Sunday, April 8, 2012

3 Lessons From the Dalai Lama on Being a Teacher

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama writes in the book In My Own Words: An Introduction to My Teachings and Philosophy:
“As children grow older and enter school, their need for support must be met by their teachers. If a teacher not only imparts academic education, but also assumes responsibility for preparing students for life, his or her pupils will feel trust and respect, and what has been taught will leave an indelible impression on their minds. On the other hand, that which is taught by a teacher who does not show true concern for his or her students’ overall well-being will not be retained for long.”
Educators teach students not subjects and not grade levels. That statement has obviously been repeated so much that it is now a bit of a cliché, yet it is still profoundly true. Even the words of the Dalai Lama seem to advocate for teachers of students in the words above. As His Holiness points out, there is no teaching, hence no learning without compassion. It is literally impossible to teach students and not care deeply about their welfare and support. As instructional leaders, here's three lessons for teaching from the Dalai Lama.
  • Teachers have a responsibility to support the children they teach. There is no escaping this responsibility. Those who want to teach the young must care for them. To support our students means we care about more than just their ability to get high test scores. It means providing them the emotional support they are sometimes not getting at home. It means being there for them emotionally, when no one else can. Unfortunately, that is not something objectively measured through value-added statistics and multiple choice tests. How can compassion be reduced to some rating scale?
  • Teachers have a responsibility to not only teach the academics, but also prepare students for life. If we really want our teaching to have a long-term impact on the lives of our students, we must assume the responsibility of providing them with the preparation they need for life. By default, a willingness to prepare those we teach for life signifies compassion for who our students are and where they’re going. Preparation for life should be more than test scores. It should be more than success measured by money and financial status. It should be more than success measured by educational attainment. Preparing students for life means we equip them to become compassionate citizens of the 21st century.
  • Teachers who teach without compassion are ineffective. Forget value-added measures and teacher evaluation systems. Without compassion, none of those things matter. If you want to see an effective teacher, look at the level of concern they have for their students. If you want to see an ineffective teacher, look for a teacher who sees students as test scores and an opportunity to earn a bonus. That’s the whole problem with merit pay. It appeals to greed and “what’s in it for me” not necessarily what’s good for the children. Compassion should be the teacher's primary motivation, not greed.
The greatest lesson from the Dalai Lama's teaching is that those who would be the greatest and most successful teachers are those who have compassion in their hearts not themselves.

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