Seven Habits That Create Great Teachers and Students: Advice from Aubrey Steinbrink

AubreyIn the last year, I have found myself searching for something new.  Something that will allow me to share my teaching wins to help other teachers and students to be more successful, satisfied, and efficient in their work.  One of the things I came across was Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Effective People.  After reading this book, I realized that to become the teacher I have always wanted to be, I must harness these habits, teach these habits and overcome the obstacles that keep me from fully being these habits.

As teachers, I know we are already doing these things, I just wanted to share what I believe it looks like through a teacher’s eyes and how we help students capture these habits.  Here are some of my discoveries and reflections.

#1 Be Proactive: Make things happen. 

As a teacher: The craft of teaching has changed dramatically since my college years (which was not that long ago).  I stalk the aisles of Barnes and Noble to find the latest book with the new promise of great teaching strategies.  We are very lucky right now to be in such a social media frenzy that I find new ideas from Twitter Professional Learning Networks, blog posts, and innovative colleagues.  This is being proactive.  The idea that if it works, don’t fix it- doesn’t really pertain to a proactive person.  I believe that it is important to try something new, make it fresh for you- It might end up being better.

As a student:  It is important for a teacher to help students become proactive and learn how to analyze their data or their writing to find out what they can do to make things better.  Asking the right questions will end up getting a student to problem solve on their own and lead them towards making things happen. reach goal


#2 Begin with the end in mind

As a teacher: The systems approach in my school district has allowed me to embrace this idea whole heartedly.  At the beginning of the year, we set our SMART goal, write our mission, and create our personal goals based on the school’s Continuous Improvement Plan. The state tests and TEKS lay out exactly what the end is.  Keeping that end in mind, helps me plan strategies, short cycle assessments and push my students toward the end expectation way before that expectation arrives.

As a student: At the beginning of the year, students write their very own SMART goal, and in my classroom they also create Action Plans that list the steps toward their end goal.  To be a successful teacher, in my eyes, we must teach our students to become goal setters. If the students know what their end goal is and have a plan, we are teaching them life skills to thrive.

#3 Put first things first

As a teacher: This year, I started posting our daily objectives in the room.  We have a weekly goal or plan that the students see, but it is this daily objective board that allows them to visualize the end.  Each day is broken down into the parts that they will need to be able to do to reach the overall plan.  This is also something that I use to keep my daily plans visual for me- I get ahead of myself sometimes, but this is a great way to keep me on task and focused.

As a student:  The action plans that I had my students create after our district benchmark helped them put first things first.  They were able to list their most important areas of concern based on their percentages on their test.  Their step by step action plan, makes this a concrete and reachable goal.

#4 Think Win-Win

As a teacher:  This habit does not mean that everyone deserves a ribbon.  This simply means find a way to make sure everyone benefits.  As teachers, we do this every day by differentiating in the classroom, accommodating, and modifying lesson plans so every student wins in the learning process.  This also means, that teachers need to collaborate and have a dialogue about the amazing things occurring in the classroom.  Sharing your successes allows all teachers to win because of a strategy or an idea they didn’t think of.  We are all on the same team (our students’).

As a student: We are teaching our students to learn how to collaborate with each other every day through think-pair-share, reciprocal teaching, team-pair-solo, and group/partner work. If we don’t teach students how to negotiate, collaborate and come up with beneficial solutions we are doing them a disservice. They are allowed to fail in our classroom, they are not allowed too many failures in the real world.covey

#5 Seek first to understand then to be understood- being mindful in a conversation

As a teacher- A teacher-leader must be approachable if they plan on being a successful one.  Teachers build relationships with their students when they listen and take what they heard and use it.  My students share their obstacles, their triumphs, and their concerns with me throughout the year.  This is the same idea that we need to bring to each other/colleagues.  I think it is very important that teachers start a dialogue, but the dialogue needs to be a safe environment without judgments. The type of dialogue I am talking about is one that is filled with encouragement, problem solving and collaboration.

As a student- Even in 6th grade, students want to be heard.  They want to share what they got for their birthday, what they did over the weekend, and even their hopes and dreams.  It is important to give students this time in class to share.  They can do this during their team-pair-solo strategies, reciprocal teaching conversations, group assignments, partner work, and the opportunities that build connections to text. Teaching students how to listen first is going to be such a magical ingredient in their futures. Some of the greatest strategies is teaching them to be mindful.

