How to Become and Remain a Transformational Teacher

An illustration of a shadow-like teenage boy. He's drawing a school, inspired from reading a book. The word "growth" is highlighted in green in the background.

However talented, no one is a natural-born teacher. Honing the craft takes significant care and effort, not just by the individual, but also by the school at large. Though experience does matter, it matters only to the extent that a teacher — regardless of how long he or she has been in the classroom — commits to continued professional development to refresh his or her status as a transformational teacher. Along those lines, even after a decade in the classroom, I don’t claim to be beyond criticism — not in the least. Still, I wish to offer some advice on constantly striving toward perfection, however elusive that goal will always remain.

Constantly Share Best Practices

As a first step, work toward recognizing that, no matter how long you’ve been in the classroom, there will always be someone else who’s more effective at a certain facet of teaching. When I was a first-year teacher, a veteran colleague inquired how I’d engaged such strong student interest in the American Revolution, something that he’d struggled with achieving. I shared my lesson plan, which culminated in a formal debate about whether the colonists had acted justly in rebelling against British rule. Moving forward, I felt more confident and comfortable about asking that colleague for help with providing quality written feedback, which he excelled at doing.

Find a Trusted Mentor

No matter how much experience you have, it’s crucial to find and rely on a trusted confidant. As a new teacher, I spent countless hours chatting with colleagues about best practices and where I feared that I might have fallen short. Not once did they pass judgment on me, or suggest that whatever I had done (or failed to do, in certain cases) was beyond repair. Instead, they offered thoughtful advice on how I might do things differently. No matter the subject, I value hearing fresh perspectives from new and veteran teachers about becoming even better at my job. Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.

Commit to Classroom Observations

I do my best to observe other teachers in action. This year, I benefited from watching a colleague inject humor into his English classroom to cultivate a more relaxed but effective learning environment. In turn, I tried to strike a similar balance in my history classroom, which helped students feel less afraid of sharing ideas and learning from mistakes. I’m equally grateful for observing a colleague teach French to students whom I also instruct. She possesses a gentle firmness that learners respond to, but more importantly, students know that she cares about them — and they don’t want to let their teacher or themselves down.

Change Things Up

I also observe other teachers to see how they change things up, especially when I get too comfortable in a routine. It’s certainly easier to teach the same books and content each year, but it’s also incredibly boring, which can lead to burnout. This summer, I’m working to revamp some of my American history curriculum to fall more in step with what students are learning and doing in their American literature class. For example, when juniors are studying the Cold War in my class, they’ll be reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen in their English class — an award-winning graphic novel highlighting many Cold War-era fears and tensions. For both classes, students will complete a yet-to-be-determined project to showcase their understanding.

Model the Usefulness of What You Teach

In line with changing things up, I’m always looking for new ways to model the usefulness of what I teach. More than ever, I find that students want to know how they can apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world. In American history, I continue to de-emphasize rote memorization in favor of activities requiring clear, analytical thinking — an essential tool for whatever students end up pursuing in college or as a career. On most assessments, I allow students to bring a notecard. It seems less important in the age of Google to assess how much students know. Instead, I’m significantly more concerned with how much sense they can make of all this information so readily available to them. In all of my classes, I also make it clear that knowing how to write well will play a significant role in their future success.

Caring Beyond What You Teach

To motivate my students toward success, I strive to show that I care about them beyond the classroom. I do my best to chaperone trips, watch sporting events, and attend plays and other student-run productions. I advise the Model United Nations Club, which allows me to share my passion for diplomacy and fostering change. I also coach cross-country to help students see that I value maintaining a healthy body just as much as developing an inquisitive mind. The most transformational teachers that I know have a deep understanding of how their role transcends far beyond any subject that they’re teaching. Such teachers have the most lasting impact on their students long after graduation.

How else can one become a transformational teacher? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.


Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”

Young girl resting her head in her hand looking perplexed

We all have students that just want to “get it right.” We all have students that constantly seek the attention of the teacher. “Did I get this right?” “Is this what you want?” Now while it’s certainly a good thing to affirm students in their learning, many times we want students to be creative with their learning. We allow them to own their learning and create assessment products where they can show us what they know in new and inventive ways. Because of this, there isn’t “one right answer,” yet our students are often trained to think that there can be only one.

