"Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means." – Albert Einstein
There are many names give to the role of an educator, from a teacher to facilitator, faculty member, and instructor. Whether you are employed in part time or full-time capacity, in a traditional or online classroom, you are still teaching and directly involved in the developmental progress of your students. Everything you say to your students, along with every action you take, has a direct impact on your students. This is why follow-up and follow through are extremely important, along with an ability to listen with the express purpose of seeking to understand what your students are stating.
When a class starts you are highly aware of your students. Then classroom management duties begin to take more of your time. As the class progresses, you may take into consideration the perspective of your students; along with what motivates them, how they persist when faced with challenges, and what it is like for them to interact with the classroom environment. But have you ever considered how your students view you as an educator? Does it matter to you or influence how you teach when you are planning your class? Will you take their perspective into consideration when you are planning future professional development?
Most educators choose this type of work or career, even when the pay or working conditions are less than ideal. What if you decide to function from this point forward in a manner that is transformative for your students, so they are somehow better for having been enrolled in your classes? In other words, what if you could teach in a way that will have a long-term impact on your students? If you do influence them in this manner now or decide that you want to change how you teach, they will likely look up to you. This means they will remember you and your class, and more importantly, they will be transformed in some way, whether academically, professionally, or personally.
What Does it Mean to Be a Transformative Educator?
As an educator, consider this question: is performing in a transformative manner a matter of making consciousness choices in how you act while you are teaching, or is it a result of every interaction you have with your students? Not every student is going to have a positive experience while they interact with you, despite the best of intentions you may have set, yet when students know their instructors care they are more willing to put in the time and make an effort to try when it comes to being involved in the learning process. That extra effort on their part is sometimes all a student needs to get past potential barriers or hurdles.
My experience as an educator has taught me I always know where I stand with my students by the way they are responding to me, whether in class or through some form of communication such as email. More importantly, I know I have made a long-term impact when I receive unsolicited emails from students and they share special moments from class, lessons learned, challenges they have overcome, lightbulb or "aha" moments, or growth they have experienced; even after class has connected, as many do not realize the impact of what they have learned until sometime later.
What Does It Mean to Be a Role Model?
When students have a positive experience and view their instructor as a role model, what do they "see" in some manner? They usually "see" someone who cares about their students and it does not mean they will bend the rules or give away grades. They can empathize with their students and listen. Students are also inspired by this instructor, as this instructor provides ideas, suggestions, and tips that are individual in nature and meant to address specific developmental needs. More importantly, this instructor makes time to help, and demonstrates their engagement and presence in class.
When students see an instructor as a role model, they also have a feeling response. They will usually feel respect for this instructor, along with trust and appreciation. There is a sense of having a working relationship with this instructor, which is challenging when an instructor is viewed as an authority figure in traditional classes or not visibly present in online classes. What I have learned about students who develop positive feelings is that it does not depend upon the class conditions, which I may or may not be able to fully control. The primary factor is the extraordinary steps an instructor takes to inspire their students within the best, and even the worst, of circumstances.
Becoming a Role Model
It is easy to see why teaching in a transformative manner would matter greatly for students. Yet I know from my own experience, and having worked with hundreds of online faculty as a mentor and trainer, this approach to teaching requires an investment of time and energy. The question I know some educators would raise is this: Yes, it matters for students, but what value does the instructor receive from functioning in this manner?
The answer is that a transformative approach to teaching transforms both the educator and student. It is about the fulfillment of your mission as an educator, going beyond the function of what you do and even more than knowing the subject of what you teach; It is about the connection you establish, cultivate, and nurture during the time you have with your students – whether it is a few weeks or an entire term.
Teaching in a transformative manner is about changing the focus of your instructional strategies from being teacher-centered to student-centered, with meeting the needs of your students as the primary focus, and any educator is likely to find this to be very fulfilling. As educators hone their instructional strategies or their teaching craft, and refine how they communicate, interactions, and address the developmental needs of students, their work becomes much more meaningful.
Sometimes this is a product of time and practice, along with trial and error. It also involves being responsive to your students and listening to them, receiving feedback from them and being willing to adapt your instructional practice to meet their needs. An educator should also make a commitment to being a lifelong learner, with a willingness to grow and adapt.
Establish Your Own Personal Goal
My goal is to be a role model, mentor, and coach to students. A role model is someone who will lead by example, which means setting a bar and meeting students at that point. For example, when I have established my own standards or expectations for writing or class discussions, I show students what academic writing and substantive posts are like when I am engaged with them in class. Being an example for students is becoming someone they want to emulate in some manner. A mentor is someone students need to work with on a regular basis, not just someone who gives them the answers or tells them to review the course syllabus. When students view an instructor as a mentor, they believe this instructor has the knowledge and wisdom necessary to help them. More importantly, a mentor will take time to help guide them as they learn.
To be a transformative educator, focus on your students and becoming your best as an educator. You can ask yourself these questions: How can you grow as an educator? How can you connect with your students? How can you create an experiential learning experience? What professional development plans can you put into place now to continue to grow? Don't be concerned with how quickly students look up to you as that will occur naturally when you become the best version of yourself as an educator that you can be. Instead, focus your time and energy on how you can transform the student experience, and by doing so you will naturally transform how you teach. What you will experience will similar to your students. It will be a memorable, experiential, and transformational journey.
Lead your students by the power of example. Lead by your actions and what you say. You will teach them one of the most powerful life lessons. – Dr. J