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Teacher Appreciation Week is observed each year on the first full week in May (and National Teacher Appreciation Day is celebrated on Tuesday of that same week). Teachers seldom hear the thanks and appreciation they so dearly deserve. So this day and week in May provides an excellent opportunity to encourage those hard working and dedicated educators. Thank you!!

So what are the traits of a great teacher? In the process of conducting research for my doctoral dissertation at UCLA, I discovered the qualities and characteristics of teachers who were true leaders. The three major themes that rose to the top indicated that these teachers were 1) life-long learners, 2) problem solvers, and 3) visionary dreamers. And, by definition, these characteristics all describe a leader . . . a teacher-leader!

Life-Long Learners

A teacher I interviewed for my research explained the advantage of being a life-long learner by saying, “I was open to learning. I think it is important for new teachers to not be afraid to not know. You need to be willing to allow someone to share—to acknowledge other people for their experience. They may not have gotten the most recent education and know all the latest techniques, but they have the experience of dealing with those kids. And that’s very valuable.”

In their book “Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge”, Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus confirm this important factor, stating that, “Learning is the essential fuel for the leader, the source of high-octane that keeps up the momentum by continually sparking new understanding, new ideas and new challenges. It is absolutely indispensable under today’s conditions of rapid change and complexity. Very simply, those who do not learn do not long survive as leaders” (Bennis & Nanus, 2007, p.176).

Problem Solvers

Three researchers state in a journal article that one of the primary factors for teacher success and retention has to do with those who solve instructional problems by seeking specific resources to improve pedagogy.

“The power to reframe is vital for modern leaders. The ability to see new possibilities and to create new opportunities enables leaders to . . . discover alternatives when options seem severely constrained” (Bolman & Deal, 1997, p. 380).

“Managers [unlike leaders] have not learned how to reframe, using multiple lenses to get a better reading of what they’re up against and what they might do about it. Leaders need to find new ways to see things . . . learn to shift perspectives . . . the ability to use multiple frames. Multiframe thinking requires movement beyond narrow and mechanical thinking . . . a more expressive, artistic conception that encourages flexibility, creativity, and interpretation. The leader as artist relies on images as well as memos . . . and reframing as well as refitting” (Bolman & Deal, 1997, pp. xiv, 12, 16-17). 

Visionary Dreamers (A Calling)

A blog by CU-Portland says “many teachers chose their profession for a simple reason: They were born to do it. They can’t ignore how much they love working with kids and how they feel at home in the classroom, facilitating discussions, and helping them grow!”

For dreamers, vision and mission work together: Mission gives purpose; vision gives direction. Many teachers call this synergy a “calling”. Bennis and Nanus assert that “Vision animates, inspirits, and transforms purpose [mission] into action” (Bennis & Nanus, 1997, p. 29).

One of the teachers I interviewed from an urban public school discussed his mission as a calling (Ternes, 2001). He stated:

Once you’re locked in—once you begin to understand the whole picture—it left me in a position where I sensed a purpose higher than myself and didn’t feel I had a choice. This was a calling. It’s an internal drive. It was like, if you know there are hungry people, you feel bad. But if you look at somebody starving, you’re going to feed them. And you don’t have a choice at that point.”

A teacher at another school in the same district put it this way:

God sent me here to help these young people. I perceive what I am doing as a calling—a destiny. And everything I did in life drove me closer and closer to where it is that I am now. And I recognize that God delivered me here at this moment on this day to be here with these students. I know this to be a fact spoken to my heart and I tell my students this. I teach from my heart. That’s primarily why teaching is not a job for me, even though I have a tremendous workload in terms of my assignments.

Teaching is a tremendous challenge, opportunity and responsibility. Encourage a fellow teacher today. On behalf of the faculty and staff at College Credit Connection, THANK YOU!!

Learn more

If you want to become a better teacher-leader, consider enrolling in a professional development course that addresses leadership.

Do you have any tips for becoming a better teacher-leader?  Leave some advice for another teacher or parent in the comments below!



Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (2007). Leaders: Strategies for taking charge (2nd ed.). New

York: HarperBusiness.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (1997). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and

leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ternes, J. B. (2001). Why They Stay: A Qualitative Look at Secondary Teachers Persisting in an Urban School District. Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

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