Similarly, we want students to be reflective, to ask themselves, “How do I know if I’m on the right track?” or “What could I do next?” Instead of coming immediately to the teacher, we want students to experiment on their own. Many of us wonder why students constantly do the opposite instead. I’ve got news for you. It’s our fault. We, as educators, are often responsible for learned helplessness, and we have a responsibility to change it! How can we empower our students to be self-directed learners?

Curate and Create Learning Resources

If we want to have students seek out other information from sources other than the teacher, then we must make sure those resources are available. Many teachers using the flipped classroom approach already have created or found these kinds of resources. However, think broadly about the word resource. People are resources, texts are resources, and community organizations are resources — to name just a few categories. We have to be comfortable not always knowing the answer, and instead suggesting we find the answer together through the vast amount of learning resources that we have at our disposal. Try curating these resources before, during, and after a unit. Work with students as well to create a culture where the answers are everywhere.

Questions “For” (Not “About”) Learning

What do I mean by this? Instead of using questions to check for understanding and getting the right answer, we can use questions to probe students’ thinking and push them to think about their learning. Questions can serve as powerful redirection tools that promote metacognition. Instead of responding with “Yes” or “No,” ask a student, “Why do you think that?” If you notice an error or gap in learning, try using questions that push the student to think:

  • What else could you try?
  • Have you experimented with another idea?
  • Why do you think this is true?

Questions are powerful tools for helping students own the process of learning.

Stop Giving Answers

Often, when a student fails or makes mistakes, we want to fly in like a superhero and give the answer. “This is what you need to do.” We come to save the day, and pat ourselves on the back for being a great teacher. In fact, we may have done that student a disservice. This doesn’t come from a bad place, or suggest that we’re bad at teaching. On the contrary, we care for our students, so we want to help them whenever we can. Ask yourself this: By helping that student, will he or she own the learning, or are you doing the learning for him or her? This means that sometimes we need to get out of the way. If students are working in teams, for example, and are arguing (safely) about what to do next, we need to let them solve the problem on their own and then check in. “I heard an argument. Did you guys figure it out? Great work at problem solving!” Of course, if students are floundering, and failure is not productive, by all means step in. But also feel free to allow yourself wait time before you do so!

Allow for Failure

I firmly believe that failure is a powerful learning tool, but we have to make sure that we create a culture where it is OK to fail forward. Do you grade everything? If so, you may not be communicating that it’s OK to fail. Do you allow for multiple drafts and revisions and demand high-quality products? If so, you are communicating to students that they have multiple tries to learn and, more importantly, that they can be creative and experiment. In addition, we should be there to support students when they do fail, and to help get them back on the right track.

We need to take responsibility for empowering our students, and to scaffold the process of self-direction. Self-direction doesn’t happen overnight, especially, when many of our students, based on specific structures of schooling, are trained to be helpless. Although we can take steps as individual educators to avoid learned helplessness, we need to reexamine the systems of schooling, from curriculum to assessment and instruction, to allow for empowerment rather than always getting the right answer.

OCD: Symptoms, Signs & Risk Factors

Written by Ann Pietrangelo

OCD: Symptoms, Signs & Risk Factors

We all double or triple check something on occasion. We forget if we’ve locked the door or wonder if we’ve left the water running, and we want to be certain. Some of us are perfectionists, so we go over our work several times to make sure it’s right. That’s not abnormal behavior. But if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you feel compelled to act out certain rituals repeatedly, even if you don’t want to — and even if it complicates your life unnecessarily.

Obsessions are the worrisome thoughts that cause anxiety. Compulsions are the behaviors you use to relieve that anxiety.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

Signs of OCD usually become apparent in childhood or early adulthood. It tends to begin slowly and become more intense as you mature. For many people, symptoms come and go, but it’s usually a lifelong problem. In severe cases, it has a profound impact on quality of life. Without treatment, it can become quite disabling.

