Collaboration is a key ingredient to success. We can do so much more together than we can alone. Recently, SMSU Provost Dwight Watson shared a text with us – Top 20 Teachers by Paul Bernabei, Tom Cody, Willow Sweeney, Mary Cole, and Michael Cole. We had seen this book once upon a time, but its message was one to be renewed for us. According to the authors of the book, success is the summation of great results and a great ride.
“Great Results are those outcomes we desire when we go to work each day… Great Ride means we want to enjoy the experience. We want to enjoy what we do and have meaningful relationships with our colleagues. We wouldn’t consider it a great success if we attained great results in our work but hated going to school every day. Nor would it be a great success if we enjoyed hanging out at school every day but never accomplished anything worthwhile” (2010, p.1).
Teachers can make the learning experience both – a great ride with great results. “In essence, teachers have power to activate the potential in their students to make a positive difference in their lives” (2010, p.2). The authors point to being part of the Top 20 when potential explodes into great results and a great ride. We are all top 20. We are all bottom 80. Sometimes we are the best self we can be. Sometimes we are not the best self we can be. It is how we handle situations – how we think, how we learn, and how we communicate that determines where we place ourselves – in the top 20 or bottom 80. “The Top 20 and Bottom 80 labels in this book are not intended to be a comparison between people. Rather, they are simply a way of understanding two dimensions of our own selves” (p.4). Where do you choose to be?
The authors share a variety of topics as they consider Top 20 Teachers. A few areas of focus include: seeing things differently, creating a positive environment, creating connections, and listening to understand. We thought quite a bit about our teaching and learning and what we do to positively impact our learners. We are in the business of promoting and modeling the art of being reflective practitioners. Considering this, we decided to invite some of our colleagues to respond to the following question. How do you make a positive impact on your students and build a culture of curiosity in the teaching and learning process? Their responses were thoughtful, and showed us their Top 20 qualities to help students experience great results with a great ride. This is what they had to say…
“I draw extensively from the work of Ellen Langer, Harvard social psychologist, related to mindfulness. The forty plus years of work she has done on mindfulness focuses on how to foster flexible, creative and critical thinking processes in the classroom, business settings, delivery of physical and mental health services, etc. (The construct of “mindfulness” that Langer has evaluated is not the same as what is described in the mental health literature that draws from Eastern traditions such as meditation, yoga, etc.) I have used four of her publications as texts in various psychology and LEP 100/400 classes since 2004 and students consistently note the content in Langer’s publication to be the most transformative for them among readings I assign in class with regarding enhancing curiosity, increasing their openness to new experiences, enriching their personal relationships, increasing their willingness to take risks, and enhancing their creative thinking capacities (for example).”
~Dr. Christine Olson
SMSU Professor of Applied Psychology
“At the age of 15, Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to England to study, and there she encountered Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, who would mentor her for three years. Together, they traveled to Europe, visiting places of poverty and spender. Eleanor studied literature, art, history, languages, and in the process she gained self-confidence and confidence in her ideas. In her autobiography, Roosevelt wrote of this experience: ‘Mlle. Souvestre shocked one into thinking, and that on the whole was very beneficial.’ That is what I do to build a culture of curiosity in the teaching and learning process. I try to shock my students into thinking.”
~Dr. Jeff Kolnick
SMSU Professor of History
“I like to think I make a positive impact and build a learning culture by first teaching students about social skills. I like to make sure I learn each kid’s name and where they are from, and I constantly challenge them to do the same with their fellow classmates. If they feel like you care about them, then they are more willing to learn and curiosity will come naturally. I encourage social interaction that doesn’t involve technology, small group communication during class, make them debate a topic, and take a side even if they don’t agree with it. I make them be involved in the community, more than just the campus of SMSU, it forces them to talk to strangers.”
SMSU Asst. Football Coach & PE Instructor
“Set a comfortable tone to the classroom. I begin each day with a corny joke and a ‘thought to ponder’ on the board. I also work at learning the students’ names and something about them. These may seem like silly little things, but I have found that students look forward to coming to class and remain engaged. Also, interjecting personal stories and experiences to bring the information into real-time for them.”
SMSU Assistant Professor of Special Education
“In my courses I allow for student choice in completing and designing projects. In the end, I want the project to be part of the bigger final outcome so the assignments or projects leading up to that are scaffolded ideas that should easily fit into the end capstone project. I have received positive feedback indicating they like this format that provides them opportunity to actually prep for the final project, while building understanding of the topic and content. Generally, we discuss in the classroom then move to an open room where students collaborate with peers and work together. As they work I provide feedback or clarification as needed. This format works well and engages student’s curiosity as they work toward their final goal.”
~Dr. Mary Risacher
SMSU Assistant Professor of Education
“How does a teacher create a positive climate to optimize students’ learning? Through the demonstration of unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1959) a teacher forms the foundation upon which exhibited elements of invitational theory and practice: Respect, care, optimism, intentionality, and trust (Purkey & Novak, 2015), sows a fertile learning community. This emotionally nourishing environment then produces a bounty of student exploration, innovation, and critical thinking!”
~Dr. Chris J. Anderson
SMSU Assistant Professor of Special Education
“To build a learning environment that fosters creativity, thinking, and the development of curiosity, I have embraced constructivist practices and create learning experiences based on learners’ passions. This has been remarkable in the online classroom as I watch students develop relationships, understanding, and knowledge with classmates that they have never met.
Currently, there are English, ELL, reading, math, and more instructors creating magic together, not in isolation. Everyone has a powerful voice. Their ideas and their passion are giving insight not only into content, but to practice. This has been a joy to watch unfold as learners embrace ideas and cheer for each other.
This has been facilitated by “being there” – all the time. Not only merely assessing, but adding and questioning. Joining in the joy and the passion that drives teachers. I am excited for them and for their students. Education is changing. I am surrounded by brilliance.”
~Dr. Toni Beebout-Bladholm
Marshall Senior High School English Teacher
SMSU Adjunct Professor
What did we learn from all of this? We teach alongside rockstars, who are shaping the world one student at a time, one day at a time. It is not just great results that lead to success. Great results and a great ride equal success. Teachers can make all the difference. We choose our Top 20 selves to guide, mentor, and care for our learners.