What Every Teacher Needs In Order To Grow

What Every Teacher Needs In Order To Grow

What Does Every Teacher Need In Order To Grow?

by Terry Heick

Teaching can do weird things to you. It can give you purpose and sanctuary, or dissolve both right in front of your eyes.

It can energize and drain you.

Inspire and demoralize you.

Connect and isolate you.

It’s an awkward mix art and science–analytics and instinct–that parallels what doctors and architects do, only less socially credible, less funded, and far less spectacular.

And in this accountability era, our ‘performance’ is fodder for reductionist newspaper headlines that report a teacher or school’s failures without ever turning a mirror on itself, as if society is here, and teachers and schools are over there.

The education of a child is the ultimate long-form study of society and its values.

The Lie Education Tells

The greatest disservice education has ever done to itself is claim outright ownership of understanding and mastery of a full index of under-18-understanding (i.e., academic standards). This lie has been propagated successfully enough that teachers now feel a nearly overwhelming sense of duty to deliver each child from the brink–or whatever loaded phrasing you find motivating.

Whatever it takes.

Every child, every day.

No falling through the cracks.

No child left behind.

This not sustainable, of course, so teachers burn out–or tell themselves that they’re happy when other areas of their life may suggest otherwise.

This provides a toxic formula that encourages you to learn to survive rather than soar with the happiness you–and your craftsmanship–deserve. But there are some things you can do to help find that simultaneous effectiveness and comfort that leads to something increasingly rare these days: Long-term, effective, and happy teaching.


Many of these may be minor corrections you’ve made in the past. Pick two or three and work on them, and see what happens, then maybe another two or three, and so on. Then let me know in the comments section what you find.

What Every Teacher Needs In Order To Grow: The Shift From Surviving To Thriving As A Teacher

1. Become a good listener

Teaching can encourage us to communicate, defend, encourage, and deliver–all outward patterns of energy. As an experienced teacher, you know the lay of the land. Listen more. Find out what people think. Where their focus is. What they’re missing. Only after you fully understand a situation should you feel obligated to speak, act, or intervene.

And that’s rarer than you’d think. Think about it–out of all the miserable people you know, how many are good listeners?

A listening teacher is a happy teacher.

2. Find and add to multiple PLNs

One PLN may offer curriculum, one inspiration, one tool, and one human affection and connectedness. Spread your time across them even if you may personally enjoy one or two over the rest.

A balanced teacher is a happy teacher.

3. Know when to shut your door

Connecting is great. Career changing. Probably even a matter of policy (your Professional Growth Plan). But know when to shut your door and get stuff done. A teacher’s work is not on twitter or a staff meeting, but in the hearts and minds of students.

A productive teacher is a happy teacher.

4. Be creative

Creativity is the marrow of being human. It’s your personal expression–proof that you have a unique perspective worth sharing.

Whether it’s in your lesson design, technology integration, scope-and-sequencing, content delivery–whatever it is, create something original every day that you’re alive. You’ll be amazed what a difference it makes.

A creative teacher is a happy teacher.

5. Be a human being

You were told not to ‘get too close’ (reminds me of the way the Monsters view the children in Monsters, Inc.). Don’t smile until December. It’s better to be feared than loved. By all means, form relationships based on learning, but also know this: Learning is a human process.

It can’t be unpacked, aligned, assessed, disaggregated, differentiated, directed, and reported. (That’s curriculum.) Instead, learning is hopeful, aware, and vibrant. It has both a memory and a future. The more you work with human beings rather than bar graphs, the more human you’ll allow yourself to be.

A human teacher is a happy teacher.

6. Know your sweet spots

I’m good with content, assessment, and curriculum, but classroom management and organization ‘challenge me.’ Because I know this, I try to preemptively support myself ahead of time with reminders, technology, curriculum design features, and strategic alliances with other staff members that I can share my thinking and resources with, and they with me.

A self-aware teacher is a happy teacher.

7. Reflect, reflect, reflect

And on the right things. Not vague stuff like ‘how the day went,’ or ‘if the kids were good,’ but rather how the assessment performed. What curiosity looked like in the classroom. Which literacy strategy might’ve been better. How many students smiled. If a different grouping strategy might’ve been more effective. What evidence you accept as proof of student engagement. How you managed time. Who asked the majority of the questions.

A reflective teacher is a growing teacher, and a growing teacher is a happy teacher.

8. Be nervous

Just a little. Never get too comfortable–that leads to complacency, which is the cousin of apathy.

Never take what you do for granted. Think back to the first lesson you delivered as a student teacher. Yes, you were naive, but you were also probably bursting with nervous enthusiasm. Keep that day in mind–or that feeling–each day before you start. A little nervous tension is good for the soul. And it honors the importance of what you do.

A slightly nervous teacher shows they’re aware of what they do, and that teacher is a happy teacher.

9. Don’t take yourself too seriously

Don’t ask me how I know. Just don’t.

Be confident, but self-effacing. Let your guard down. Reveal yourself to others. Let others win. Despite your best efforts, you are only one person and have but one role to play. Play it wildly, with your eyes wide and full of wonder.

Laugh at yourself. When students laugh, laugh with them. If somebody farts, laugh. It’s funny.

A laughing teacher is a happy teacher.

10. Have your own quality standards

A lot will be imposed on you as a teacher, and accountability, in context, is okay.

You’ll be tasked with results of your students’ reading, writing, critical thinking, ethics, behavior, creativity, innovation, compliance–notice how many of these contradict one another? Have your own terms for quality and success–measures you look for that show you that what you’re doing works. You need to believe that what you’re doing both matters and is effective.

Consider any and all data, but great teachers are far harder on themselves than anyone else could ever be. Never simply do what you’re told.

A teacher that doesn’t do what they’re told is a happy teacher.