As I look back and reflect on what I listed over seven years ago, there are two things from my experience that stick out to me from what I have seen and what I know. The first is the focus on “relationships,” with the second being a dedication to learning. I would not even say that these are characteristics of a “master teacher,” but would be minimum requirements of any educator. If you are unable to do these two things, none of the other things matter.
Thinking about these two things, I believe it is essential that when we hire new staff to join any school (no matter what they do, they serve students first and everything else is secondary) or implement a new initiative, we continuously focus on the elements of relationship building and lifelong learning as adults. This is what sets the foundation for the work that we do in schools.
Below are some questions that you can use for discussion with staff or interview questions, that you are more than welcome to modify as you see fit for your context.
Questions on Building Relationships
- There has been an incident in your classroom. How do you deal with this? The lack of information in this question is purposeful. What are the questions that are asked to get more information? Do we have a standard procedure on how we deal with everything (specific action equals specific consequence), or do we seek to learn more about the students in front of us and their unique situations? The questions asked here will tell you more than the answers.
- Relationships are built daily in classrooms. Tell me practices in your classroom that exemplify that? Culture is not something that is exclusive to “whole school,” but is something that is created in every single classroom. The majority of the time for a child in school is in a classroom, so what does that experience look like for them? Are they expected to give respect to the adults, while not being given the same in return? What is their role in creating the culture that is inclusive of others?
- How is it determined if a child is successful in your classroom? Is this something that is only determined by the teacher, or is this a conversation that the student has an active part in? If the staff member solely defines it, that is where the focus is on engagement (what the teacher can do for the student), but if the student has a say on what success looks like to them, that is the shift to empowerment (what the student can do for themselves). Success is (and should be) a very personal measure. Students need to be in on those conversations.
- Discuss how you deal with conflict with a colleague. What is done here is modeled to our students. Conflict is not a bad thing, how we deal with it can be.
Questions on Embodying Lifelong Learning
- What is the last thing that you learned on your own and how did you learn it? A Will Richardson quote resonates with me here: “And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldn’t wait for a blogging workshop. Adults shouldn’t either.” I was recently discussing with a teacher who said that they always need someone to show them something for them to have the ability to learn it. I thought about it and thought about all of the things that we are interested in that we have learned on our own, like a recipe from YouTube, or how to fix or create something. If we are interested, we make it happen. If we aren’t, we often expect someone to do it for us. Successful people initiate, and if we only learn when we are taught, we might be creating an environment of dependence in our classrooms. This is not to say we should never learn from others. I am stating that should not be the only way we learn.
- If I was to ask your students what you have learned recently, what would they tell me? Do we challenge our students to grow while we stay stagnant? If we are to “embody” lifelong learning, that means our students should be able to see our development. The humility in sharing our own challenges models to our students this is not only part of being a learner, but being a person.
- What is something that you learned from a past failure? Failure is finite if there is no growth from the process. Failing teaches us a lot about the process and ourselves. Many of our top academic students (not smartest students, because that is something different) struggle the first time they find some adversity in their studies. If you are not pushing yourself to the point where you struggle, school has not become a place for growth, but for affirmation of ability. Do you learn from failure, avoid it, or let it define you?
The elements of relationships and lifelong learning, are not the “end-all-be-all” of education, but they are the foundation from where we build upward. Hopefully, these questions will challenge your own growth and those that you serve, or at least start some great conversations.