Do You Know How to Be an Engaging and Highly Effective Educator?

Anyone can teach. We teach each other every day. For example, we give instructions to each other for such things as cooking, putting together furniture, and completing household other tasks. However, teaching someone is different than the process of educating someone. Consider the difference between informal learning and formal learning. An example of informal learning would be following a recipe to learn how to cook. In contrast, formal learning occurs within a classroom and usually is accompanied by evaluation and assessment. It may seem that teaching and educating are the same thing; however, the difference has to do with the place or context for learning.

This is the same distinction can be made for teaching informally (giving instructions) and teaching students in a formal classroom environment. A person enters the field of education as a profession – either full time in traditional academic institutions or as an adjunct (or part time) instructor. The reasons vary for why someone would choose to be in the classroom. A traditional full time professor may likely be responsible for conducting research, teaching, and publishing scholarly work. An adjunct instructor may teach in a community college, traditional college, or an online school. When someone teaches students in higher education he or she may be called a facilitator, instructor, or professor. This is important as there isn’t a job with the word educator in the title.

The questions I would like to answer include: What then does it mean to be an educator? Does it signify something different than the assigned job title? What I have learned through my work in higher education is that becoming an educator is not an automatic process. Everyone who is teaching adult students is not functioning as an engaging and highly effective educator. However, it is possible to learn how to educate rather than teach and that requires making a commitment to the profession.

What Does It Mean to Teach?

Consider teaching as part of the system of traditional, primary education. Those classes are teacher-led and children as students are taught what and how to learn. The teacher is considered to be the expert and directs the learning process. A teacher is someone who is highly trained and works to engage the minds of his or her students. This style of teacher-led instructional continues into higher education, specifically traditional college classrooms. The teacher still stands at the front and center of the class delivering information, and students are used to this format because of their experience in primary education. The instructor disseminates knowledge through a lecture and students study to pass the required examinations or complete other required learning activities.

Within higher education, teachers may be called instructors and they are hired as subject matter experts with advanced content knowledge. The job requirements usually include holding a specific number of degree hours in the subject being taught. Teachers may also be called professors in traditional college classes, and those positions require a terminal degree with additional research requirements. For all of these roles, teaching is meant to signify someone who is guiding the learning process by directing, telling, and instructing students. The instructor or professor is in charge, and the students must comply and follow as directed. Here is something to consider: If that is the essence of teaching, is there a difference between that and educating students? Is the role of a teacher the same as that of an educator?

What Does It Mean to be an Educator?

Consider some basic definitions to begin with as a means of understanding the role of an educator. The word “education” refers to giving instruction; “educator” refers to the person who provides instruction and is someone who is skilled in teaching; and teaching is aligned with providing explanations. I have expanded upon these definitions so that the word “educator” includes someone who is skilled with instruction, possesses highly developed academic skills, and holds both subject matter knowledge and knowledge of adult education principles.

Skilled with Instruction: An educator is someone who should be skilled in the art of classroom instruction, knowing what instructional strategies are effective and the areas of facilitation that need further development. An experienced educator develops methods that will bring course materials to life by adding relevant context and prompting students to learn through class discussions and other learning activities. Instruction also includes all of the interactions held with students, including all forms of communication, as every interaction provides an opportunity for teaching.

Highly Developed Academic Skills: An educator must also have strong academic skills and at the top of that list are writing skills. This requires strong attention to detail on the part of the educator and in all forms of messages communicated, including anything written, presented, and sent via email. The ability to demonstrate strong academic skills is especially important for anyone who is teaching online classes as words represent the instructor.

The use of proper formatting guidelines, according to the style prescribed by the school, is also included in the list of critical academic skills. For example, many schools have implemented APA formatting guidelines as the standard for formatting papers and working with sources. An educator cannot adequately guide students and provide meaningful feedback if the writing style has not been mastered.

