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5 Key (Learnable!) Teacher Traits - Part 2 (High Expectations and Relentless)

In yesterday's blog post I identified the first three traits that make a great teacher: 1) Belief; 2) Communication; and 3) Relational. Today, we look at the final two traits.


Trait 4: High Expectations

High – Rising or extending upward a great distance: taller than average, usual, or expected.

Ex • pec • ta • tion To consider reasonable, due, or necessary.

Examples from My Life

“Hup, hup, hup!” I sometimes still hear this chant in my sleep. Just imagine it coming from a large, intense, brow furrowed man as you’re swimming lap after lap at 5:45 a.m. in the dead of winter. The man behind this noise is, for those who know him, of course, Mr. Craig Fox. My first interactions with Mr. Fox were terrifying. I was a fairly gifted swimmer who competed in the sport without practicing much from sixth through eighth grade because I also played basketball. The swim coach let me compete if I came to one practice or so a week. I qualified for the state meet my eighth grade year, and Coach Fox invited me to practice with the high school swim team. It was my first taste of Mr. Fox’s high expectations. Those few practices I joined the high school team, I did everything I could to not be noticed. That next year I swam for Mr. Fox as a freshman and took his U.S. History and elective social studies class. His expectations manifested themselves most in swimming. Mr. Fox was "all in” in getting every ounce of talent out of his swimmers. He did this through intensity, passion, and a genuine want to see each of his swimmers be the best their bodies and minds would let them be. The most vivid example of this that I can remember is a few times during our main practice set. Before this set, Coach Fox would often stop everyone and deliver a firey speech. His speech, and the intensity he gave from the pool deck, drove me to push myself so hard that my vision would become spotty, and I was on the verge of blacking out in the water.

At Indy Met, the example for the trait of high expectations comes from someone who never let a student off the hook, regardless of their circumstances. Ms. Kristi Mann showed me, and the four other advisors in the school she led, that you could hold students to high expectations without lowering the bar for them. This is often the tension with this character trait. I’ve witnessed some educators who knock Trait 3: Relational out of the ball park, but their relationship, and the information they gain access to about a student’s life and circumstances, causes them to begin to feel sorry for the student. Then, they justify allowing those students to not participate, excuse away missed assignments and a lack of effort, and generally do not push the student to their full potential. Ms. Kristi did not do that do that and she would not allow others to do it. She was an expert about validating a student’s circumstances, while motivating them to overcome the barrier(s) the circumstance created to still be the best version of themselves.

Key Components of This Trait

  1. Passion to see others succeed and meet their individual potential.

  2. Willingness to “get dirty” and lead by example.

  3. Empathize with one’s situation, but not allow it to lower the bar for what’s possible.


Trait 5: Relentless

Re • lent • less – Showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace.

Examples from My Life

The first example of this trait is Ms. Megan Murphy – Head of School at Circle City Prep. Ms. Murphy exemplifies this trait in the way she coaches teachers, manages a Board of Directors, and supports the scholars at Circle City Prep. The relentlessness shows itself in Megan’s follow up and follow through. She has a vision for the school she leads and is unrelenting in following through with commitments, and holding others to her high expectations for executing the vision. She goes to great lengths to successfully wear the many hats a founder of a school wears; including bus driver, spill cleaner, cheerleader, nose wiper, shoulder to cry on giver, and vendor procurer. Oh, not to mention her primary role of instructional leader.

My favorite phrase out of a high school student’s mouth that told me one of my colleagues was being relentless was, “Mr. or Mrs. So and so, you are on one!” Ms. Christina Lear was “on one” a lot as Director of Guidance, and now the Principal at Indy Met. You better not be a senior on the path towards graduation who starts slacking off and/or not coming to school. Ms. Lear will make sure you are so clear about what you need to do to walk across that graduation stage, and then she will hunt. you. down. until each of your requirements are met. Ms. Lear does not have time to play games and she is not going to listen to excuses. The only thing she knows is how to help one be successful, and nothing is going to stop her from preventing a student from failing unless the student makes every effort to dodge Ms. Lear’s tenacious follow up.

Key Components of This Trait

  1. Follow up and follow through to ensure a desired outcome is achieved no matter the obstacles in one’s way.

  2. Tenacity for success.

  3. Master of wearing multiple hats.

  4. A pest for a desired outcome.

  5. Lack of the words “no”, “can’t”, “not” in one’s personal dictionary.

It's never too late to thank a teacher who exemplified these traits and helped you be the best version of yourself, so go do it!

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