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Teaching & Life

I read an article by Dana Goldstein this week entitled Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher.

The piece is not without it’s biases, but what I found interesting were the four things it thinks parents should look for in choosing a school. (Yes, that’s one of the biases, assuming all parents have these sorts of choices. I’m not going to get into that conversation here.)

I think these can be good measures for assessing any teacher, whether they are teaching gardening, philosophy, spirituality, or fifth grade math. They also strike me as ways we can measure ourselves and how we approach our lives.

I’ll put the four qualities from Goldstein’s article in plain bold below, with my words interleaved. I recommend you look at the article to see how she expands on the four points.


Great teachers:

And people who are good at life…

• Have active intellectual lives outside their classrooms.

If you study with a group or teacher, do they encourage you in intellectual, artistic, or other sorts of exploration? How much do they explore beyond their own specialty? How much does your teacher study other things? 

Do you study outside your field?

Are you curious about the world? Do you look beyond your – socio-economic, racial, gender, sexuality, religion, politics, primary group – bubble? 

• Believe intelligence is achievable, not inborn.

If you study with a group or teacher, do they encourage both existing talents and practice toward other skills or deeper intelligence and understanding?

Do you allow yourself to engage in the learning process?

Can you be “bad” at things? What is your relationship to failure or success? What is your relationship to practice? Are you willing to practice in order to grow more intelligent, skilled, centered, resilient…

• Are data-driven.

By this the author meant that the teacher quizzes the students along the way in order to assess whether or not they are actually learning.

Does your group or teacher ever encourage you to assess yourself, and to look at where you’ve been and where you may be heading?

How do you assess your knowledge or skill levels?

What helps you to gauge when to draw in new material or a different method or perspective? What challenges your status quo, startling your muscles, your spirit, your heart, or your mind? What happens when you stick with something?

• Ask great questions.

At least some of the time: Does your group or teacher ask great questions? Questions that sometimes startle you, or that feel deeply engaging to your process? 

This brings us back to curiosity again.

Great questions challenge us to examine the following and more: What is beneath the surface? What’s the deeper issue? What’s the sideways angle? Which technique will open something fresh? 


Try it out. What might happen if we applied these four measures to our physical practices? To our jobs? To our relationships? To our creative endeavors? To our spiritual lives?

Do the teachers you respect engage in these ways? Do you engage yourself? If they do, they are likely good or great teachers. If you do, I’d say you are doing life well.

What are your measures for effective teaching and learning? What are your measures for being good at life?



A companion to this piece is Becoming Leaders which I wrote recently for Patheos.

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