(Aug. 9) — John Dewey once said that what the best and wisest parents want for their children should be what we want for all children. This statement translates into “I want my child to have a great teacher!” All educational research and all parents know the quality of the teacher impacts the success of students at school.

What do the best teachers do? One of the best sources to answer this question is students because they know what works for them.

And what do they say? We looked into it and found that the top things students say the best teachers do are:

Know us personally, our interests and strengths
Let us know who they are as individuals
Smile at us
Encourage us to participate in school activities
Spend time beyond class time to help us be successful in their class
Give us descriptive feedback on assignments
Tell us why
Share how what we learn is connected to real life
Apologize when they make mistakes
Give meaningful work
Are energetic, enthusiastic and enjoy their job
As one looks at this list of attributes identified by students, it is evident the words of Dr. James Comer capture what the best teachers know: “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”

One can’t argue with the importance of content knowledge, but that alone is insufficient to capture the essence of great teaching. At the heart of effective teach is relationships.

Put simply, the words and actions of teachers and how they are internalized by the student are powerful! They either impede or enhance the learning process.

Hopefully, each student has at least one teacher in his or her life making a significant difference. This teacher is one who conveys high expectations; who encourages, prods and even challenges students to pursue a path they never imagined for themselves. One would like to believe that every teacher aspires to this level of positive influence in the lives of the students they instruct. However, stories from students and adults reveal this is not the case.

So why aren’t there more educators who could be characterized as great teachers? There are a myriad of possible reasons.

One might be because the relationship and making connections aspect is not emphasized in teaching schools, nor as an intentional focus by the leadership in schools. People assume positive relationships already exist.

In addition, high-stakes testing often relegates an intentional focus on relationships as fluff or something that does not truly impact achievement. However, that is an erroneous assumption because research is replete with the importance of forging positive relationships in schools.

There’s also an assumption by some instructors that “I am here to teach content and students just need to do what they are told.”

Research also suggests we should acknowledge, as a profession, what the best teachers know and do. We teach students first and foremost. What they bring to the learning experience must be incorporated into the planning of effective lessons, using appropriate strategies and formative assessments.

Robert Marzano, a respected educational researcher and writer, suggests in some of his work that relationships are crucial to what happens in schools, not only as it relates to classroom management, but maybe to the “entirety of teaching.”

Once the education profession is aware and embraces the professional literature suggesting the best teachers care and make connections with their students, the next step is learning how to do this effectively. This is where the words of students, as well as research, can guide the work that is done in schools.

by: Kelly E. Middleton is associate superintendent of Mason County Schools and co-author with Elizabeth A. Petitt of the recently published book “Simply the Best: 29 Things Students Say the Best Teachers Do Around Relationships” as well as “Who Cares? Improving Public Schools Through Relationships and Customer Service.”

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