Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Originally put together in 2001 by Chuck Salter, for Fast Company, this simplified list of the 16 ways to become a Smarter Teacher has become a checkpoint for me as I review my course development and lesson planning.  I constantly strive to be the 'Guide on the Side' rather than the 'Sage on the Stage' in encouraging my students to become fully engaged in their own learning process.

16 Ways to Be a Smarter Teacher

1. Students take risks when teachers create a safe environment.
Students have to acknowledge what they don’t know, take risks and rethink what they thought they knew. That can be uncomfortable - even scary - situation for anyone. A little warmth goes a long way.

2. It’s not about you; it’s about them - “a guide on the side”
The best teachers see themselves as guides. They share what they know but they understand they are not the focus - their students and their learning are.

3. Study your students.
It’s not enough to know your material. You need to know the people you are teaching - their talents, prior experience and needs.

4. Great teachers exude passion as well as purpose.
The difference between a good teacher and a great one is not expertise. It comes down to passion, passion for the material and passion for teaching. The desire is infectious.

5. Students learn when teachers show them how much they need to learn.
Students need to see the gap between where they are and where they need to be. Once they see that, they can begin to learn.

6. Keep it clear even if you can’t keep it simple.
One of the chief attributes of a great teacher is the ability to break down complex ideas and make them understandable. The essence of teaching - and learning - is communication.

7. Practice - vulnerability without sacrificing credibility.
Sometimes the best answer a teacher can give is “I don’t know”. Instead of losing credibility, the teacher gains students’ trust and that trust is the basis of a productive relationship. Acknowledging what you don’t know shows that you are still learning, that the teacher is, in fact, still a student.

8. Teach from the heart.
The best teaching isn’t formulaic; it’s personal. Develop your own teaching style based on your experience and watching exemplary teachers (your mentor, for example).

9. Repeat the important point.
If you want your listener (student) to remember something, you need to give it to them more than once. The first time you say something, it’s heard. The second time, it’s recognized. The third time it’s learned, especially if practiced. The challenge then, is to be consistent without becoming predictable or boring.

10. Good teachers ask good questions, and keep asking until they really understand.
Effective teachers understand that learning is about exploring the unknown and that such exploration begins with good questions: Questions that open a door to a deeper understanding.

11. You are not passing out information.
The best instructors are less interested in the answers than in the thinking behind them. They help people learn how to think on their own rather than telling them what to think.

12. Stop talking - and start listening.
Effective learning is a two-way street: it’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

13. Learn what to listen for.
Listening is what the students have to say helps them assemble the information and organize their thoughts. Allow them the opportunity to speak to the issues going on in the lesson and the class. Contextualized information is more easily understood and retained.

14. Let the students teach each other.
You are not the only one your student learns from. They also learn on their own and from their peers. Allow the students to work together to form deeper understandings.

15. Avoid using the same approach for everyone.
Good teachers believe that every student can learn, but they understand that students learn differently. Some are visual, some grasp the abstract, some learn best by reading. The effective teacher must adopt a differentiated approach.

16. You are always teaching.
Effective teaching is about the quality of the relationship between the teacher and the student. It does not begin and end with the bell. Your every action and word with students is teaching. Be aware of your influence at all times: in the hall, the cafeteria, the playground, etc.

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