Some common obsessions associated with OCD include:

  • anxiety about germs and dirt, or fear of contamination
  • need for symmetry and order
  • concern that your thoughts or compulsions will harm others, feeling you can keep other people safe by performing certain rituals
  • worry about discarding things of little or no value
  • disturbing thoughts or images about yourself or others

Some of the behaviors that stem from these obsessive thoughts include:

  • excessive hand washing, repetitive showering, unnecessary household cleaning
  • continually arranging and reordering things to get them just right
  • checking the same things over and over even though you know you’ve already checked them
  • hoarding unnecessary material possessions like old newspapers and used wrapping paper rather than throwing them away
  • counting or repeating a particular word or phrase. Performing a ritual like having to touch something a certain number of times or take a particular number of steps
  • focusing on positive thoughts to combat the bad thoughts

Social Signs: What to Look For

Some people with OCD manage to mask their behaviors so they’re less obvious. For others, social situations trigger compulsions. Some things you might notice in a person with OCD:

  • raw hands from too much hand washing
  • fear of shaking hands or touching things in public
  • avoidance of certain situations that trigger obsessive thoughts
  • intense anxiety when things are not orderly or symmetrical
  • need to check the same things over and over
  • constant need for reassurance
  • inability to break routine
  • counting for no reason or repeating the same word, phrase, or action
  • at least an hour each day is spent on unwanted thoughts or rituals
  • having trouble getting to work on time or keeping to a schedule due to rituals

Since OCD often begins in childhood, teachers may be the first to notice signs in school. A child who is compelled to count, for instance, may not be able to complete the ritual. The stress can cause angry outbursts and other misbehaviors. One who is afraid of germs may be fearful of playing with other children. A child with OCD may fear they are crazy. Obsessions and compulsions can interfere with schoolwork and lead to poor academic performance.

Children with OCD may have trouble expressing themselves. They may be inflexible and upset when plans change. Their discomfort in social situations can make it difficult to make friends and maintain friendships. In an attempt to mask their compulsions, children with OCD may withdraw socially. Isolation increases the risk for depression.

Risk Factors and Complications

The cause of OCD is not known. It seems to run in families, but there may be environmental factors involved. Most of the time, symptoms of OCD occur before age 25.

If you have OCD, you’re also at increased risk of other anxiety disorders, including major depression and social phobias.

Just because you like things a certain way or arrange your spice rack in alphabetical order, it doesn’t mean you have OCD. However, if obsessive thoughts or ritualistic behavior feels out of your control or are interfering with your life, it’s time to seek treatment.

Treatment usually involves psychotherapy, behavioral modification therapy, or psychiatric medications, alone or in combination. According to Harvard Medical School, with treatment, approximately 10 percent of patients fully recover and about half of patients show some improvement.

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17 Essential time management skills

17 Essential time management skillsHaving lived and worked in 5 different countries, I have yet to meet anybody who didn’t want to improve their time management. Even those with strong time management skills realise that there is always room for improvement. Becoming productive with your time is all about seeking to make constant and never ending improvements to the way that you perform your work. Thankfully, there are many time management skills which you can improve to help you get better results. One of the biggest mistakes made by those who struggle with their time management is thinking that time management skills are entirely behavioural e.g. you set a goal and you work on it. However, the truth is that many of the most important time management skills are entirely cognitive i.e. they are thinking processes.

17 Essential time management skills

Below, I have outlined 17 time management skills which play a critical role in determining your productivity levels. Some of these time management skills overlap and, in many cases, mastering one skill will greatly improve your performance in another. However, it is important that you understand each skill and the role it plays in your time management.

1. Goal Setting

Time management is not a standalone skill. You cannot manage time but you probably already know that. You can only manage how you use your time and how you use your time should be driven by effective goal-setting. The most fundamental of time management skills is the ability to use your time in a manner which serves your goals.

When making decisions about what to focus your time on, you should always be cognisant of your goals and how each action is aimed at bringing you closer to achieving those goals.

If you do not have clear goals, check out the Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting.

2. Prioritisation

The biggest reason that most people struggle with prioritisation is that they start too late in the process. They attempt to prioritise the items that are on their task list. However, if you look closely at most task lists, you will find that they contain items which never should have made it on to the task list in the first place.

As strange as it may sound, prioritising should not begin with a focus on getting more work done. Prioritisation should always begin with avoiding/eliminating the tasks which you should not be performing. Once this has been done, you can switch your focus to completing the most valuable work you can with the time and resources available to you. Prioritisation is one of the most misunderstood and misused of the time management skills. When you get it right, you will find that your time management improves rapidly.

