January 2016 | Thinking Out Loud | From Good to Great


From Good to Great

By Casey C. Davenport

Making the jump from good teacher to great teacher is a chapter we all endeavor to write in the book of our lives. And though it may seem unattainable at times, striving for greatness is a way of investing in yourself and your students every day: practicing, thinking, and reaching. Constantly. Becoming a better teacher is within everyone’s reach, and it starts with the resolve to be stronger.

We all know quintessential educators: those who seem born to teach, regardless of the subject, and can articulate knowledge and skill into immediate action. These teachers seem to impart knowledge fluidly and organically through the class material presented; they are well organized and well rehearsed, excited to step up to their mark at the front of the classroom. They seem never to complain or get tired, and they are always eager to empower others through their art. They seem almost superhuman, and maybe intimidating. We fear we can never become their equal.

But think about it: do we really believe what these teachers do comes naturally? Do we believe they don’t go home or to their hotel rooms and contemplate or analyze what they just presented and how they taught it, whom they gave it to and why? Of course they do all these things. Just like dancers prepare for the stage with class and rehearsal, teachers prepare by planning, notating, structuring, and experimenting with their work.

What is both beautiful and harrowing about improving ourselves is that it is a constant, never-ending journey.

We aspire to become like these quintessential teachers, and we try—but growth isn’t easy or consistent. In fact, growth, with all of its setbacks and uncertainties, hurts. For many teachers, the challenge comes not in identifying but in applying the needed changes. For example, perhaps you record your class one day, and another teacher compliments or questions your work. By acknowledging the criticism and feedback, you can learn. Do you watch TED Talks for inspiration, attend teachers’ conferences, observe classes via YouTube or at a friend’s studio, or talk about your work with others? If so, you have already taken the reins of change.

What is both beautiful and harrowing about improving ourselves is that it is a constant, never-ending journey. Growth never ends; learning never ends. The chapters and seasons in our lives may be cyclical, and the names and places might change, but the goal does not: betterment of ourselves, betterment of our teaching, and the betterment of our ability to reach others.

Striving for excellence doesn’t come without demolition, tears, sweat, or pain. Pressures, fears, joys, failures, and successes are the experiences, the fodder that feeds the change. Those who live fully, make choices, learn from those choices, and apply the lessons learned will gain true profit. Great teaching is parlaying experiences into classroom lessons and passing them on in a multitude of ways to different types of people with varied backgrounds and of varied ages, using eloquence, humor, and honesty. Immersing yourself in your work, with a goal of excellence, empowers you and those who learn from you every day.

The key to becoming a great teacher, as with anything we strive to do, is understanding what’s needed, then practicing those skills until they become part of who we are. But with every new season, with each new chapter, with each lesson learned, empowerment is the first step.

Casey C. Davenport is the founder of Ballet Teachers Unite! on Facebook and teaches ballet at Innovative Dance in Wilsonville, Oregon, and Billings Dance Center in Portland.