This post, from Carolyn Seymour, and this one, from Carl Hendrick, got me thinking about the underlying relationships that enable some teachers to be so good at their job. It is certainly true that they are hard to quantify and that they can appear to happen by ‘magic’ to trainee teachers, or those who are struggling. And while some teachers do seem to have an innate, intuitive grasp on these relationships, I believe everyone can improve in this area, if they want to. Much like a class of children, we all start at different points, but we can all make progress and move forward from where we are. Of course, no one is perfect all of the time, but there are some things that teachers with strong emotional intelligence consistently do to create the ‘magic’ in their classrooms.
They manage their own emotions.
Teaching can be an emotive business. We teach children who sometimes push our buttons; we plan lessons that don’t always go as expected; we work to deadlines, often under lots of pressure; we get busy, tired and impatient. Great teachers are aware of this. They recognise how they feel and have strategies to manage themselves. They are secure and don’t need to rely on children to make them feel loved, successful or in control. Therefore, in the classroom, they can respond, rather than react, choosing to say and do what will best serve the children instead of what will best serve their own emotional needs.
They help others manage their emotions.
Teachers who stay on an even keel help others to do the same. They are attuned to the emotions of others and purposely create an atmosphere that children can thrive in. They are authoritative and engender trust; they balance humour with gravitas; they inject energy into the room or diffuse calm as needed. They also recognise and validate how children are feeling and teach them to manage themselves appropriately so they can access the learning.
They prioritise relationships.
Great teachers act as though they are interested in each child because they really are. They work hard to find out favourite films, songs and hobbies. They ask after new babies and older siblings; they want to hear about swimming competitions and scout camp; they know whose Grandma is in hospital and who spends weekends with their Dad. They also understand that these relationships are the foundations for managing behaviour. When you have a strong, personal connection with a child, a look, a thumbs up, a hand on a shoulder can all speak a thousand words and head off many an incident from ever happening. It is also worth noting that if you are approachable and listen to children and take them seriously in the small, every day issues, they are much more likely to talk to you about things when it really matters.
They take responsibility and take initiative.
Great teachers relentlessly focus on finding solutions for their children. They don’t abdicate responsibility by blaming children (they’re just a terrible class) or blaming previous teachers (man, that last teacher didn’t teach them anything!) Instead, they take ownership for what happens in their room to find a way through for each and every child. Whether it’s a social/emotional barrier to learning, or an academic one, great teachers never give up. They constantly reflect on and develop their own practice, adapting where necessary, to make sure each child can learn, because they believe that each child can and that it’s up to the teacher to create the right conditions for this.
They consider everything from the child’s perspective.
Finally, a great teacher understands that teaching isn’t about them, it’s about the children. They consider everything from the classroom environment, to behaviour management, to the ways in which learning will happen, from the child’s perspective. Therefore, they can select the right strategy for the right situation. They understand that sometimes a child needs a short, sharp shock, and sometimes they will better respond to a gentle arm round the shoulder. They understand when rote chanting and a test is the right way forward or when a drama activity will better serve the learning. They know when to challenge and push, and when to come alongside and support. They constantly look for the best ways to engage and inspire children and don’t let their own preconceived ideas get in the way of this.
Great teachers understand that learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Children and teachers are both people with contexts, and it is up to the teacher, as the adult, to create great relationships that enable children to succeed.