-Azul Terronez on leading his students
Leading *With* Your Team
In this episode of Resilience Radio, we explore:
- How to live a nomadic lifestyle
- What makes a good teacher (or leader) great
- How teachers and leaders can show they’re truly listening
- How to receive constructive criticism well
- How Azul came to terms with his sexuality
What Makes a Good Teacher Great?
Kim: You did a TEDx related to your history as an educator. Tell us more about that.
Azul: For 24 years, I had been asking kids, “What makes a good teacher great?” I collected 26,000 responses to this question. It fascinated me because I didn’t know the answer. In fact, I wasn’t a great teacher.
Kim: So your question was, “What makes a good teacher a great teacher,” and you felt like you weren’t a great teacher. What made you feel that way?
Azul: Many of the kids’ responses weren’t things I was doing myself. I was good at getting the work done, organizing the classroom or getting them to get good grades, but that’s not how kids measure greatness. I had let the system determine that instead of the kids. That was the biggest Aha – that being great has nothing to do with being district worthy.
Kim: What does make a great teacher?
Azul: I think what kids say is the most important. A great teacher listens to kids. I’m not just talking about hearing that things are going rough in the family. People say they always listen to their kids and I say, “Really? How do you know? Where’s the evidence? Would they agree?”
If you have a set of rules on the wall in your classroom and a bathroom pass and things like that, that’s evidence that you’re running a system for the teacher and the school’s benefit. Kids don’t need a pass to be able to go to the bathroom – the bathroom is right there, they should just be able to go. The rules usually benefit the teacher.
But when you see things in the classroom that show that kids are the focus, those teachers are probably doing a better job at listening.
Kim: Give me an example of evidence that a teacher is really, truly listening.
Azul: Having things on the wall that remind you how you’re suppose to behave, not the kids. Ask kids what would make you a better teacher, and show that you listened.
The kids I taught asked me to hang their responses on the wall. One of the responses was, “A great teacher sings,” for example. I hung those up and took down the rules, because they never said, “A great teacher has rules that hang on the walls that tell us what to do or how to behave.” So there was no need for them.
Kim: Did you start singing in your classroom?
Azul: Yeah. Danny was the class clown. I would usually ask students to write ten responses to the question so I could really understand them, and Danny’s were pretty good. He’s the one that wrote, “A great teacher sings.” I thought he was being his usual, jokeful self.
The next day, I decided to sing the morning agenda which included everything we were doing for the day, what the homework was and what they could expect. I decided to sing it in opera as if I knew what I was doing – with a big, loud, booming voice. At the end, I assumed there would be laughter because this was Danny’s joke.
What surprised me was, they didn’t laugh. They stood and applauded and cheered as if I were a rock star. I was blown away. They all gave me high-fives and handshakes out the door. Danny was the last one out. He leaned in and patted me on the shoulder.
I was still befuddled. What did it mean? It took me time to process. They want you to be humble. You always tell them, “Trust this, trust the group, share your work,” but teachers never get vulnerable and take a risk.
Those are the kinds of things they’d say and it took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t about singing – the singing is the catalyst towards what kids are hoping for.
Kim: Which is be real, be a person. Be fun, too!
Azul: Be fun. Don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s not that serious.
Kim: What I remember most from your TEDx was something related to accepting an apple.
Azul: “A great teacher eats apples” was one of the responses. I was like, “That’s sort of silly.” I thought of it as a cliché – giving your teacher an apple. But it would show up again and again different years. Kids unrelated to each other would write that. I was like, “Why are they doing this? This has to mean something more than ‘ha ha funny’ because that’s not what they were communicating before.”
So I bought a big bag of apples and I started eating them all the time. I’d eat them at breakfast, at lunch, during class… just trying to figure it out. Kids would be like, “You’re eating apples,” and I’d say “I know!” I’d wait for them to reveal what it meant, but they’d just smile and move on.
They started to bring me apples and different kinds of apples and they’d say, “My mom said this is a Macintosh,” or “This is organic.” They really were being thoughtful about it.
It just hit me one day after a few days of this: kids want you to understand that you have a gift to give them with learning, but they have a gift to give you. You have to accept that there’s a mutual relationship here. There’s goodness in both directions. That was really important to them and I didn’t often listen when they would do special things or want to do things.
Kim: That’s a very interesting concept because I train people how to coach, and that’s a very fundamental lesson that I teach coaches. Yes, you are being hired to coach others, but there’s a relationship that’s built and the truth is, when you spend time with anybody, they’re going to impact you. So it’s very important for you to share how your time with your client has impacted you. What you’re saying is very similar.
Let’s apply Azul’s advice about teaching to leading…