George Lucas Educational Foundation
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An illustration of a shadow-like teenage boy. He's drawing a school, inspired from reading a book. The word "growth" is highlighted in green in the background.

However talented, no one is a natural-born teacher. Honing the craft takes significant care and effort, not just by the individual, but also by the school at large. Though experience does matter, it matters only to the extent that a teacher -- regardless of how long he or she has been in the classroom -- commits to continued professional development to refresh his or her status as a transformational teacher. Along those lines, even after a decade in the classroom, I don't claim to be beyond criticism -- not in the least. Still, I wish to offer some advice on constantly striving toward perfection, however elusive that goal will always remain.

Constantly Share Best Practices

As a first step, work toward recognizing that, no matter how long you've been in the classroom, there will always be someone else who's more effective at a certain facet of teaching. When I was a first-year teacher, a veteran colleague inquired how I'd engaged such strong student interest in the American Revolution, something that he'd struggled with achieving. I shared my lesson plan, which culminated in a formal debate about whether the colonists had acted justly in rebelling against British rule. Moving forward, I felt more confident and comfortable about asking that colleague for help with providing quality written feedback, which he excelled at doing.

Find a Trusted Mentor

No matter how much experience you have, it's crucial to find and rely on a trusted confidant. As a new teacher, I spent countless hours chatting with colleagues about best practices and where I feared that I might have fallen short. Not once did they pass judgment on me, or suggest that whatever I had done (or failed to do, in certain cases) was beyond repair. Instead, they offered thoughtful advice on how I might do things differently. No matter the subject, I value hearing fresh perspectives from new and veteran teachers about becoming even better at my job. Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.

Commit to Classroom Observations

I do my best to observe other teachers in action. This year, I benefited from watching a colleague inject humor into his English classroom to cultivate a more relaxed but effective learning environment. In turn, I tried to strike a similar balance in my history classroom, which helped students feel less afraid of sharing ideas and learning from mistakes. I'm equally grateful for observing a colleague teach French to students whom I also instruct. She possesses a gentle firmness that learners respond to, but more importantly, students know that she cares about them -- and they don't want to let their teacher or themselves down.

Change Things Up

I also observe other teachers to see how they change things up, especially when I get too comfortable in a routine. It's certainly easier to teach the same books and content each year, but it's also incredibly boring, which can lead to burnout. This summer, I'm working to revamp some of my American history curriculum to fall more in step with what students are learning and doing in their American literature class. For example, when juniors are studying the Cold War in my class, they'll be reading Alan Moore's Watchmen in their English class -- an award-winning graphic novel highlighting many Cold War-era fears and tensions. For both classes, students will complete a yet-to-be-determined project to showcase their understanding.

Model the Usefulness of What You Teach

In line with changing things up, I'm always looking for new ways to model the usefulness of what I teach. More than ever, I find that students want to know how they can apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world. In American history, I continue to de-emphasize rote memorization in favor of activities requiring clear, analytical thinking -- an essential tool for whatever students end up pursuing in college or as a career. On most assessments, I allow students to bring a notecard. It seems less important in the age of Google to assess how much students know. Instead, I'm significantly more concerned with how much sense they can make of all this information so readily available to them. In all of my classes, I also make it clear that knowing how to write well will play a significant role in their future success.

Caring Beyond What You Teach

To motivate my students toward success, I strive to show that I care about them beyond the classroom. I do my best to chaperone trips, watch sporting events, and attend plays and other student-run productions. I advise the Model United Nations Club, which allows me to share my passion for diplomacy and fostering change. I also coach cross-country to help students see that I value maintaining a healthy body just as much as developing an inquisitive mind. The most transformational teachers that I know have a deep understanding of how their role transcends far beyond any subject that they're teaching. Such teachers have the most lasting impact on their students long after graduation.

How else can one become a transformational teacher? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

You raise an important point Ondicho. Often cultural differences impact the way we see peer/teacher observation. I think having conversations about "why" the observation is important might help.