3. Self-awareness

No two people like to work the same way. We all have our own preferences for how we like to work e.g. some people work best in the mornings while others prefer to work late. We are motivated by different things and like to work in our own way. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it is quite healthy. It just means that you need to have a good understanding of your own likes, dislikes and needs.

When you have a high level of self-awareness, you are able to take the very best time management advice and tailor it to fit your own style.

4. Self-motivation

You will have days where you do not want to do anything. You may be sick, tired, bored or simply lacking motivation. On days like this, there is little that anyone else can do to get you going. You need to be able to motivate yourself to take action, even though you’d rather not. If you have improved your self-awareness, you will have a great deal of the information that you need to motivate yourself.

In addition, as you move up your organisation or, if you go down the path of the entrepreneur; there will be nobody standing over you to hold you accountable on a daily basis. You will be totally responsible for your own results. You could have all the other time management skills but if you lack the ability to motivate yourself, you will soon experience large amounts of pressure and stress.

5. Focus

Regardless of what you are trying to do, there will always be something else competing for your attention. It’s not easy to shut everything out and focus on the task at hand. Focus is one of those time management skills where you don’t realise how important it is until you struggle with it.

It is important to remember that no matter how many tasks need to be done, you can only work on one task in any given moment. The myth of multi-tasking causes many problems for those who wish to improve their time management but if you want to get results, you must learn to focus on one task at a time and block out all distractions.

6. Decision making

It would be nice to think that you could just sit down and do your work without having to put any serious thought into it. Alas, there are few jobs that fit that description. You will have to make important decisions e.g.:

• Which task to do
• Which tasks do not get done
• When a task is completed
• Which meetings to attend
• Who you can or cannot help, etc.

If your decisions only affected you, it wouldn’t be such a big deal but few tasks are performed in isolation. Almost every task has a knock on effect on another person, or task, which means that every decision that you make has consequences both for you and for others.

Decision making is one those time management skills which if you are not good at it, you will notice the negative impacts in every area of your life. It is imperative that you are able to consider the consequences and make effective, clear decisions.

7. Planning

As mentioned earlier, tasks will overlap and be dependent on each other. There will often be times when one task cannot be started until another task is finished. Your schedule will also be impacted by the schedules of others. These factors need to be considered at the beginning of each project and, monitored throughout. Failure to do so can lead to delays and missed deadlines.

Planning is one of the essential time management skills because it allows you to foresee all of the tasks which will be required to complete a project and, how they will best fit together. A well made plan will save you a great deal of time.

8. Communication Skills

You will have to work with others on a daily basis. It is unlikely that you will perform every aspect of your work so you will need to enlist the help of others. Strong communication skills will enable you to build supportive relationships with those whom you work with. You will be able to work better together and achieve more than you ever could apart.

When you require another person to do some work for you; you will want to communicate in a manner which will enable them to perform the work to the desired standard, in the fastest time. Should any errors occur, you will want to raise the issue quickly and explain clearly about the adjustments that need to be made. In these situations, the quality of your communication directly impacts the quality of the work that gets done.

If you need to improve your communication skills, check out How To Talk So Others Listen.

9. Questioning and challenging

If you want to work to the highest standard, you must be willing to challenge anything and everything which does not meet your standards. This begins when somebody attempts to assign a task to you. If you do not think that you should be the person to perform the task; you must raise the issue and challenge the person that is assigning you the task. When you begin to do this, you will often see a decrease in the amount of work which gets delegated to you. Quite often, people delegate work to you because it is convenient; not because it is the correct course of action. If you want to improve your time management skills; this must become a thing of the past. As mentioned earlier, eliminating work that you should not be doing is the beginning of prioritisation. Questioning and challenging are essential skills to help you achieve this.

Questioning and challenging are also essential when you are being assigned work that you should be doing. Never accept a task until you are crystal clear about what is expected e.g.:

• What is to be done
• When it is to be completed by
• How much is required
• The manner in which the work is to be performed
• Any other details which impact on your ability to complete the work

If you have any objections, you should raise them before giving your firm agreement. Taking the time to achieve clarity at the beginning will save you far more time in the long-run.

