Know Thy Impact
"Know thy impact." John Hattie
As teachers, we impact the lives of students every day, and sometimes, in ways we can’t even imagine. We impact them through our subject matter, our teaching methods and materials, and our individual personas. Once they move on, students may not always remember what you taught them, but they will forever remember how you made them feel while teaching them. And the impact of those feelings may change their lives.
After following my recent high school reunion on FB and celebrating International Teacher’s Day earlier this month, I started thinking about my own high school teachers and what impact they have had on me as a student, a person, and even more so, as a teacher.
Four teachers popped up immediately: one amazing French teacher and three less amazing teachers of geometry, chemistry, and dance.
You might think that this was because I was more of a humanities kind of kid and struggled in math and science, as well as having two left feet on the dance floor. However, that was not entirely the case! In fact, the subject matters were completely inconsequential in relation to the impact the teachers had on me. What has stuck with me was the way they made me feel about myself, my abilities, and my worth.
Before I go on, let me just be clear. I do not doubt that all my teachers were good, great, or even amazing teachers. I do not doubt that they followed teaching principles that were acceptable and expected of them in the 1970s & 1980s. They were all highly proficient in their subject matters and respected faculty members.
However, not all of them made me feel confident, worthy, and respected.
I felt humiliated when my geometry teacher shared the final grade averages out loud in class, with mine being the lowest. (There was actually a collective gasp by my classmates when my average was announced followed by silence when the teacher continued to explain that my average was NOT high enough to exempt me from the final exam.)
I felt disrespected when my chemistry teacher sent me to detention for gum chewing (I know!), but later let another student just spit hers out with no consequences.
And finally, I felt unworthy and ashamed when my dance teacher told me after my tryout for pompom squad captain that my dance routine and moves were very good, but that I was 15 pounds too heavy to be selected.
I know that none of this was intentional. However, the feelings that resulted from these experiences have played a role in some of my insecurities in life and continue to pop up now and again.
But I also had amazing experiences that made me feel confident, inspired, and worthy!
I felt all of these things in my French classes! My teacher let me be in charge of projects, recognized my strengths, trusted me, and made me want to be a part of the French Club and even become the President of the French Club.
My success in French class made me believe I could successfully handle a year abroad as an exchange student. (Life-changing event for me!)
I had an English teacher who allowed me to write a research paper on a topic that wasn’t on the approved list! I felt heard, seen, and worthy!
As a teacher
The impact that my teachers had on me has helped make me the amazing teacher that I am today. (Okay – amazing may be my own interpretation of all the positive evaluations and comments I’ve had over the last 25 years of teaching.)
I try to emulate the authenticity of my French teacher by letting my students see some of my personal sides and creating lesson activities that allow them to work independently while learning. I trust them to do the work they sign up to do. I never share individual student performances – good or bad – with the class without permission. I try to be as fair as possible with both rewards and discipline. I consistently let student achievement stand on its own merits. And most of all, I strive for excellence and push my students to strive for excellence – to do their best, contribute in class, and learn as much as possible.
John Hattie (leading educational expert and author of Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning) says, “those teachers who are students of their own impact are the teachers who are the most influential in raising students’ achievement.” Therefore, it is important that we recognize the impact we have on our students and their learning. We need to constantly evaluate what we do and how we do it. Not because it’s part of our job description or there’s an evaluation form to fill out, but because it’s what we do as the amazing teachers we are!! We keep tabs on ourselves to make sure we are giving our students the best learning environment, so they can feel strong about learning.
Throughout the years of evaluating my teaching and the impact I had on my students, both academically and individually, I found that I had unintentionally developed a set of core values for my teaching.
Once I realized this, I started noticing how my reactions and behaviors in class, while grading papers, while planning lessons, collaborating with colleagues, discussing work, etc. could be directly related to my values and the degree they were being respected by me, my students, my colleagues, my administration, as well as my family and friends.
Here are my 5 core teaching values that I believe stem directly from the experiences I had in high school. They are my guiding lights.
Even though I may not always succeed in my endeavors, I try to honor these values every time I step into the classroom and hope that I leave a positive impact on my students. That impact is sometimes long lasting and sometimes short lasting.
Sometimes it is purely academic like essay writing techniques. When I can see that my students are in fact improving, then I know that my impact has been substantial.
Sometimes it is individual. When a student shares about a book he’s reading or a documentary he has seen based on what we’ve done in class, I know that my impact has been substantial.
When they leave my classroom feeling confident, worthy, and/or respected based on what they've experienced in my classroom, then I’ve done a good job.
What about YOU??