What does “Being a Great Educator” Really Mean?

I’ve written on this blog many times about the lessons I have learned from my father and a few of the other great instructors, teachers and coaches I have had the pleasure to associate with over the years. My blog yesterday talked about being a leader and many of the books I read focus on the topics of management and/or leadership.

Just like those who help show me the way, I thought I might share some ideas of what I think it means to be a great educator. I’m not saying I am there yet, but if I keep doing these things each and every day, maybe someday I’ll feel like I’m in the ballpark.

Being a Great Educator

B – Be prepared when it comes to your subject matter and expectations of the group you are serving. Have your presentations completed and reviewed at least the day before class and have an idea who your audience will be.

E – Enthusiasm makes people want to learn. I always try to have as much fun as possible when I am teaching. I figure if I am bored teaching then most likely my students are bored learning. Therefore, I never get bored teaching.

I – Introductions. Have a strong start to every session. Using humor is great but if you’re just not a funny person (or have horrible timing) think about using a video from YouTube or Vimeo to lighten the mood.

N – Never refuse a microphone. If you have the opportunity to wear a lapel microphone, always use it. Even though most people think they can emote loud enough for everyone to hear, it’s better to seem too loud than it is for someone to miss valuable or important information.

G – Give everyone a chance to contribute. Even in a lecture setting you can format your topic to generate questions, interaction or feedback

 

A – Ask questions. One of the best ways to get people to contribute (see G above) is by asking lots of questions. Make them open questions by starting with “How” or “Where” to get the students sharing more than a simple “yes” or “no.” “How could you see this helping you?” or Where would this be most effective…?” 

 

G – Group activity helps identify some common grounds among the participants. I’m not talking about the obligatory ice breaker here. I mean allowing the group to help facilitate the subject. Some of the best learning takes place when the instructor or teacher stops teaching and lets the class take the wheel.

R – Repeat questions that you get from audience members before answering so everyone hears what was asked. Often your answers can be taken out of context if people don’t know how it applies to the inquiry.

E – Establish a safe environment. We’ve all heard the cliche that “there are no stupid questions” but people sometimes feel really insecure about speaking up in a crowded environment. Make people feel comfortable to share, ask questions and be themselves. If you sense the room forming sides, you must become a moderator and keep the discussion from getting personal or harmful. This may mean taking a break or even asking people to leave if they can’t participate in a mature manner. 

A – Allow for students to expand the learning opportunity. It’s okay to go off tangent if there could be something discovered. This is easier to do when you are comfortable with not only the material but your time frame so you know how far “off topic” you can go without getting lost.

T – Timing is critical to a good experience for the students. Always start on time. You should never punish those who found a way to make it on time so the “people stuck in traffic can get their seats.” The same goes for the end of the class or presentation. If you’re scheduled to end at noon, end at 11:59:00. If you sense you will be running over your allotted time, stop five minutes short, let people know you may be running late and let those who have other engagements have an opportunity to leave. Trust me, if you’re engaging and bringing good value in your presentation and material, few will get up to go. Just don’t turn this into a filibuster and speak all day.

 

E – Engage the audience. Make great eye contact, call the students by name, thank them for participating. Any time you can make them a part of the class, do so. I like to make sure the handouts have some form of “fill in the blanks” so they have an active role in the learning process.

D – Don’t try to ban all mobile devices. Of course you don’t want people to distract their neighbors with loud typing on a laptop or talking on a telephone in class but expecting today’s student to not be engaged in note taking on their mobile device is just asking for blatant disregard for your rules. While many of the veteran and baby boomer generations still listen intently or take notes with pencil and paper, the new generation of student will be on their tablet, iPad or smart phones taking notes in Evernote, tweeting live updates of your information and even recording using apps like Dragon Dictation or Audiotorium 

U – Use visual aids. Power Point or Keynote, embedding video or having handouts are some of the ways to get the audience involved. Remember – tactile is tactical. The old saying in education is so true:

“Tell me and I’ll forget.

Show me and I may remember.

Involve me and I’ll understand.”

C – Control the environment. Some students will never, ever speak up until the room gets too hot or too cold. If it does, you’ll never be able to get them to shut up. And they won’t just fan themselves subtley with their handout. They will wave their arms like they are landing planes on an aircraft carrier. It’s usually easier to put on a jacket than it is to take off clothing so cooler is better than too warm but ideally be able to control the settings or have a way of contacting building maintenance quickly. Also don’t have the room too dark. Ready & roaring is good. Sweaty and snoring is bad.

A – Appreciation should be given immediately for any student or audience member who shares or engages. Thanking people for their input, ideas or assistance will most likely encourage others to speak up.

 T – Take plenty of breaks. Obviously if the class is only 30 minutes long you won’t need a break but anything more than 90 minutes should deserve at least a stretch break. Set the guidelines for restroom usage and checking of voice mails and emails. Remember “T” up above. Don’t allow ten minute breaks to turn into 25 minute walkabouts.

O – Open the floor for questions. This can be done throughout your class (between topics or themes is ideal) or certainly at the end.

R – request feedback from your students. This should be immediately such as asking questions like “Does that make sense?” or “Does everyone understand?” as well as in some form of follow up. This could be a written survey, a on-line follow up or a personal call or visit on another day (assuming they are in your company or building.)

Now it’s time for you to apply your personal “spell check.” How do you like to be taught? What’s your favorite way to learn? Which of my letters above should stand for a different method, style or system that would focus on the way you engage best with your teachers?

Until next time…Build relationships, solve problems and have fun.

 

Photo #1 Credit: Sbeez Creative Commons 2.0

Photo #2 Credit: CogDogBlog Creative Commons 2.0 

 

2 Responses to What does “Being a Great Educator” Really Mean?
  1. Alec Hagerty
    February 28, 2012 | 11:37 pm

    Excellent Sean! Spot on… all you need now is to complete the “tape” and you’re ready to earn the DREI!

  2. Matthew Rathbun
    February 29, 2012 | 7:06 am

    This is a lot of great thought! I especially like “Allow for students to expand the learning opportunity.” Spot on!