Let us all take a moment to remember the very best teachers we had ‘along the path’ of life. What great and important memories spring forth!

Perhaps we owe a collective debt to our truly transformative teachers and perhaps this debt can best be paid in the actions we carry into the future.

The DEEN (Directors of English Education Network) recently published an important report called ‘Talking With Teachers’. The report was authored by Patricia Peter. The stated purpose of the report was to ‘examine the correlation between teacher practice and student successes. With the use of interview style data collection, the report gives us teachers’ wisdom and insights ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’. The teachers from Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board that are featured in ‘Talking With Teachers’ include Claudie Lebel, Heather McPherson, Andrea Venditti, Maria Sakellaropoulous, and Hovig Halebi. These teachers were selected for a combination of strong student results on the June 2012 exams and a track record of effectively engaging students.

The number one finding amongst the forty five teachers interviewed for the report has to do with the teachers’ ability to connect with students. The teachers’ ability to form a powerful connection with students is not only a primary finding of this report; it is also supported by vast quantities of research. For example, John Hattie in his influential 2009 ‘Visible Learning’, indicates a very positive outcome level having to do with ‘positive teacher-student relationships’. In another famous study cited in ‘Talking with Teachers’, Ben Levin (2008) writes (in reference to keeping students in school) ‘is their feeling that someone in the school knows who they are and truly cares about their future.’

Another major factor described consistently by the selected teachers was ‘instructional and assessment expertise’. This factor has to do with what is commonly called ‘best practices’, which constitute the vast body of tried, tested, and researched teaching techniques, curriculum design, and learner considerations. When one begins to consider combined attributes, such as ‘connecting powerfully with students’ combined with ‘mastery of best practices’, the profile of a truly transformative teachers starts to emerge.

The ‘Talking with Teachers’ report creates a montage effect in its coverage of the 45 teachers, in that it provides an overarching narrative, while also availing to us several anecdotal diamonds. Of note, Heather McPherson explains the power of utilizing connectivity in the learning paradigm, with the use of Edmodo as the technological vehicle to connect students, teacher, and parents. Andrea Venditti has created her own Learning and Evaluation Situations, which are alluded to in the report, and also speaks to the vital component of routine in her practice.Hovig Halebi talks about ‘good mistakes’ and ‘bad mistakes’, and how to harness the ‘good mistakes’ in the deepening of understanding. Claudie Lebel describes her innovative curriculum design in which students become authors of historical fiction, and how that is connected with deep learning and the forming of cognitive connections in the process of historical thinking. Maria Sakellaropoulous talks about the great importance of the supporting mechanisms for CST students in her school from administration and Information Technology.

One of my favorite conversation starters of all time is, ‘who was your best teacher’? In my own experience, it is interesting that most of the people I have asked can almost instantly name one or two teachers as being their ‘best’. Sometimes it seems that the reason behind the selection has a mysterious quality. However, once deeply reflected upon, it is often the case that the remembered ‘best’ teacher had a great degree of ‘the human element’, including kindness, fairness, passion, enthusiasm, and well-timed humor; all held in combination with skill and ability. What I appreciate the most about the ‘Talking with Teachers’ report is that is gives us all an opportunity to reflect on the power of great teachers. It also allows us to pay attention to the techniques and factors involved in effective teaching. Great teachers influence the future in a vital and almost unimaginable way; the ‘Talking with Teachers’ brings us all into an acknowledgement of this reality.