe that in order to be successful in the teaching field, then one must have a passion for learning. For teachers to be able to translate the information to the student, then, we too, must have learned it ourselves. I am a firm believer that everyone must face their fears in order to truly accomplish something. For a teacher, that fear may be continuing their education. By doing this, they will be able to better prepare their students for life.

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