Teaching is like nothing else in the world.
The ability to pass information, knowledge, and skills to another human being is sacred. From the beginning of time, it’s helped progress mankind and further the next generation.
When you think about everything at our fingertips now — with technology that not only enables access to information, but grants us the ability to watch things like the Mars rover land on a faraway planet in real time — it’s sometimes mind boggling (even scary) to bring it all into perspective.
As much as technology has changed education (I mean, you can learn harmonica from someone living halfway around the world if you watch their content and practice hard enough), I still believe teachers are more important than ever — they’re just important in different ways.
The classroom environment has undergone a monumental shift, and I feel that shift will continue to increase in speed and complexity.
Because of this, and the fact that the students who walk into your classroom each day come from a wide array of backgrounds and skills, it’s more important than ever to analyze and upgrade your teaching skills.
The 4 Most Important Teaching Skills to Develop
Teaching Skill #1: Mindset
The mindset you bring to your classroom every day is paramount.
You can have the best training and attend conferences around the country but still be crippled with how you approach teaching and connecting with your students.
This might be a bold statement, but we don’t need to teach kids as much anymore as we need to allow them to learn.
Your students still need you, they just need you in different ways.
With the right mindset, you enter the learning experience with your students, not as the one who knows all the information, but as the one who is going to create an environment in which kids are free to play, explore, and try new things.
Be open to trying a new approach with a lesson even if you’re not 100% sure how the new technology works or even how it’s going to turn out.
If you wait until you’re completely ready, there’s a good chance it will never happen. We get busy, a new student is starting class tomorrow, your child at home is sick and you can’t stay after school to plan curriculum, and the list goes on.
Teach the idea for the main concept of the lesson, and allow your students to choose how they go about deepening their own learning with the tools that are on-hand in the classroom.
You’re still the curriculum expert, but you don’t need to be a tool expert as well.
Any behavior problems you had in your class are going to minimize or completely go away, because kids won’t have time to act out– they’ll be too engaged in the lesson.
You’re going to have more time on your hands, so you can connect with kids, build stronger relationships, work with intervention groups, be a happier teacher, and enjoy more time in your personal life as well.
Teaching Skill #2: Collaboration
Teaching is generally not a collaborative activity. Most of the day, it’s you, your students, and the four walls of your classroom.
Of course, you have colleagues in your grade level and department, but how often do you really connect with them and talk curriculum, strategy, and classroom design?
When you do get together, it’s usually at a staff meeting. And if you’re getting together outside of school, you’re talking about personal things and hopefully not the new math lesson you tried yesterday.
That’s why it’s imperative to continually build your PLN (Professional Learning Network), so you can supersize your learning any time you want from any place you want.
The people you work with are made up of your PLC (Professional Learning Community) and hold lots of value, but there is so much more out there for you to discover and tap into.
People can think of Twitter (my platform of choice) as following celebrities or politics, and it can be, but I prefer to keep my feed strictly education-related.
That’s all I see coming through, so the learning is effortless. All that other noise doesn’t have a place, and my brain doesn’t have time.
All you need to do is create an account. Make sure to include an updated photo in your profile and describe what you do professionally.
Listen, it’s cool if you like cats, but please don’t make that the only thing people read about you.
Include what grade or subject you teach, any interests you have, like Project-Based Learning, Minecraft, Chromebooks, Video Creation, or any related interest that other future collaborators may be interested in.
Once you’re all set up, let the collaboration and learning begin!
It’s so easy, you can go to Twitter and type ‘Third Grade Teacher’ in the search bar and Twitter will tell you all the 3rd grade teachers on Twitter.
I hope you’re letting that sink in for a minute.
Twenty years ago, teachers could only connect with other teachers at their school, colleagues in their district, or random others they happened to know in the profession.
But now, directly from your phone, at your fingertips, you can connect with and learn from someone else who is doing your same job, with the same exact troubles, somewhere else in the world.
That level of collaboration is unprecedented and the ease with which you can do it all, for free, is just absolutely remarkable.
Once you’re properly connected, you’ll find new lesson ideas, save time by learning new strategies and tactics that would have taken years to access before, have a 24/7 lifeline to other new friends that want to connect with you and become better teachers for their students and school community.
If you put in five minutes a day to learn and grow, that’s exactly what you’ll get out. Put in the time and effort, and I can guarantee you’ll change for the better!
Teaching Skill #3 : Relevance
Being relevant with your teaching skills may just be the most challenging new skill of all.
Let me explain.
In my experience as a teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal, and Director of Innovation, a big challenge for many educators is to analyze their own classroom teaching and the environment they provide for their students.
“I’ve been teaching for twenty-five years, why should I change now?”
