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Six skills teachers need most to be successful

Important skills for teachers to focus on developing

Students aren’t the only ones who need to learn. Teachers also have a lot to learn if they want to succeed in their jobs and truly make a difference for their students. It’s clear that teachers need to be skilled and knowledgeable; we’ve all heard the platitudes.

What we hear little about is what this means in practice. What skills and knowledge do teachers need to teach students effectively, and how can teachers develop these skills and knowledge?

Here are some of the other skills for teachers to focus on developing:

1. Communication skills are crucial for teachers

Because communication is a skill, you can get better at it. Even if you are a poor communicator now, you can learn to be better.

The most important communication skill is listening. To become a great teacher, you have to become a great listener. That means that when students talk to you, you hear what they say and don't get distracted by your own thoughts or by your plans for the next thing you're going to say.

It also means that when students aren't talking to you, you're listening to them: not just hearing their words, but understanding what they mean and what they want and how they feel about things.

This is hard, but it's possible. And it's worth doing because in my experience students almost never complain about teachers who listen to them well; usually they only complain about teachers who don't.

2. Flexibility is essential in the classroom

Help students become autonomous. You don't do this just by filling their heads with facts; you do it by coaching them through exercises that allow them to develop habits of mind they can use, whether they are studying math or cooking, writing stories, or teaching themselves how to play guitar.

To accomplish this, you need some flexibility about yourself. You need to be able to recognize the nuances between your content and your methods. You need to be able to recognize when students are ready for more advanced material, and when they're not. And you need to be able to provide different kinds of support for different students.

A teacher who is rigid and expects everyone to do things the way she has always done them is not going to be a successful teacher. The world changes; we change; our interests change; our students change. We need to allow for that in the classroom as well as outside of it.

Flexibility doesn't mean being a pushover or a doormat. It means being open-minded about new ideas and methods while also being clear about your own values and willing to stand up for them.

When you ask older people what made them good at their jobs, they tend to give an answer like "tried to be fair" or "worked hard" or "listened carefully." When you ask what younger people should do to become better, they might say something like, "be flexible."

Teach students to be flexible. Teach them that in learning, everything is negotiable; nothing is carved into stone.

3. Teamwork will help you be successful in the classroom

Teachers today should be able to work as a team and know how to use other resources besides just what they have in their classroom. For example, teachers should be able to work with the school counselor and the school psychologist if their students need to talk about their feelings or if they need help with certain subjects.

Teachers should also be able to work with the school librarian and media specialist if they want to help their students learn more about a certain topic and then want to teach them how to find information for themselves.

It is important that teachers know how to work as a team because sometimes there might be times where the teacher doesn't know the answer for a certain problem and he or she will need other people's help to figure it out.

If this happens, it is critical that he or she can work as a team with his or her fellow teachers so they can help figure out the issue together.

In addition, working as a team might be important when it comes down to writing lesson plans or even grading tests.

4. As a teacher, you need strong planning and organization skills

There are times when it is necessary for a teacher to be able to accomplish a task quickly, such as when assigned work must be completed before the class period ends.

Other times teachers need to know how to organize their time effectively in order to complete multiple activities during the school day.

Teachers need these skills to manage their time efficiently while completing daily tasks, grading papers, and preparing lessons for future classes.

One of the most important skills teachers need is the ability to plan ahead. Teachers should always have a plan of action when they begin a task or prepare for class. This skill allows them to stay on track with their goals while teaching students.

For example, if a teacher wants his or her students to be able to complete long division problems by the end of the year, he can create a plan of action for teaching this skill throughout the year. The teacher can then develop smaller steps that lead up to this goal, which include mini-lessons, homework assignments, and quizzes.

Another important skill is being organized in order to effectively plan ahead. It is helpful for teachers to create an organized schedule that outlines all of the things they must get done within a certain amount of time. This way they are able to keep track of what they have done.

5. Critical thinking is important for teachers to help students grow

The most important skills for a teacher to have are not the teaching skills. Teaching is important, but it can be done by anyone. A more important skill for a teacher is the ability to think critically.

The best way to teach critical thinking is by example. Teachers should learn to recognize when they themselves are being taken in by something, and question it.

They should learn to recognize when their own reasoning is weak or circular or otherwise flawed, and fix it.

They should learn to recognize when their own intuitions about right and wrong conflict with the evidence, and weigh their minds against that which they they're intuitively sure of.

A teacher who does this doesn't have to have any spectacular new ideas to offer his students; he just has a habit of questioning everything that's handed to him -- and it begets good learning.

6. Teachers need to have patience to deal with different types of learners

Teachers need to be patient and kind and genuine and honest and understanding and good listeners and respectful of students. Trying to teach while lacking any of these qualities is like trying to do surgery while blindfolded.

Teachers need:

  • the ability to discipline unruly students without embarrassing them.

  • Teachers need creativity, so they can come up with new ways to teach new material.

  • Teachers need the ability to create a sense of community in their classrooms, so students feel they belong there, and so they want to do what the teacher wants them to do.

Teachers need all of these skills because teaching is an incredibly difficult job. The more skillful teachers are, the more likely it is that their students will learn what they're supposed to learn. And becoming skillful requires patience.

Every student has a right to an excellent teacher; don't let yourself be one who isn't up to the job.

Becoming a great teacher takes time, experience, and rigorous training — there is no instant way to become a great educator. A genuine passion for teaching is also essential, as the work of teaching is not always fun or fulfilling.

You want to be a student of your craft, learning from others and improving. In this regard, it's no different from any other profession where continual learning is valued.

In the end, the combination of your skills and qualities will set you apart as an excellent teacher and greatly increase your ability to impact students for the better.

Remember why teachers are so meaningful. As an empowered generation of teachers, it’s up to us to make sure that we are properly trained to best serve our roles. The more effort we put towards strengthening our crucial role within society, the better off everyone will be.

Teachers are the most important people in our society when it comes to raising the next generation of leaders and innovators.


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