10. Delegation/outsourcing

Just as others will want to delegate work to you; there will be times when you want to delegate work to others. You will want to ensure that all the important work gets completed but that does not mean that you have to be the person to complete it. One of the greatest time management skills is knowing when you are not the right person to perform the task.

If the task is more suited to somebody else’s skill set; you should consider delegating the task. Of course, when delegating, it is important that you provide all of the necessary information and ensure that the person who will perform the task is clear about what is expected of them.

11. Coping Skills

Things will go wrong from time to time. You can be certain of that. When things do go wrong, you can sit around wallowing in despair or you can review the situation, identify the correct course of action and implement that action.

Time management is not just a behavioural skill. It is cognitive too. Your thinking and mindset play a massive role in determining your results. Knowing how to cope with setbacks will help you bounce back quickly and reduce the amount of time lost when things go wrong.

12. Stress Management

With work comes pressure. Pressure in itself is usually a good thing. It motivates you to take action and to do a good job. However, once you begin to feel that you can no longer cope with the demands placed upon you, you begin to move from pressure to experiencing stress. Stress is not a good thing. People often speak of good stress but that is just an inappropriate way of labelling pressure.

When you experience stress, your body and mind begin to suffer. Large arrays of mental and physical problems have been linked to prolonged exposure to stress. Before you get to that stage, stress begins to have a negative impact on your performance and your time management. If you experience stress, you will have so many things on your mind that you will find it practically impossible to focus on the task at hand. As a result, it will take you longer to perform even the simplest of tasks. A backlog will start to build up as you fall behind which in turn increases your stress levels and so the spiral continues.

Time management skills and stress management skills are intertwined. They also have one major thing in common – they allow you to understand that it is better to prevent the problem occurring than having to deal with it once it does occur. If you want to improve your time management skills, make proactive stress management a ritual in your life.

13. Working effectively with others

I have already highlighted the importance of communicating with others in maximising your time management. Working effectively with others is often the quickest way to get a job done properly. This is about more than just communication and delegation. It is important to understand how others like to work; their goals and expectations. As you get to know people better, you build positive relationships where you can work together for the benefit of all concerned.

14. Record Keeping

When you are on top of everything and you know exactly what is going on; you can make effective decisions and provide information quicker. Regardless of your subject area, accurate information is essential. You do not have to know everything off the top of your head but you would be surprised at how much time you can save when you know where to find the necessary information at the moment you need it.

You must determine what information you need to have and put systems in place to ensure that it is collected and stored.

15. Organisation and filing

This is an extension of record keeping. I used to laugh at the amount of effort that my first boss used to put into his filing system. His desk was spotless, as opposed to mine – I couldn’t even see what colour my desk was. Whenever I asked him for something, he was able to reach his hand out and grab it in a matter of seconds. When he asked me for something, I would practically tear my desk apart trying to find it.

It does take some time to set up a proper filing system but once it is set up, you save large chunks of time because you can store and retrieve information without having to think about. And, that is the ultimate benefit of organisation – you only have to think about anything once. Everything has a place and, unless you are using it, you will be able to find what you are looking for in that place.

16. Patience

Many people think that time management skills are all about getting more work done. That is not the case. Time management skills are about ensuring that you get the important work done. You could try to focus on getting more done but you end up rushing things and making mistakes. By the time you have rectified the mistakes (if it is possible to do so) you will have spent more time than if you’d taken your time and done the job properly.

Patience isn’t just a virtue; it is a skill. It is something which you have to practice. The very best time managers do not rush things. They have patience and take precisely the amount of time required to do the job properly.

17. Forgiveness

Like patience, forgiveness is actually a skill. It is not something which magically happens; it is something which you must choose to do. As you try to improve your time management skills and become more effective, you will make mistakes. Others will also let you down from time to time; though rarely intentionally. It is easy to become irate when these things happen but if you do, you will find that you become too emotional to focus on your work. In the end, you compound the mistake by reducing your effectiveness further due to your own frustration.

When things go wrong, give the people the benefit of the doubt. People rarely get things wrong on purpose. Whether it was you or somebody else who made the mistake, choose to forgive. Accept that it was a genuine mistake, and then focus on identifying the corrective action that you need to take. This way, you will maintain your self-esteem, improve your relationships and reduce the amount of time wasted following the mistake.