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Can you dance? What must all teachers be able to do?

Posted by on in Education Leadership
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I'm not a good dancer. 

I'm not sure why really, I guess I'm just self-conscious about the way I look when I  dance. I shouldn't be this way because I believe in a growth mindset.  I shouldn't worry about making mistakes or worry about the way I look. That was the subject of a previous blog post.  OK, I promise to work on this. 

But, you know who CAN dance? Every actor and actress ever… 

I have certain peculiar niche interests.  Just ask my wife (@dmgately) who tolerates these unique fascinations but loves me anyway… One of my niche interests --  the fact that all performers are great dancers also. 

I heard an interview with Christopher Walken where he said that when he was young he took dance lessons because to be successful in the acting business, you have to be able to dance.  And you’ve seen Walken dance in many of his films and on TV also. He’s an amazing dancer.

Consider Tom Cruise in Risky Business, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in the Blues Brothers, Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.. they  were all great dancers… 

Al Pacino, Wesley Snipes, Robert De Niro, Hugh Grant, Meryl Streep,  Reese Witherspoon… they are all good dancers. And when you see them in a  movie and they dance, they elevate the movie and make it so much better than it would have been without the dancing. 

One of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits is What's up with That.  It's a hysterical skit but my favorite part is that, in the background, whenever the music comes on,  you see Jason Sudeikis in a hysterical 1970’s style red running suit, dancing. He's brilliant. He does the running man,the Roger Rabbit, the Cabbage Patch, the dice roll, and several other really cool dance moves. 

I watched a movie recently in which Christian Bale danced.  He was amazing. 

I'm telling you, every comedian, actor and actress can dance... 

This got me to thinking, what is it that every teacher has to be able to do, to paraphrase Christopher Walken, “If they're going to be successful in this business.” 

It’s my belief that success as a teacher is a result of a complex calculus of skills and temperaments. I have known teachers who were not in the deep end of the pool as far as their content knowledge, but they were creative and strategic in their pedagogy; their classrooms were engaging and fun.  I’ve known teachers who didn't have the most electric personalities, yet possessed amazing content knowledge and intelligence, such that students hung on their every words and loved being in their classes.   Conversely, I have seen teachers overcome content knowledge deficits with electric personalities. 

I believe that it is CARING.  There is a well known aphorism about teaching, "Students will not care how much you know unless they know how much you care."   For teachers the most important characteristic they must possess is caring.   In the same way that an actor can steal a scene or make a film memorable by dancing, a teacher lights up a classroom and gets into the heart of a young person by showing their sincere concern for their students.  I've seen teachers who  knew everything there was to know about their subjects struggle because they didn't care enough about kids; teachers who had all the personality in the world, their colleagues loved them, they were fun to hang out with, but they struggled because they didn't really love kids all that much. 

There are many ways to be an amazing teacher, but you cannot be even minimally effective if you don't first care deeply about your students. 

I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure I’m not.  I’d love to hear your opinion.  What do you think is the MOST important characteristic of an effective in teacher?


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Donald Gately Ed.D. is the principal at Jericho Middle School on Long Island. J.M.S. is a high performing middle school that has a comprehensive school-wide program to develop social emotional literacy; the school was named a New York State/National School to Watch in 2009, 2012 and 2015. Don was a middle school principal in Plainview-Old Bethpage, the assistant principal at Memorial Junior High School in Valley Stream and a teacher of English Language Arts in the New York City public schools. He is the former p resident of the Nassau County Middle Level Principals Association and active in a number of organizations that leverage support for innovative middle school practice. Don is a middle level leader with a singular passion and commitment to the intellectual and social/emotional development of adolescent learners. He was a BAMMY Award nominee for Middle School Principal of the Year in 2014 and 2015. He was named New York State Principal of the Year in 2016.  Along with his wife Danielle (@dmgately) and an incredible PLN of committed Long Island educators Don cofounded EdCamp Long Island (@EdCampLI) in 2014.

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Guest Friday, 22 February 2019