Your Biggest Teaching Power—Your Own Attitude

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{taken from the book Keeping the Momentum Strong in the Critical Middle of the School Year}

I have a friend who has been a very good teacher. She has enjoyed the reputation of being both liked and respected by students and staff. Last year, unfortunately, she had problems with four students and their parents. The incident has changed her completely. She is consumed by this negative experience. She can talk of little else—and all efforts to counsel her are met with a rehash of the encounter with each student and every parent. It does little good to remind her that the experiences with her other 145 students were excellent. She can’t even consider an explanation of the events or talk about remedies or solutions. She is stuck on the problem. Her attitude has regressed to the point where she cannot even begin to utilize her abilities. This story demonstrates the power of a person’s attitude. It can be our biggest asset—or our biggest liability. [Tweet this.] That’s why it’s so important to discuss some of the professional attitudes we need to adopt in order to have the best chance for success.


We can “alter [our] life
by altering
[our] attitudes of mind.”


Certainly the words of William James ring true. He said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.” As we begin to move deeper into this school year, we need to know and accept the reality that nothing very significant is likely to happen for us as teachers—or our students as learners—unless we hold specific professional attitudes toward teaching, learning, and the work and mission of the school. Professional attitudes have the power to make us more effective this year and in all the years to come. Therefore, we would be wise to focus on our own professional attitudes.

The first professional attitude we need to adopt is that we are employed to meet the needs of students and to provide for their success. This means we must be student-centered always and know that our role is to serve students, not personal or special interests. If we extend this attitude to its fullest, we will not just resolve to give our students a good teacher. Rather, we will resolve to give our students the best teacher they have ever had. The power of this one attitude can be enormous.

The second vital attitude is also very powerful. We must resolve that how we teach will be determined by how students learn. Once we approach teaching with the intent of teaching the student, not just the content of our lessons, we will have the chance to meet all our learning outcomes. We will view our function as taking our teaching to the student, rather than bringing the student to our teaching. [Tweet this.] In truth, this is what differentiated instruction is all about.


We must believe that
excellence can be achieved—
even with limited resources.


Adopting a third professional attitude can give us a power that will elude anyone who doesn’t hold this stance: We must believe that excellence can be achieved—even with limited resources. We must know that having more resources helps, but it does not necessarily correlate with improved student learning. Once we embrace this attitude, we’re more likely to employ the personal strengths we need to be highly successful in the classroom. Certainly, we will more likely focus on imagination, creativity, effort, and commitment rather than on simply acquiring more resources.

Fourth, we need to hold the attitude that parents are sending us the best young people they can. This attitude will help us realize that the function of teaching and the role of the teacher is to pick students up wherever they are and take them as far as they can go. If we don’t hold this attitude, the blaming will begin—and so will the failures of some students. It is this attitude which will enable us to come to the realization that we must be capable of providing equitable opportunities for every student regardless of his or her ability, experience, language, economic status, or human condition. This belief can also lead us to know that we can help parents and they can help us. Through meaningful input and involvement in both directions, we can strengthen student learning opportunities and have success.

Fifth, to ensure student success, we need to adopt the attitude that the combination of teachers, staff, and administrators is totally responsible for the quality of education children receive. Certainly, students have a responsibility to learn, but quality teaching is vital. Without this attitude, we may not feel much power at all. In fact, we may feel isolated and powerless. When this is the case, we are apt to feel like victims—and students are likely to be victimized again by the circumstances life has dealt them.


The Master Teacher knows that
unless we hold specific attitudes, some
students will fall through the cracks.


The Master Teacher knows that our attitudes are as important as our skills. After all, the wrong attitude can alter our intellect. It can cancel our effort and action. It can cause us to put our skills on the shelf unused.

The Master Teacher knows the joy and reward of teaching as well as the despair and defeat. He or she is very much aware of all the difficulties encountered in trying to teach a roomful of students. It is, without reservation, one of the most difficult of all professional challenges. And without the power of a strong professional attitude that students can be taught, students can learn, and obstacles can be overcome, we can only be assured that more young people will fall through the cracks—because we will experience defeat before the class even starts.

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How are you getting through the middle of the school year? Tell us in the comments below…

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