Kari Musil's picture

I'm new to Edutopia, and I haven't read every comment for this post, but I'm looking for a place to ask advice on a particular issue - this might be it. I retired early (55) after 16 years to help my disabled daughter transition to college last year. She needed more financial aid than she could get with my teacher income. I substitute teach now. I loved being a teacher and I was very successful with large, diverse groups of students at the middle and high school level in my urban, low-income district. After reading several articles about transformational teaching, I realize that is what I have been doing. I'm ready to return to teaching, preferably in the neighboring district (same demographics), and I've applied and interviewed for countless positions. Nothing...crickets. What's happening? Is it my age? Too much experience? Any insight would be appreciated! (BTW, I'm an instrumental music teacher.)

Lmeschutt's picture
Middle School Science Teacher and College Anthropology Instructor

In many professions, more years at the job translates into more expertise and companies are willing to pay the cost for that expertise because it could lead to greater profits for them. Teaching, unfortunately, doesn't seem to follow that rule. Districts look at the fresh new teachers that are tech-savvy and cheap......why hire someone with more experience at twice the price? You are in a tough position but somehow you have to market yourself from that angle, that you come already trained and prepared and have learned how to manage time and a classroom and are worth the extra money. You may want to also look into becoming a methods instructor or student teacher supervisor at a college.

mrssmud's picture

I have been teaching for a number of years and always look to find inspiration and rejuvenation. I think the suggestions for transformation and specific and doable in our classrooms. Students are infinitely more motivated by the teachers who weave themselves into the fabric of the school and maintain a presence. I have found this time and again with my classes over the years. Our presence strengthens trust with kids and knowing that we are accountable to them for more than just the content delivered in our classroom lessons goes a long ways. The effort on the part of the teacher to individualize him or herself means everything to kids of all ages. Also important is the reminder to focus on modeling the usefulness of what you teach. The more time we spend in modeling the deeper the thinking and connections. Teachers who are uninformed or not current in their subject matter run the risk of alienating their students. Observations, mentoring and the exchange of ideas are critical to continued transformation.

Sandyy Prekk's picture

this is a great article.It's always helpful and easy for students when you teach them with examples and correlate the things with real life situation rather than in bookish language.The effort made by teacher is always fruitful

Animation Notes

joannawalden38's picture

I agree this article has been interesting and informative for educators I love reading peoples posts it allows for me to be even more creative.

mrssmud's picture

Also, I would love for this author to share more about modeling usefulness - with perhaps some examples. Thanks!

Ingrid Turner's picture

I enjoyed reading this - thank you. I do think we underestimate the value of peer observation. My best PD comes from watching others, noticing what they do and say, and thinking and wondering about my own practice. Something else I do constantly is reflect in front of my students. I want them to understand that improvements can always be made. I ask for their thoughts and advice. I open my written unit to the reflection area - read what I have written and ask for contributions. I also speak frankly to my students about my learning and struggles, and refer to other practitioners' work. I want them to know that I borrow ideas and that I am constantly learning.

Girija's picture

There are a few ways of being transformational teacher.When we try to transform the target students and their behavior/mind, the students need to be in our vibe.
Or the students' should not value their own mind,which is very simple being in the position of a learner.Thus in one way it is a dominating power of mind.
The students should be made to believe that the teacher is the well wisher and cares for the students more than any thing.This can be achieved by an empathizing behavior of compassionate teacher. This behavior makes them believe in the teacher. The learning towards transformation is by making the children take the teacher into their subconscious level through the sense of stimulation that is attractive to the children. The affinity towards the teacher for the feeling of being helped or guided is the onset of transformation. Thus the transformational teacher 1. commands respect 2. makes the students feel compassion for them 3. makes the students feel being helped 4.dominates mentally so that the mind of the teacher makes the students confident 5. brings about clarity because of experience (familiarity with the confusion due to the experience) 6.initiates interaction with an objective to understand the students then expressing an appreciation for them.7.making things less complicated for the students 8.standing as a role model by planned, pragmatic and relevant stimulation.9.inspire enthusiasm to set goals and work towards achieving goals .10.Last but not least create opportunity to respond to a stimulus and then reward in any form of appreciation .These are a few more ways which can help the students to be confident learners and trust in the transformed behavior. That was an excellent article about transformational teacher by David Cutler

Tara Nunes's picture

Great article and lots of important things to remember! You make a great point in constantly sharing best practices. So often people mistake admitting someone has a better idea/more experience/better perspective than you is seen as a weakness. This should be seen as a strength instead because it means that you have an honest and accurate sense of yourself.

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