The role of an educator cannot be underestimated, as teachers are fundamental to both personal and professional success. A great teacher is engaging, supportive, and holds high expectations for themselves and their students. Leann Smith is an Assistant Superintendent in Cullman County, Alabama, and has served communities in a variety of positions over her tenure. She lists some of the best qualities of a great teacher, and how they can make our children better leaders.


Respecting Individuality


Leann Smith is devoted to higher education and has satisfied the demands as a teacher, counselor, assistant principal, principal, central office director and now as an assistant superintendent. During this time in Hanceville, Alabama, Leann Smith explains that one of the best qualities a teacher can have is treating every student as an individual. With standardized testing, multiple choice, and other generic grading systems, children can easily feel defeated. Being able to customize your teaching approach for every student has the maximum benefit for every individual learning style. Constantly comparing students to the achievements of their peers can be detrimental for their confidence, so it is important to remember this: compare them to who they were yesterday, and not with their peers today. As long as a student is making progress, even if it is along their own timeline, at their own pace, and in their particular way, it is something that should be encouraged and celebrated. This type of approach can also teach students to be better leaders, considering everyone as an individual not to be graded according to the same system.


Exceptional Communication Skills


In addition to treating students as individuals, Leann Smith stresses the importance of excellent communication skills. Previously engaged in communities such as Trussville City Schools, Lamar County Schools, and Cullman County Schools, Leann Smith learned that being a great teacher is not all about sharing knowledge; it is the way that they share their knowledge that matters. If a teacher is unable to convey what they know to others in a way that is not only understandable but engaging, the knowledge itself is useless. A good teacher should know when the audience has understood, and should paraphrase, illustrate, or take another tact entirely when it becomes apparent that their communication has fallen flat or has not reached or connected with the entire class.


Leann Smith explains that it is also important to notice when one student among many does not understand and is able to make an effort to communicate individually when necessary. Good communication skills also include outlining exactly what the expectations of students are in terms of assignments and parameters. Once an expectation has been set by a teacher, it becomes much easier for students to deliver. Great communication skills lend themselves to every career possibility for your children and should be paramount in every teaching environment.


Strong Interpersonal Skills


Being able to customize your teaching approach is about building relationships with students and relating to their experiences. Leann Smith uses her determination, diplomatic language and strong interpersonal skills to relate to students when others cannot, and she explains that it is one of the best qualities a teacher can have. It is not just enough to know what you are talking about and teach a subject with your head; you also need to be attentive to students’ needs and teach with your heart. In order to create successful learning environments, educators should be able to build caring relationships with their students. The best teachers are often the ones that care the most deeply about seeing their students succeed, and have a vested interest in their hobbies, goals, and particularities. Caring about your students is what makes a teacher reach out, do better, communicate more, ask, learn, refine, and improve. In all of her years teaching in Cullman County, this is one of the most valuable things that Leann Smith has learned. This skill also translates to positive leadership later on in life, as it showcases the importance of empathy in successful leadership.


Critical Thinking


Great teachers use critical reflection to enhance their knowledge and skills. Without reflection, Leann Smith explains that you run the risk of making poor decisions or unquestioningly believing that students are always able to accurately interpret your actions as intended. No matter what field you work in, being aware of your strengths and weaknesses is a great way to maintain a high level of service and performance. Teachers can keep track of this by keeping a daily reflection journal, trying out new techniques and seeing how well they resonate with students. Being able to write this down in a single location allows you to actively track the strengths and weaknesses that constantly come up. As a leader in a classroom, it can often be difficult to gain meaningful feedback from your students but handing out assignment feedback reviews might give you better insight into how hard students found the content, and the resources they wish they had to better understand it. Teaching requires a willingness to cast a critical eye on your practice, your pedagogy, and yourself.


Can Work Collaboratively


Leann Smith explains that a willingness to work collaboratively with other teachers is crucial to the success of students. Working in education means that you are never truly working alone. For paraprofessionals to teaching assistants to other classroom teachers and school leaders, working as a teacher often means working effectively in a group. A successful career in the education sector requires the development of collaborative skills. For instance, a teaching aide course provides students with the opportunity to practice teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. Having these skills is not only beneficial for working with other teachers but also for supporting student learning. Working towards the same goal, it can be useful to share insights into new teaching methodologies and practices. Leann Smith stresses the importance of being open to learning from other educators, both those with more experience than you, or with different backgrounds.




Last but not least, a great teacher needs to be patient. No matter what grade level you are teaching, your patience will be tested when working as an educator. Leann Smith knows a thing or two about patience, and how managing a classroom, working with colleagues with different views, or communicating student issues with parents forces you to be calm and at peace in every situation. Taking a page from the stoics, being able to maintain a calm and centered focus while anger, frustration and stress are directed towards you, will not only make you a teacher who leads by example, but also makes you someone who students and teachers come back to again and again.

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