Teacher Attitude: Why It Matters to Students—More Than Anything Else

By Principal Baruti Kafele

In classrooms across the country, you will find motivated students who are excelling academically as well as uninspired students who are underperforming and, in too many cases, headed for failure. The achievement gap so often discussed in education circles is not the issue. The attitude gap is.

The attitude gap is between those students who have the will to strive for academic excellence and those who do not. Attitude is commonly accepted to be a vital component of a student’s willingness to persist and long-term success. But the teacher’s attitude is just as important. This article will highlight what we’ve learned about teachers who’ve developed and maintain this extraordinary attitude and how their students are impacted.

Attitude is everything

Years of education research indicate that what students believe about themselves matters as it relates to their academic performance. If they believe they can succeed academically and in life, chances are they will. This is also true of teachers, whose attitude has tremendous implications in terms of the academic achievement of their students.

We’ve observed that teachers who are able to approach each school day and each situation with an extraordinary attitude often have three key things in common:

  • They know who they are as teachers. They know they are the right person for the job. They know they have the ability to motivate, inspire, and educate and get students excited about learning.
  • They know what they are about. These teachers start with a purpose that evolves into an unstoppable mission that is far greater than their job or career. They are there to get results. Period. And nothing will stand in their way.
  • They can prove it. Each of these teachers could, if asked, look back at the previous 24 hours and find proof that confirms it: They know who they are, what they are about, and they have what it takes to close the atttiude gap.

Extraordinary attitude and results

So, what does an extraordinary attitude look like in the classroom? We’ve studied these teachers in action in all kinds of classrooms and discovered a degree of similarity:

  • Nothing is haphazard in the classroom. Everything is deliberate, purposeful, intentional. Teaching the child always comes first, teaching content comes second.
  • Students see themselves as special in their classrooms. Teachers make this happen in a variety of different and creative ways; for example, by what’s displayed on the walls and how desks are arranged. Teachers also find something to celebrate about every student whether through homework, assessment, attitude, or behavior.
  • Students hear “You are extraordinary” from their teachers. One principal, in particular, has a practice of regularly gathering students in the auditorium to remind them of this.
  • Students feel good about themselves. Teachers who deliver extraordinary results are more likely to be doing a good job of making children feel valued and appreciated. This is why these same schools and districts have taken a stance against the problem of widespread bullying which gets in the way of this feeling for too many students.
  • Teachers focus not only on learning, but on creating memorable experiences. They excel at providing rigorous and relevant experiences in which relationships abound and the message is one of hope and promise. Students know these teachers believe in them and care enough to hold them accountable.

Teachers possess tremendous power to impact the lives of students by shifting their attitudes. No one said it is easy. But, through daily reflection and self-assessment, they can gain perspective that will lead to extraordinary attitudes and extraordinary outcomes.

For or a deeper look at how teachers can deliver the right attitude in their classrooms, check out SDE’s webinar Extraordinary Results Require an Extraordinary Attitude! (Grades K–12) by award-winning principal, educator, and author Baruti Kaefele.

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