3 November 2012

What Difference Do You Make?

It's mid semester for me, as possibly it may be for many other educators. Often students are given the opportunity to voice their feedback of a teacher either in the middle of the semester or at the end, and as many educators well know, those questionnaires not always distinguish between the teacher him/herself and the subject they are teaching. 

However, as I consider what I will be doing over the next weeks, plotting and planning lessons and activities, I also wonder about the relevance of what we educators do. Sure, we teach maths, reading, writing. Often, I find myself teaching other things which do not come in pedagogical books - saying please and thank you is important,  washing hands regularly is necessary, closing the door instead of letting it bang is good manners and of course, a great deal of focus on digital literacies. 

Like coral sand, so much happens in classrooms. No matter how neatly a lesson may be planned, there will be adjustments to be made, students' mood and reactions to take into consideration. Back-ups and flexibility are key - and let's not even begin talking about technological glitches!

And yet I wonder....

At the end of the day, what difference have I made? As I see my students mature and become more confident learners, what role did I have in that process? Do educators actually have any influence in learning processes?

There are times when the world of education is a world of magic, a world where all is possible, unlimited creativity, unforgettable moments of success, the smiles I see as students feel confident with themselves and their productivity. No. Not always an easy journey. But then again, what is?

Is being a teacher inventing the impossible? Would a teacher make a difference then?

What do you think makes a great teacher?

How do you make a difference?

Further Suggestions:

5 Instructional Shifts to Promote Deep Learning

20 Things New Teachers Need to Know

Lesson Planet

Online Learning Calls for New Set of Skills 

Write to Learn


  1. Hello Ana,

    This was a timely reminder to me this morning as I'm engaged in reviewing a 4000 word paper on an action research project, and I've also applied for a job where I know the interview focus will be on value adding (dreadful term); I have long been wondering how I monitor the difference I make with students and in the wider school community as a leader of change.

    So, to answer your provocative question, how do I know I make a difference? Survey findings, student results on moderation tasks, exams and (paradoxically) standardised test scores, along with self reflective statements students write about the work they've created prior to collection for marking. Reading body language is crucial, as is the tone and tenor of response which my classroom climate cultivates. Feedback (yes, Hattie!) is crucial to our effective process as educators continually refining and adapting - as you point out - throughout our lessons, moment-by-moment, but also during the unfolding of units or courses where students progress (or don't), so we review, consult their parents, re-invent and modify in order to(re)engage, invoke achievement and learn along with our students.

    Complex alchemy! Also an inspiring art. I am reminded of a beginning teacher I had the privilege of mentoring this year as we attended after-hours debating, undertook excursions, discussed the nature of teaching, and our shared journey as practitioners. I broke down teaching skill sets so that we could focus on his steady improvements. He wondered how he'd manage to juggle them all (said I made it look easy ). I offered reassurance that this level of proficiency had taken me years; conscious skill acquisition (Gordon's Development ladder) showcases this process of mindful adjustment.

    On a daily basis, if the encounters we have as educators in our schools are positive and fulfilling, then that's a measure of worth, but the teaching (I believe) while appearing seamless and imperceptible serves to more effectively throw the learning into sharp relief. My measure as a teacher, then, is how redundant I become to the learners who surpass me and - as happened this week - when I Facebook message them requesting interviews with local media, they tell me they're onto their second Science degree and planning a career in medicine and, yes, they'd love to help me out:)
    Thanks for the opportunity to think this one through!

  2. Great post! I am a grade school teacher and sometimes find myself racking my brain trying to think of ways to engage my students in ways that I haven't before, all the while making what we're learning fun. If I see blank looks in their eyes it really makes me wonder if I'm even making a difference. I just read a great book you might enjoy and also find helpful (I did!), it's called "Teach Like A PIRATE" by Dave Burgess. You can check him out and get the book right from the website http://daveburgess.com/. Thanks for the post!

  3. Hi Marie,

    Thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts. Thank you too for recommending the book by Dave Burgess which I'll certainly try to read.

    I am sure you do make a difference to many - anyone who cares and reflects like you do, surely will :-)

  4. Hi Sam,

    Thank you for visiting and sharing your experience and reflections. Yes, teaching is a complex alchemy - an expression which you used and I loved! And like myself (I have a trainee currently observing me), it may appear "seamless" but that comes from years of practice and being in classrooms. And yet....there are moments when I am not sure if I am reading the body language correctly, despite understanding the culture where I work well.

    Even today, after so many years of teaching, after every class, every lesson, I go through it all over in my mind, picking up who needs extra revision/consolidation and how best I can introduce meaningful activities in the following lesson.

    Unlike medicine, where patients usually thank their doctors, teachers receive little gratitude for their efforts. Sometimes we do; throughout the years I often have and it is always a magical moment for me. I may not have made a lasting difference but they remember what they learnt from me and were prepared for their jobs and future.

    Magic does happen! :-)