#6 Synergize- Work Together

As a teacher- For some reason, this habit is by far one of my most important habits.  As I look at the last few years, the times I learned the most about myself, my classroom, and my teaching was during these opportunities to synergize.  Working together allows collaboration to occur.  I am grateful for the professional learning communities I have become a part of through Twitter, school, and my masters’ courses.  I have learned a lot about teaching and about myself.

As a student- Some of the most challenging times has been when my students were asked to collaborate and work together.  This is when I see their mindsets either become fixed or grow.  It is important that students get the opportunity to build together and become unified.  Some of the greatest teambuilding activities are on my Pinterest board. quote

#7 Sharpen the Saw- Renewal and continuous improvement

As a teacher- After the day is done, this is the time to reflect and renew.  Without the weekend, the evening or our summer to do this, I believe teachers would be hamsters on a wheel- just turning.  We all need this time to walk away.  My Friday plans never look like my actual Monday plans.  I feel sorry for my interventionist because I have an idea of how the next week will go, but over the weekend everything changes.  Because I have time to renew and reflect, instead of just going through the motions.

As a student- This year, I started giving my students 30-40 minutes of reading in class.  Some days they start their class with reading or they end their class time with reading.  I never ask anything from them- just read, get comfortable, and read.  This is their renewal and reflection time.  I have more readers this year than ever before.  I think they genuinely love to read again.  I have also taught them how to meditate in a mindful way to help their minds prepare for the long testing day.

Every one of these habits alone can create excellence, but all 7 together make an effective leader.  1-3 are habits meant for only the leader, 4-7 are meant to be interacted with someone else.  That says a lot.  There is no I in TEAM or SUCCESS.

I don’t have a handle on all of these habits yet, but I am working towards that goal.

If you have become a leader on your campus or in your school district, what has worked for you?


Advice from Aspen Christine Johnson Ham: Environmental and Spatial Technology Teacher

Aspen is a 2011 graduate of our teacher education program at The University of Texas at Arlington. She shares below her ideas about 21st century learning and her unique role as a teacher of Environmental and Spatial Technology. What advanced technology tools do you want to learn more about?  -Dr. Semingson

“Students are expected to find problems in their community or our world and solve them using advanced technology.”

Aspen Bio pic
Aspen Christine Johnson Ham, UTA graduate (2011) facilitates student learning with use of advanced technology.

Being an EAST Facilitator is a very unique job. EAST is an acronym for Environmental and Spatial Technology. Students are expected to find problems in their community or our world and solve them using advanced technology. Our classroom is stocked with top of the line technology including professional grade software, video cameras, Macs and PCs, an Oculus Rift, two 3d printers, arduinos, raspberry pis and more.

There is no prescribed curriculum. Ideas are student generated. It is my job to facilitate their ideas into a viable project. EAST exists for grades K-12 depending on the district. I work with 5th and 6th graders. My classroom is literally controlled chaos as each student or group of students depending on the project are all working on something different at all times. Additionally, students are expected to work on projects with or for a community partner that they find and contact.

In a typical class period we might have 2-4 community members coming to meet with students, a Google Hangout going on with another group who contacted a company across the country all while other students are actively collaborating or calling their community partner on the phone. As you can imagine, this is a 100% student driven classroom. This is the first year our intermediate campus has offered EAST. As a result our core teachers have commented students enrolled in EAST have developed their critical thinking skills and are much more open to solve challenging problems in class.

The most challenging part of my job is allowing students to have control. Sometimes a student will pitch an idea for a project and I think in my head “Oh, this is going nowhere.”.…Then the student takes the initiative because I did a good job facilitating their thinking and it turns out to be an awesome project and a really meaningful experience for that student. For example: One of my students mentioned to me she was almost in a car accident with her dad because someone didn’t see a stop sign. She decided she wanted to get flashing stops signs put in across the city of Hot Springs. After more research she determined that this might not be doable at every single intersection and narrowed her focus to the stop signs in front of our school. She contacted the city and set up a meeting. After meeting with the city and finding out it would cost $2,000 to put in a stop sign, I suggested she program one herself. The city agreed to provide the sign and maintain the solar batteries and panels if she would code a circuit.

Currently, this 5th grade student is working to program an arduino and estimates the total cost to the district per flashing stop sign will be $100-$150. Originally when she suggested the project to me I thought it wasn’t very involved because I figured she would just call the city and they would agree or disagree to fund a flashing stop sign in this area. By effectively facilitating this project she is not only going to install something to make our school safer, she is also saving the district money and has found an opportunity to applying coding and electronics to a real life situation.

We welcome your comments below! -Dr. Semingson