The best way to become a certain kind of person is to do what those kinds of people do. This common sense dates back to at least Aristotle, who taught that the paths to both vice and virtue run through our actions.
For teachers, this means that if we want to be sharper thinkers, then we have to do the things that sharper thinkers do: read the literature, find colleagues who are smarter than us and spend time with them, and step away from the work regularly. To have time for these things, of course, we'll have to give up behaviors that drive us toward shallowness like excessive news reading or social media browsing. In today's distracted age, the ability to think clearly and deeply and at length looks more and more like a superpower.
- Care: Ask the kids questions. Use moments of genuine connection. With every kid.
- Competence: Study an area of weakness in your practice, especially if it's classroom management (my recommendations here), instruction, or curriculum (for those latter two, try Schmoker's Focus — the second edition is a substantial addition to the first, which is saying something) or my bestselling These 6 Things (it sells because it helps).
- Passion: Spend time thinking on what you love about your content, your kids, and your craft. Rehearse these reasons with colleagues or friends. And don't, of course, spend much time at all complaining (as eventually this leads to you becoming a walking complaint).
There are connections to students, too. Do you want them to be literate? Then they'll need to do the things literate people do: read all kinds of texts, write constantly, speak and listen about all manner of things. And please — please! — don't neglect knowledge-building because literate people learn — all the time, about whatever's in front of them.
(And as a quick tangent: Please, don't teach your students to only like and learn about what they like and want to learn about. This is gilded foolishness.)
So we're brought to a handful of questions:
- What do you want your students to become? How can you make doing things like that fit inside your curriculum?
- Who would you like to be? More generous, more kind? Then the time to start being generous and being kind is now.
Act with intention, friend. You're making who you'll be.