Monday, June 15, 2009

Beliefs are Nothing without Action

After Arne Duncan was appointed our new Secretary of Education, I caught an interview with him on All Things Considered (NPR, February 4, 2009). His mother is still running an inner-city tutoring program that she started in Chicago in 1961. He remarked that she is an incredible person who turns kids' lives around. Along the same lines, he stated that if we " ... believe in them, invest in them, [and] have the highest of expectations ..." our children will turn the world on its head. He got me thinking about the characteristics of adults who make a real difference in the lives of our students.

In Osterman and Kottkamp's 2004 edition of Reflective Practice for Educators, they say it very simply: "The actions that [educators] take, individually and collectively, determine whether children succeed" (7). Further, Osterman and Kottkamp emphasize the importance of cognition, maintaining that our beliefs influence our actions. Unfortunately, they don't say much about what those actions entail. Further, other than our beliefs, what are the factors involved that get us moving? I think that making a difference is a result of serious effort. In other words, it's hard work. 'Thought influences action,' but thought alone can't act. So how does action really play a role, and what does it look like? Even more compelling, what are the characteristics of a teacher who makes a difference?

If teachers are outstanding, which means that all of their students are very successful, I have come to my own conclusion that they must, at the least, have the following characteristics, along with the true belief that every child can and will be successful.
  1. Outstanding teachers must consistently work hard.
  2. They must work long hours for the benefit of perhaps only one student.
  3. They must be organized with their time while maintaining a healthy personal life.
  4. They must be very organized with their material things related to school.
  5. They must be truly altruistic, not wanting recognition or payment.
  6. They must have high self confidence to be able to act without the approval of others, mainly other teachers.
  7. They must be physically and mentally healthy, well-grounded and balanced.

What I'm really getting at is this: teaching is one of the most difficult jobs in the world if we want to do it right. Believing that our students can succeed is just the tip of the very beginning. Then comes the real work. Serious action with serious intent. And serious hard work.

Although I'm not really sure about this, I'd bet that Arne Duncan's mother has more than just a belief in and high expectations for her students. I'd bet that she is also an incredibly hard worker, organized in more ways than one, genuinely altruistic, confident, healthy, well-grounded, and balanced.

Ok, my next assignment is to come up with the ultimate list of questions to ask prospective teachers during interviews to find out whether or not they have the characterisitics listed above. If anybody has a start on this list, can you kindly forward it to me?