That phrase is by far the most common I hear from either teachers themselves or a Principal describing some educators on their staff.
Whenever someone challenges me on the whole “being relevant for kids” topic, I always think about Blockbuster Video and Toys-R-Us — perfect examples of what happens when you don’t innovate and change with the times.
Who would have ever thought, during the heyday of those companies, they would someday be out-of-business?
Our schools cannot go out of business, but they can become irrelevant for our students if we don’t work to keep our teaching approach relevant.
So, how do you remain relevant in your teaching skills?
The integration of technology into the curriculum is by far the most important way to remain relevant and keep your students engaged.
Here are three simple ways you can integrate technology into your classroom:
Coding is the single most important skill we can be teaching our students.
And here’s the coolest thing about coding —
You don’t need to know it yourself to teach kids how to code.
Code.org is my favorite resource for kids from grades K-12.
Where does the relevancy piece come in?
The amount of computing jobs inside and (almost more importantly) outside the technology industry is astounding.
Robotics is another industry that has seen tremendous growth.
An easy way to incorporate robotics on an entry level in your classroom is with a Sphero.
Put simply, Sphero is a robotic droid that kids code.
They’re not driving it like a remote control car. Instead, they write some code and tell it what to do.
Get one for your class, and your students will find amazing ways to integrate it with the curriculum — and they’ll absolutely love it.
The best discipline program is an engaged classroom — and coding, along with robotics, takes that to the max!
3. Staying Connected
Staying connected with a PLN is such a vital way to stay relevant with what’s happening in the world new ideas, strategies, people to connect with, trends happening around the world, and different ways to approach teaching and connecting with your students.
Teaching Skill #4 : Humor
This may sound like a funny teaching skill, but it’s important on many levels.
Teaching is a fun job, but it’s challenging too. If you don’t have a sense of humor, you’re not going to last very long.
If you’re entering the profession for the first time, don’t think it’s always going to be smooth sailing. You’re going to have plenty of good times throughout your career, and your ability to adapt and laugh at the rough times is what will really get you though.
If a student does something absolutely off-the-wall in class, take care of the situation in the moment, and laugh about it later.
When I was teaching 4th grade, there was a student in my class who, overall, was a really good kid. He worked hard, was a little goofy at times, and had a good group of friends.
About midway through the year, he had a particularly rough week in class. He wasn’t making great decisions or acting like himself.
At one point during class, I did something I never ever did.
I got frustrated with the behavior and sent him to the office.
I’d been teaching for six years at this point, and had only ever sent one other student to the office — it just wasn’t my style.
He looked at me and started walking to the door.
Well, he actually starting slow walking to the door, only covering about three feet in fifteen seconds. I was laughing on the inside, but super serious on the outside because it actually was pretty funny.
The student finally made it to the office, and when I spoke with his parents later on that day, we actually laughed about the situation as well.
Take your job as an educator very seriously, just don’t take yourself too seriously, that’s key to longevity as a teacher.
Ways to Improve Your Teaching Skills
1. Sign up for Twitter and ONLY follow other teachers.
Connect with others on a daily basis, and grow your network!
2. Ask your Principal to get a sub for your class, and go visit other teachers at your school and throughout your district.
Observe veteran teachers, different grade levels and pretty much anyone that will invite you in.
Watching others teach is a great way to learn what you’d like to incorporate into your own classrooms, and also what you don’t.
3. When you need some new ideas, ask your students!
I don’t think adults ask kids enough about the classroom environment, engagement, project ideas, and so much more.
Don’t create the educational experience that you had. Create a relevant educational experience for your students so they have every opportunity in life!
4. Record yourself with your phone during a lesson, and watch it afterwards.
Did you talk more than your students? Who did you call on and how frequently?
5. Get an Amazon Alexa for your classroom, and see if Alexa can answer the questions you’re asking your students.
If Alexa and or Google can answer the questions, you need to ask more challenging questions.
6. If you need a great book to read, check out ‘Kids Deserve It’ written by myself and Todd Nesloney.
We wrote the book we wanted to read, and you’re guaranteed to learn something new, and grab some educational mojo as well!
Kids Rely on Your Teaching Ability (And They Deserve Your Best!)
It’s important to plan your lessons and teaching skills, but don’t overthink it.
With the techniques and ideas I’ve outlined above, you can be a happier, more productive and innovative teacher in a matter of weeks.
You won’t spend wasted time —
- Grading papers all weekend
- Planning lessons your students aren’t engaged in
- Looking around for new ideas and not finding any
All you need to do is show up to school with a smile, positive attitude, and some new ideas for your students to explore, and your classroom will be better than ever!