Strong Knowledge Base: An educator needs to develop a knowledge base that contains subject matter expertise, as related to the course or courses they are teaching, along with knowledge of adult education principles. I know of many educators who have the required credit hours on their degree transcripts, yet they may not have extensive experience in the field they teach. This will still allow these educators to teach the course, provided that they take time to read the course textbook and find methods of applying it to current practices within the field.

Many schools hire adjuncts with extensive work experience as the primary criteria, rather than knowledge of adult learning principles. Those instructors I have worked with who do have a strong adult education knowledge base generally acquired it through ongoing professional development. That was my goal, when I decided on a major for my doctoral degree, to understand how adults learn so that I could transform from an instructor to an educator.

Becoming an Engaging and Highly Effective Educator

I do not believe that many instructors intentionally consider the need to make a transformation from working as an instructor to functioning as an educator. When someone is hired to teach a class, someone other than a traditional college professor, they often learn through practice and time what works well in the classroom. There will likely be classroom audits and recommendations made for ongoing professional development. Gradually the typical instructor will become an educator as they seek out resources to help improve their teaching practices. However, I have worked with many adjunct online instructors who rely on their subject matter expertise alone and do not believe there is a reason to grow as an educator. For anyone who would like to make the transformation and become an engaging and highly effective educator, there are steps that can be taken and practices that can be implemented.

Step One: Continue to Develop Your Instructional Practice

While any educator can learn through time on the job, it is possible to become intentional about this growth. There are numerous online resources, publications, workshops, webinars, and professional groups that would allow you to learn new methods, strategies, and practices. There are also social media websites such as LinkedIn and Twitter that allow for the exchange of ideas and resources within a global community of educators.

You can also utilize self-reflection as a means of gauging your effectiveness. I have found that the best time to review my instructional practice occurs immediately after a class concludes. That is a time when I can assess the strategies I have used and determine if those methods were effective. Even reviewing end of course student surveys may provide insight into the perspective of my students.

Step Two: Continue to Develop Your Academic Skills

I know from my work with online faculty development that this is an area of development that many educators could use. However, it is often viewed as a low priority – until it is noted in classroom audits. If an educator has weak academic writing skills, it will interfere with their ability to provide comprehensive feedback for students. For online instructors, that has an even greater impact when posted messages contain errors with spelling, grammar, and formatting. The development of academic skills can be done through the use of online resources or workshops. Many online schools I have worked for offer faculty workshops and this is a valuable self-development resource.

Step Three: Continue to Develop Your Subject Matter Expertise

Every educator has subject matter expertise that they can draw upon. However, the challenge is keeping that knowledge current as you continue to teach for several years. The best advice I can offer is to find resources that allow you to read and learn about current thinking, research, and best practices in your chosen field. This is essential to your instructional practice as students can ascertain whether you appear to be current in your knowledge, or outdated and seemingly out of touch. Even the use of required textbooks does not ensure that you are utilizing the most current information as knowledge evolves quickly in many fields.

Step Four: Continue to Develop Your Knowledge of Adult Learning

The last step or strategy that I can recommend is to gain knowledge about adult learning theories, principles, and practices. If you are not familiar with the basics there are concepts you can research and include critical thinking, andragogy, self-directed learning, transformational learning, learning styles, motivation, and cognition. My suggestion is to find and read online sources related to higher education and then find a subject that interests you to research further. I have found that the more I read about topics I enjoy, the more I am cultivating my interest in ongoing professional development. What you will likely find is that what you learn will have a positive influence on your work as an educator and will enhance all areas of your instructional practice.

Working as an educator, or someone who is highly engaged in the process of helping students learn, starts with a commitment to make this a career rather than a job. I have developed a vision related to how I want to be involved in each class I teach and I recommend the same strategy for you. You may find it useful to develop teaching goals for your career and link your classroom performance to those goals. For example, do you want to complete the required facilitation tasks or would you rather put in the additional time necessary to create nurturing class conditions?

