The 2 Most Important Skills Every Teacher Needs

Over the past nine years I have had the pleasure of hiring (and the displeasure of firing) new hires into their teaching careers.  In watching teachers come into the profession some just “have it.”  Some seem to be innately programmed to be teachers.  For others, it is a much more difficult road to travel.  Additionally, there has been much awareness brought up about “teacher burn-out” and teachers not being able to survive this profession.

It has taken nine years of watching, listening, and observing to come to understand that there are two distinct differences between teachers that excel and love the profession, and those that do not excel and are prone to burn-out.

1.  Reflective Practice

The power of a reflective teacher is unstoppable.  What I have noticed about reflective teachers is through their abilities to analyze, clarify, pinpoint and adjust their practice they move into a distinct zone of improvement.  The improvement becomes noticeable each week.

The reflective teacher knows how to:

  • Create lessons designed for specific purposes and to meet specific outcomes;
  • Adjust these lessons to the needs of different students;
  • Observe students;
  • Talk about and share successful and unsuccessful features of the lesson;
  • Create a better lesson based on this information;

When a teacher is able to get into this reflective flow, they become intellectually engaged and oriented to supporting the learning of their students.  With this engagement their practice becomes energizing, goal oriented, and challenging.

2.  Coachability

Hand in hand with reflective practice is coachability.  Coachability speaks to the teachers capacity to:

  • hear feedback;
  • analyze and understand the feedback;
  • implement the feedback into their teaching.

Without this, it is unlikely a teacher will be successful in growing and learning themselves. They become closed and rigid to ideas and suggestions and feel there is no other way to do things; what they do now is good because they have always done it.  Unfortunately, a teacher who is not reflective or coachable has difficulty adjusting their practice to the needs of different learners.  This leads to frustration with their students, and often a mindset of changing others rather than changing themselves.  We all know changing others is a futile task, and here comes teacher burn-out.

English: A teacher and young pupils at The Bri...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What can I do now?

The good part is it can be easy to develop the skills of reflectiveness and coachability if you don’t already have them.

  • Be open-minded; you need to learn something new everyday;
  • Listen;
  • Take notes; what are you doing and what are others doing that is successful or unsuccessful (we learn from our mistakes);
  • Work with colleagues; in all ways – open up your practice;
  • Ask questions.

We know that teaching is a demanding, busy, spontaneous profession.  Thriving in it is possible when we understand that those who thrive are reflective and coachable.

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Leave a comment


  1. Jennifer Geoge

     /  March 4, 2013

    I couldn’t agree more. After my recent stay in hospital, I think nursing is the same! You can’t learn compassion in nursing school… you either have it or you don’t.

  2. Linda Carrier

     /  March 7, 2013

    I absolutelhy agree. I can teach hard skills but the openess to learn and grow has to be there. In any organization but especially in educational organizations if the adults that work in it aren’t learners themselves there’s really little chance of the organzation postively evolving. What is it Jim Collins said about getting the right people in the right seats?

    Unfortunately or educator preperation programs don’t seem to support the development of this in their students. They send candidates out with beautiful slick portfolios but they lack insight into their performance in developing it and where there is strength and room for growth or how to engage in a process of identifying that. It really gets back to what we try and do every day in the Pk-12 system, we have to raise the bar for critical thinking skills — specifically reflective thinking and thinking analytically about personal and professional practices.

  3. Ryan

     /  March 12, 2013

    I would say that both of these attributes have made the teacher I was and now the school administrator I am today. This ever-changing line of work is challenging to say the least, but the ability to self-assess one’s effectiveness coupled with constructive feedback from others helps one to develop more efficient knowledge and skills to tackle the challenges we face.

    In your experience, how can we as administrators assess the level of reflectiveness and coachability of potential new hires throughout the interview process?

    • Lori Cullen

       /  March 12, 2013

      Hi Ryan, the question you ask is a good one. The only way I know of right now to assess the level of reflectiveness and coachability of new hires is through contacting references – especially I think references can speak to coachability. Have you read my blog post on interviewing teachers? I think this type of interview has some amount of reflective thought built into it. What do you think?

  4. amylooman

     /  May 21, 2014

    I greatly appreciate this post. I have begun keeping a journal of reflections and it is a difficult practice to get into. I would say right now I average 2-3 entries per week. I have found it to be extremely helpful in that it helps to shine a light on issues that are arising, tasks I am avoiding, or questions that are emerging. I would like to take it to the next step and reflect with a colleague, but this has not been able to happen yet.


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