The Aware Educator

According to Dennis Francis of Commonwealth Educational Trust, there are eight characteristics of an effective teacher. Rather than list all of them, I wanted to focus for a moment on one:

An effective teacher is aware.

I would like to hone that further by adding:

An effective teacher is self-aware.

In my new position, the steepest learning curve has not been acquiring new knowledge and skills. For a research dork like myself, that is actually just plain fun. Nope. It has been learning about myself, my motivations, and my actions. I need to learn to be more self-aware.  More clued in. More mindful. More enlightened.

Photo by Paul Stevenson
Photo by Paul Stevenson

You see, I am a beaver. With a dash of lion thrown in for good measure. (I like the animal personality explanations better than the DISC or sanguine/ phlegmatic/ melancholy/ choleric temperament descriptions… but it’s all the same thing. You can take a quiz to see what you are if you don’t already know. ) In my work and personal life, order is very important to me. I plan ahead. I think things through and then act. I need structure in order to relax. I see issues that will come up two weeks from now- and it makes it difficult to not address those things immediately. I need to brain dump in the evenings before bed or I can’t sleep. I research and learn for the fun of it. I make rapid connections of thoughts, ideas, and people in my head. I think deep and have to process ideas. I enjoy talking about ideas with people, but too much time with people drains me.

Those traits can be great strengths, but also great weaknesses. It’s important to take time to ask ourselves some hard questions about the traits we exhibit. Francis asks educators to think about the following questions:

  • Who am I?
  • How do I learn?
  • How do I work in a community?
  • What motivates my behavior?

Now, these sound all fluffy and philosophical, but they have a very real impact on students. I have added a fifth question:

  • How does my personality influence learners?

Awareness is crucial, and begins with self-examination.

(Beyond our own personal awareness is a need to be aware of how each student in our sphere of influence would answer these questions…. but that is a topic for another day!)

Any other beavers out there? Has awareness of your personality traits changed your interactions with students and colleagues? Can you pick out some of these traits in your colleagues? Does that make a difference in how you view interactions with them? 

On Mr. Teachbad and Bad Teaching

teachbadI have to admit…. I’m a huge closet Mr. Teachbad fan. In my years in a traditional building, his humor, sarcasm, and wit often made the day bearable. I’m not secretive about it because I’m ashamed, but because I’d be all too tempted to tag people in his posts. We all know those people, right? The BAD teachers. When someone says “bad teacher”, each of us has a visceral reaction- we can see/hear/smell/feel what it was like to be in the presence of that person who most embodied the term in our personal  or professional lives.

One challenge presented during this course is to define what we feel is good teaching (and what makes a good teacher) as well as the opposite. What is bad teaching? What makes a bad teacher? I found these questions interesting, because they are highly subjective and politically incorrect. The examples in the course were things like “is mean, unkind, does not offer feedback”. Rather stereotypical responses. I really had a difficult time quantifying “bad teaching”, which surprised me. However, it was easier to jot down my thoughts on good teaching.

Good teaching:

  • allows for student discovery.
  • promotes inquiry.
  • is interesting and relevant to the student.
  • uses multiple modes (video, imagery, audio, text).
  • challenges the student to think.
  • links new knowledge with existing.
  • defines goals and expectations.
  • assesses based on full understanding, not just recall.

Bad teaching:

  • requires rote memorization.
  • doesn’t check for understanding.
  • moves on rather than stopping to reteach.
  • teaches at the student.
  • believes knowledge is held by the teacher and transferred to the student.
  • negates student experiences and thoughts.
  • puts students to sleep. (see video below)

There was an article in The Wall Street Journal this weekend entitled “Tough Teachers Get Results” that really begs the question “What makes an effective teacher?”. This adds another dimension to this question of good/bad. The article is well worth the time to read.

What would you add to the “good” or “bad list? Can you share a positive or negative reaction to teaching? Can you have a bad yet effective teacher? 

[1.1 Coursera “Foundations of Teaching for Learning 2: Being a Teacher”]

Digital Portfolios Meet Accreditation

So, I’m jumping right back into the ed tech fray in this new position. As always, I tend to assess things from two viewpoints- that of an educator and that of a learner.  I’ve had quite the personal learning saga trying to find an alternative path to licensure and graduate coursework, and it directly relates to how students today personalize their learning.

Coursera TFL2

This weekend, I enrolled in my first MOOC course through Coursera’s “Foundations of Teaching for Learning 2: Being a Teacher”. I did sign on and pay the $29 for the “Signature Track” option to test out this way of verifying online coursework. My plan is to complete the 6 course series and apply for the Commonwealth Education Trust certificate. Does that help here in the good ol’ US of A? Not yet, but I’m hopeful that we are on the path within Thompson School District to not only offer alternative routes to education for students, but also for professionals. (Read: I want my position and salary to reflect my expertise, not just a formal degree or certification.) There will be hurdles to overcome, but I think it is possible now within the innovation zone structure or charter school model.

Through the course discussion forums, I’ve been introduced to two online portfolio tools. The plan at E3 Learning CO to date has been to use WordPress for student portfolio development. I think that will still remain an important component of demonstrating and reflecting on learning, but I am excited about these online systems as a way to professionally package self-directed learning artifacts, MOOCs, and traditional education for both myself and students in the E³ program.

Accredible Julie CunninghamDegreed Julie CunninghamAccredible

  • Professional, resume-like profile view.
  • Showcases all kinds of learning- traditional, online, etc.
  • Uses and endorsement structure similar to LinkedIn.


  • Ability to log vast amounts of educational content import- degrees, MOOCs, online badges, books, articles, etc.
  • Gives ‘points’ for conferences and events, as well as more traditional learning modes.
  • Connects with  a comprehensive list of online learning sites like Khan Academy, Codeacademy, Coursera, and many more.

My major concern with the two sites is longevity. Will this be around long enough to support independent learners as they  progress through to the workforce? Will one or the other “win” out?

For now, I’m maintaining my own digital portfolio in triplicate- WordPress, Accredible, and Degreed. My personal favorite right now is Accredible because it bridges the gap between traditional and unconventional educational methods and allows learners to showcase both in a professional format that employers will be able to easily navigate.

Are you using any of these sites personally? Are you using them with students? Are you an employer comfortable hiring based on these portfolios?