After developing a vision and teaching goals, you can create a professional development plan to prompt your learning and growth in all of the areas I have addressed above. While this strategy may require an investment of time, it is helpful to remember that we always make time for whatever we believe is most important. Being an educator is not sustaining a focus on job functions, rather it is cultivating a love of what you do and learning how to excel for the benefit of your students. Becoming an engaging and highly effective educator occurs when you decide that teaching students is only part of the learning process, and you work to transform who you are and how you function, while working and interacting with your students.

Educational Leaders Must Strive To Increase Resources Available For Their Schools

Contemporary educational leaders function in complex local contexts. They must cope not only with daily challenges within schools but also with problems originating beyond schools, like staffing shortages, problematic school boards, and budgetary constraints. There are some emerging patterns and features of these complex contexts that educational leaders should recognize. Educational leaders face a political terrain marked by contests at all levels over resources and over the direction of public education.

The vitality of the national economy has been linked to the educational system, shifting political focus on public education from issues of equity to issues of student achievement. States have increasingly centralized educational policymaking in order to augment governmental influence on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. With the rise of global economic and educational comparisons, most states have emphasized standards, accountability, and improvement on standardized assessments. Paradoxically, some educational reforms have decentralized public education by increasing site-based fiscal management.

School leaders in this new environment must both respond to state demands and also assume more budget-management authority within their buildings. Meanwhile, other decentralizing measures have given more educational authority to parents by promoting nontraditional publicly funded methods of educational delivery, such as charter schools and vouchers. Political pressures such as these have significantly changed the daily activities of local educational leaders, particularly by involving them intensively in implementing standards and assessments. Leaders at all levels must be aware of current trends in national and state educational policy and must decide when and how they should respond to reforms.

The many connections between education and economics have posed new challenges for educational leaders. As both an economic user and provider, education takes financial resources from the local community at the same time as it provides human resources in the form of students prepared for productive careers. Just as the quality of a school district depends on the district’s wealth, that wealth depends on the quality of the public schools. There is a direct relationship between educational investment and individual earnings. Specifically, it has been found that education at the elementary level provides the greatest rate of return in terms of the ratio of individual earnings to cost of education. This finding argues for greater investment in early education. Understanding these connections, educational leaders must determine which educational services will ensure a positive return on investment for both taxpayers and graduates. Where local economies do not support knowledge-based work, educational investment may indeed generate a negative return. Leaders must endeavor to support education for knowledge-based jobs while encouraging communities to be attractive to industries offering such work. Educational leaders must be aware of the nature of their local economies and of changes in local, national, and global markets. To link schools effectively to local economies, leaders should develop strong relationships with community resource providers, establish partnerships with businesses and universities, and actively participate in policymaking that affects education, remembering the complex interdependence between education and public wealth.

Two important shifts in the nation’s financial terrain in the past 19 years have worked to move the accountability of school leaders from school boards to state governments. First, the growth in state and federal funding for public education constrains leaders to meet governmental conditions for both spending and accountability. Second, state aid has been increasingly linked to equalizing the “adequacy” of spending across districts, which has influenced leaders to use funds for producing better outcomes and for educating students with greater needs, including low-income and disabled children. Complicating these shifts are the widely varying financial situations among jurisdictions. These financial differences have made significant disparities in spending between districts in urban areas and districts in rural areas common. In this dynamic financial context, educational leaders must strive to increase resources available for their schools, accommodate state accountability systems, and seek community support, even as they strive to increase effective use of resources by reducing class size, prepare low-achieving children in preschool programs, and invest in teachers’ professional growth.

