Necessities for Teachers' Success (Part Two)

February 27, 2015 by Bill Ivey

In Starr Sackstein’s blog post, “What Does Every Teacher Need To Be Successful?” she presents her “top 10 list” and challenges other teachers to create and share their own lists. I’m not much of a “top 10” kind of person, but here are (in the order in which I thought of them) the ten ideas that first came to me when I sat down and brainstormed. I’m sure other fundamentally important ideas could and should be added if the goal were a comprehensive list.


  1. The ability to actively and effectively listen. To me, this actually is where it all starts. Knowing what people (primarily your students but also colleagues, parents, and really everyone in your life) are trying to tell you is fundamentally important to being able to make conscious, deliberate, and effective decisions about how to shape your life and what you are doing. This in turn shapes the influence you have on others (including, of course, your teaching). It’s also fundamentally important to building relationships, which brings us to...

  2. Empathy. I hear few phrases repeated more often than, “relationships come before learning” and, like many sayings that begin to verge on the trite, there’s actually a deep truth behind it. If we don’t truly care and feel for our students, they will not be able to fully relax into themselves and their learning will be inhibited. Furthermore, we serve as positive role models in that context. I hear a lot of people talking about the need for more empathy in the world today, and that can and must start with us.

  3. A PLN to support, challenge, stretch, and enable growth. ...because other people provide perspectives we might not otherwise see and expose us to ideas we might not otherwise know, and in the process enable a deeper level of self-reflection and a stronger rate of growth than we could achieve on our own.

  4. Sleep. Well, yeah! We all need to recharge, and teaching requires a constant level of alertness that is impossible to sustain without investing a fair amount of energy. I don’t always get the sleep I should, but thinking about how much my students are going to need me to be at least a reasonable facsimile of my best self is often a good way to get me to knock off for the night earlier than I otherwise would.

  5. A personal vision of what success even looks like. Oh. Right. Because it’s literally impossible to work toward something if you don’t know toward what you are working. For me, success as a teacher means kids who are happy and engaged, learning not just the course content (which, by the way, they determine in the first place) but also who they are, what the world is like, and how they fit in. Success as a person would also include close, supportive, and loving relationships with my family especially but also with my friends, and a sense that I have somehow managed to do my part to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

  6. A clear vision and mission within the school. We decidedly have that here, and I’ve often written about it (see my Tuesday Feb. 24 posting for the most recent example). In my case, it’s not just that the vision and mission within the school are clear, it’s also that I deeply believe in their ideals as a way of life.

  7. Perspective. There are many facets here. Perspective in the sense of keeping track of what genuinely matters. Perspective in sense of decentering yourself (and/or any privileged positions you may hold) from your thinking. Perspective in the sense of knowing where other people are coming from, and building an awareness of multiple cultures and axes of diversity with which we may not have personal experience.

  8. A network of family and/or friends to help keep you grounded. In my case, I could not be luckier. My wife, son, parents, siblings, and extended family are all kind, smart, insightful, giving, wonderful people. They love me for who I am, and help keep me in touch with my own best self.

  9. Students. Because without learning, there can be no teaching. Because they keep us engaged, committed, and really and truly alive. Because they are the whole point of our jobs. Because they are phenomenal. Because we love them.

  10. Willingness and desire to learn and grow. This is really implied in just about everything I’ve already written, but it needs to be explicitly mentioned nonetheless. How else can we get better at what we do? How else can we communicate an excitement for lifelong learning? How else can we feel there’s an ultimate purpose to our lives?


So, there is my brainstorming on this particular morning at this particular school. At least one more teacher here is working on a blog for our website. Meanwhile, what do you think? And what would your own list look like in this particular time and place (see Alex Bogel's posting for one example)?

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: On Education