What is the secret to the great teacher? What is it that defines the master educator? Mastery of the subject being taught is essential, as is a passion for the subject as well as for transferring knowledge or skill to students. Additionally, one would require some training or natural talent in order to employ the most effective methodologies available. Mastery, passion, training and talent; impressive, but something is missing.
I have known many teachers with all of the above qualifications (and, sad to say, some without) who still do not quite earn the reputation as a great teacher. While driven by their passion for teaching and possessing all the necessary talents, their students do not excel and levels of achievement do not soar. Why?
While searching for the answer, I came across the following rule, named ‘The Law of Great Expectations’, which states: Students will rise or fall to the level of communicated expectations. The secret to high achievement is high expectations. Low expectations yield low achievement.
We often sell our students short by not expecting the very best from them. While we must be careful to make sure our expectations are realistic, we should never be afraid of challenging students to excel. Teachers may feel that making students work hard, pushing them to maximize their potential will diminish their drive to learn. Quite the opposite is true. When we are less demanding, they think it must not be important. We communicate value by demanding excellence. If it’s important to do, it’s important to do well.
As of late the sports world has been captivated by the success of the Green Bay Packers, last year’s Super Bowl champion and currently the only undefeated football team. The secret to their success is an unrelenting drive towards excellence. I think their motto, ‘Chasing excellence, and catching greatness along the way’, says it all. The team has successfully communicated an expectation of high achievement, where anything less than 100% effort is simply unacceptable. It is therefore, no small wonder that perfection remains within their grasp.
A true story that perfectly illustrates the above: A new teacher is assigned to his first class. The principal does not have the heart (or the guts) to tell the teacher that he is the fifth teacher they have had that year. The other four quit, unable to deal with the various learning challenges the class presented. But to the principal’s surprise, the students begin to excel. The principal calls in the teacher and inquires as to the secret of his success. The teacher answers, “Well, with such brilliant students, how could I not succeed?” The principal is stunned. He asks the teacher, “Why do you think they’re so brilliant?” The teacher takes out the class list given to him at the beginning of the year with numbers ranging from 120-140 listed next to each student’s name. “With such I.Q. scores, I expected to succeed.” The principal laughed and exclaimed, “Those aren’t their I.Q. scores, those are their locker numbers!”
The business world has taught us that good is the greatest enemy of great. Educators seeking greatness must understand that it is to be achieved by expecting greatness. Anything less cheats both their students and themselves.