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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

Comments (111)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Other Job Advice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If you find youself out of a job, check out my article in Teacher Magazine this week on Teacher Secrets: Finding A Job that you Love, or glance over at my personal post on the subject at http://tinyurl.com/bjqqq6.
Hope it helps. I wrote it based on my own, most recent job hunt when I moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. May it help you find a job that helps you be as happy as mine allows me to be.
-Heather WG

Lorrie Witsil's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather! I really enjoyed reading your blog post. This is my first experience with an online blog community and I am glad I happened upon this one. I totally agree that an effective teacher is one that recognizes the importance of being a life-long learner. I recently began the journey through graduate school. I obtained my bachelor's degree in 1996. I married that same year, moved to Hawaii with my military husband, and got pregnant a few months later. I stayed home to raise my children for 8 years. When it was time to go back to work I felt very "out of the loop" because so much time had passed. I got a job teaching Pre Kindergarten in a private center and I am now in my 6th year of that. I quickly realized that I needed to learn more about the profession I truly love. I am thrilled to be back in school and I have thoroughly enjoyed my first class. Much of what this first class has been about is the concept of being a life-long learner and reflecting on our teaching practices to become more effective teachers. I whole heartedly agree that to be the most effective teacher I can be, I must always challenge myself and learn as much as I can. Thanks for a great post and I look forward to reading more from you.

Lorrie Witsil
Pre Kindergarten Teacher
Middletown, RI

Jan Belanger's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I am stepping out of my "comfort zone" by responding to your blog posting. Today is the fist I have responded to any blogs. I have read from several contributors from the Spiral Notebook Blogs and I found yours helpful, thought provoking, and challenging. I have frequently said that I have a passion for teaching children with learning difficulties, but your question: "What impact has a passion for lifelong learning had on your teaching?" reminded me just how much I enjoy learning. My experience as a student in a graduate class has rejuvenated me as a teacher. As I share some of the things I have learned with my students, they listen and ask questions. They want to know why I would go back to school when all they want is to be finished. Continuing my education has made a positive impact on the success of my students.

ML Special Education Teacher
Pequot Lakes, MN

BROWN's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather

I really enjoyed reading your blog. I can't agree with you more regarding stepping outside of your comfort zone. This is a very large part of learning those connective pieces that go with teaching. I find this to be very helpful with the different backgrounds that the students come from. I visit the homes of students on a daily basis and I receive such great information for these efforts. I can trully identify with what you are saying and thank you so much for the reflection.

Heather Ditinno 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I must say that I certainly do agree with you about differentiating instruction is the key to any class. It is very important for me to have a variety of methods and hands on teaching skills. I am constantly adjusting and changing my teaching not only every day but every year to accommodate the needs of my students ensuring success. The school that I teach in also has a high number of Hispanics 76% the rest kurdish, Muslim, and the "Other" category. I will get in touch with Larry Ferlazzo and look forward to hearing about his resources and also his successes.

Thank You for your time and thoughts,

Heather Ditinno

pbass's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Parent Insight is Key

I am a 7th grade social studies teacher and I really relate to your points of "learning from other teachers, students and their parents." While we certainly can learn from our peers and our students, parents and their knowledge, is often overlooked. There is tremendous value in speaking to parents. In addition to the generally motivating affect it has on the students, parents can shine some light what their student is like outside of school in a way that a student may not tell you directly. This knowledge gives me as a teacher, new insight to that student, and can help increase interpersonal communication with that student. Thanks for the great insights!

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

First of all, Jan, I want to say "Congrats" on writing your first comment. You've started a whole new level of learning just by entering a dialogue. You've really captured a eureka moment for yourself, the one of sitting in a class as a student and returning to the classroom as a teacher, so take a mental photo and share it with each class every year. You have also really hit on this concept of "share" in order to teach, have better classroom management, and begin a new path towards achievement. Sharing your eurekas, your befuddlement, and your challenges will be the best on-going lessons you can give. When your formal education is over, make sure you continue in other ways. As Sheridan Blau says, "Honor confusion." That is, know that your students' well-articulated confusion and your own admission of imperfection can be its own evidence of learning and curiosity. Good luck and thanks so much for commenting!
-Heather WG

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a middle school teacher, I am in awe of pre-K teachers. No, really. (cue angel chorus) It's great to hear that you've learned the awesome-ness that is reflection. It is fear that keeps people from doing that hard part of a hard job. And when it's used deeply and formatively, it becomes your own professional development when conferences and useful PD can be hard to find. If you are interested, and you really are wanting to improve your craft, interview for a branch of the Writers Project. It will be a life-changing summer for your professionally. You will sweat and bleed as a student surrounded by a small group of equally dedicated and talented teachers, each with their own lesson to share. You'll emerge the best teacher you never knew you could be. It's the ultimate professional development in molding your craft. Good luck and thanks for checking in. I also look forward to reading more from you.
-Heather WG

Angela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather,

I enjoyed reading your blog. I agree that teaching keeps you young. In order to understand your students, you must be informed about the latest books, movies, music, and technology that they engage in. I feel that teaching does keep your mind active. I have realized that I need to stay active in the summer because I feel like I am in a fog and very forgetful if I relax all summer.
This is my first time as a blogger. I look forward to reading more.

Lorrie Witsil's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather! You have peaked my interest with the Writers Project. I have never heard of this and would love to hear more about it. Where can I go to research this further?

I do love Pre Kindergarten and have had many wonderful experiences but I don't know that I plan to stay in this age group too much longer. I want to finish my Master's degree and then move up in age a bit. I am not sure yet where I will end up but for now I am perfectly happy where I am.


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