Recently, two important accountability issues have received considerable attention. The first has to do with market accountability. Since markets hold service providers accountable, if the market for education choices like charter schools and vouchers grows, leaders may be pressured to spend more time marketing their schools. The second issue has to do with political accountability. State accountability measures force leaders to meet state standards or face public scrutiny and possible penalties. The type of pressure varies among states according to the content, cognitive challenges, and rewards and punishments included in accountability measures. School leaders can respond to accountability pressures originating in state policies by emphasizing test scores, or, preferably, by focusing on generally improving effectiveness teaching and learning. The external measures resulting from political accountability trends can focus a school staff’s efforts, but leaders must mobilize resources to improve instruction for all students while meeting state requirements. And they must meet those demands even as the measures, incentives, and definitions of appropriate learning undergo substantial change.

Public education is expanding in terms of both student numbers and diversity. An increasingly contentious political environment has accompanied the growth in diversity. Immigration is also shaping the demographic picture. For example, many immigrant children need English-language training, and providing that training can strain school systems. Economic changes are also affecting schools, as the number of children who are living in poverty has grown and poverty has become more concentrated in the nation’s cities.

The shift to a knowledge-based economy and demographic changes accompanying the shift challenge the schools that are attempting to serve area economies. Given such demographic challenges, school leaders must create or expand specialized programs and build capacity to serve students with diverse backgrounds and needs. Leaders must also increase supplemental programs for children in poverty and garner public support for such measures from an aging population. Educational leaders must cope with two chief issues in this area: First, they must overcome labor shortages; second, they must maintain a qualified and diverse professional staff. Shortages of qualified teachers and principals will probably grow in the next decade. Rising needs in specialty areas like special, bilingual, and science education exacerbate shortages. Causes of projected shortages include population growth, retirements, career changes,and local turnover. Turnover generally translates into a reduction of instructional quality resulting from loss of experienced staff, especially in cities, where qualified teachers seek better compensation and working conditions elsewhere. In order to address shortages, some jurisdictions have intensified recruiting and retention efforts, offering teachers emergency certification and incentives while recruiting administrators from within teacher ranks and eliminating licensure hurdles. In these efforts, leaders should bear in mind that new staff must be highly qualified. It is critical to avoid creating bifurcated staffs where some are highly qualified while others never acquire appropriate credentials. Leaders must also increase the racial and ethnic diversity of qualified teachers and administrators. An overwhelmingly White teacher and principal corps serves a student population that is about 31% minority (much greater in some areas). More staff diversity could lead to greater understanding of different ways of thinking and acting among both staff and students. This survey of the current context of educational leadership reveals three dominant features. First, the national shift toward work that requires students to have more education has generated demands for greater educational productivity. Second, this shift has caused states to play a much larger role in the funding and regulation of public education. Third, states’ regulatory role has expanded to include accountability measures to ensure instructional compliance and competence. Educational leaders must take heed of these features if they hope to successfully navigate the current educational terrain.

Computers and Cheap Watches

There are tons of expensive watches out there that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The majority of these watches are all classic, mechanical pieces that have so many features it makes telling time incredibly difficult. What is the point of spending all that money for something that is not even going to serve the intended purpose? That is why one should greatly consider computer powered, cheap watches, also known as digital watches.Although many digital watches have a very low cost, there are many out there that can be almost as expensive as traditional watches. If you want a watch to look classy, then there is no point in shelling out tons of cash for a good looking digital watch, so those should be avoided. If you want to save money, then a digital watch is perfect for you. You can get a fairly decent digital watch for between twenty and fifty dollars, and there are some out there that are as low as ten dollars, but the quality of said watches is very low.Digital watches are great because they cost so little and serve the purpose of a watch exceptionally well. With a traditional watch, it can be somewhat difficult to tell the time, at least at a moment’s notice. Digital watches enable you to look quickly down at your hand and know the time right to the second, as long as the time you set it to is accurate.As computers and technology become more sophisticated, so will digital watches. Already at this point in time, there are many watches that have features that used to be found only in decades old computers. Thinking about that, it is amazing to think how far we have progressed. Who knows, perhaps we will be playing three dimensional games on our watches in just a few years. With the way things are going, that is not too far out there.