Is teaching something you’re born with? Do some of us have an innate talent for teaching others that girds the challenges of classroom management and the stressors of state assessments, changing socioeconomics, and overall school reformation? What really separates those who can teach from those who can’t? Age old questions whose easy answers can compromise the truth behind how some educators develop into effective, masterful teachers. There are good lessons to be learned when we look outside the world of public education and explore how others have achieved success. Lessons that can provide pathways to masterful teaching.
“In high school, I was in the 10% group of students that made the top 90% possible.” So said one of the four panelists at last week’s Journeys to Success Program sponsored by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce and held at Six Flags Great Escape Lodge & Indoor Water Park. The line got a huge laugh from the crowd, but it was a subtle reminder to me and those in the audience that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Afterall, this self-deprecating individual owns one of the most successful businesses in our region of New York, and like the other three business leaders on the panel, he succeeded through grit and hard work. As I sat listening to these inspiring men and woman introduce themselves to the audience, I realized their journeys to success are similar in so many ways to those of our master teachers and leaders. It also dawned on me that I had better start taking good notes to share the lessons/affirmations we were soon to hear from the panel with my friends and colleagues. And so here we go.
On the topic of critical keys to success, a big commonality among panel members was about people. All the panelists spoke of those special individuals who mentored and guided them through the failures and learning curves of transitions, and three of the four could name a specific person critical to their success. Another consistent theme was to trust and value your employees. One panelist told us to “Have fun with them. Invest in them.” His firm happened to be rated one of the top companies to work in, and he made sure his employees had opportunities to socialize and laugh together on whitewater trips along the Hudson River and other team-building experiences. Another panelist remarked there was a time in his career when he didn’t like his employees and was bothered by his customers. He offered that when you have a negative mindset about your staff and customers, it’s time to “Look critically at yourself.” If there are problems with human relations, it’s most likely your own doing. If you want to see positive change, the change must begin from within yourself.
Each panelist shared the importance of relationships outside the firm, particularly with community organizations and businesses that build vital networks. Many served on several boards to help their local communities “as much as possible.” One panelist commented, “What you give to the community you get back ten fold,” and another business owner said, “If you don’t show up and participate (in the community), you can’t expect to get much at the other end.” All emphasized the importance of membership with the Chamber of Commerce, and for being friendly and on good terms with the local banks. Most importantly, the panelists emphasized making time to build relationships within the firm and community they do business in.
We know relationships matter, but so do staying current and being a self-directed learner. Putting in 80-hour work weeks, particularly at the start of their careers, was a common theme among the panelists. “Put in the hours,” “try things that take you out of your comfort areas,” and “become an expert” were pearls of wisdom regarding self-growth. When it comes to mistakes, and we all make plenty of them in our careers, it was recommended to “don’t blame the person, blame the process and fix it.” One business owner said she became a fan of podcasts and her car became her personal university as she played podcast after podcast while traveling to build her business. People do better when they know better, and so it goes with running a business.
The final theme of the program was a discussion on technology’s impact on business. LinkedIn, Facebook, and other forms of social media were an absolute necessity to build product awareness and improve communications. Other comments were to keep your webpage current, stay abreast of the latest technologies (or find individuals who can do that work for you), and learn how to manage information overload.
With a final question and answer period, our panel of successful business owners mingled for a while and then filtered out into the cold January air with other audience members. It was a wonderful way to start the day, and I returned to my office inspired by the simplicity of their journeys to success. The secrets for success are not nuclear science. It’s as easy as working hard, having a positive attitude, making time for people, surrounding yourself with good people, using technology, constantly learning and growing, and being able to laugh at yourself. Some people may be “born to teach,” but most aspiring master teachers must take the long, hard, and ultimately satisfying journey to success. Peace.