Podcast S1. Ep 34: What Does it Mean to be an Authentic Teacher? - Robert Hand

John Norlin · June 17, 2019

Robert Hand teaches at Mount Vernon High School. His subjects are Family and Consumer Sciences and Leadership. He is currently teaching Careers in Education - Recruiting Washington Teachers, Leadership, Nutrition, and Life After High School. Robert is the 2019 Washington State Teacher of the Year.

We talk with Robert about what it means to be an authentic teacher, and he shares about how important it is to model authenticity for our students everyday.


“I think fear gets in the way of us going into the classroom and just being able to let go a little bit and to be ourselves. We’re afraid of letting them into our lives, not having the answer when a kid asks. We’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or making a mistake or whatever the case is, but like you said kids they see through it. ...We have to model vulnerability for our kids if we’re going to ask them to be vulnerable with us. So we have to let go of some of that fear that gets in the way.”

— Robert Hand

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we are back with Robert Hand, who's the 2019 Washington State Teacher of the Year. This is part two of a three part series. So are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong again with Robert Hand.

  • John: Alright, so excited to have you back with us Robert, on the CharacterStrong podcast and from our previous conversation, I had been wanting to get back with you again and continue our conversation on the topic of the authentic teacher. So thank you for being back with us to have this conversation and I'll just get right into it. Can you tell me, what does it mean in your mind to be an authentic teacher?

  • Robert: Well thanks for having me back on. I'm super happy to be on here to talk to you again John. I think the easiest way to sum it up, about what it means to be an authentic teacher, is to be yourself. There's no easier way to say it, just be yourself. There's of course a lot more I can say about what that means about being yourself in the classroom, but that's the key though, is to remember that it's okay. You don't have to have the version of yourself outside the classroom and inside. We all have different versions that we wear throughout our days, depending on who we're with, but you don't have to go into the classroom and be this robot person that is like, I'm in teacher mode now so I have to leave all of that stuff about me outside the door. You shouldn't do that. You have to be yourself.

  • Robert: There's actually a lot of research out there that shows about what an authentic teacher is and why it's important, and one study in particular that I looked at that says that teachers with an authentic teaching style are more positively received by their students and that students of authentic teachers achieve way higher levels of learning and understanding. So there is a lot in defining what that means, but there's a reason behind why we do and it's because it matters to our kids.

  • John: Yeah, well said. It is really interesting that sometimes the things, I remember early on in my teaching career, of not wanting students to see that I made a mistake, whatever it might be. In reality they not only see right through it when I'm not being authentic, but they always have way more respect when you are authentic.

  • Robert: Absolutely.

  • John: I think in your response there, one of the things that stood out to me was just this idea if we're talking about whole child education, the number one way that we're going to teach is to role model it ourselves, right. That is how we truly get it into the daily fabric of our schools and so in your experience then in education, obviously not talking about specific individuals, but more of the types of things. We've all even been there ourselves, but what are ways that you think are easy to fall into the trap as an educator, of not being authentic? Does that make sense? Where do you think we sometimes do battle? The example I gave was early on, I didn't want students to see that I made a mistake so I would dance around it, not authentically own it type of thing, when it could have been a teachable moment. Are there things like that, that you've seen that are in a sense even traps or things that we fall into in education, where we're not authentic?

  • Robert: Absolutely and I would agree with what you said about not being comfortable admitting to making mistakes and things like that. When I first started teaching I was really tentative about everything that I did, and I think anybody as a first time teacher is probably going to be that way and that's fair. But when I look back at how I've changed and grown since the time when I first started teaching, it's crazy to me to think how different I am now and just how much more authentic I feel like I'm able to be in my classroom now.

  • Robert: Definitely I think fear is one of the greatest barriers to being an authentic teacher because we're just, as teachers to know stuff and to teach it. On a basic level as a teacher that's kind of what we're there to do, but we also have to remember that, that's when we look at teaching content but we also have to remember that we teach kids and that's what should come first.

  • John: Yup.

  • Robert: So thinking about the fear that we have, and it could be fear of a number of things, but I think fear gets in the way of us going into the classroom and just being able to let go a little bit and to be ourselves. We're afraid of letting them into our lives, not having the answer when a kid asks. We're afraid of saying the wrong thing or making a mistake or whatever the case is, but like you said kids they see through it. They know that we're people, they know that we're not perfect and when we can own that and when we can be vulnerable, because we're asking kids to do that too. We're asking them to come in here, we're giving them tasks, we're asking them to learn, we're asking them to step outside of their comfort zones and do things and we can't be standing in front of a group of people asking them to do those things if we're not willing to do those things ourselves. We have to model vulnerability for our kids if we're going to ask them to be vulnerable with us. So we have to let go of some of that fear that gets in the way.

  • Robert: I think other traps that are going to get in the way are going to be things like time, because I always have these conversations with, I mean myself and with other people, about that would be really cool if I could do that, but when do I have the time. That especially is different depending on what subject matter you teach because of the expectations that we have. These rigid curriculum and standard, and standardized testing and prohibitive graduation requirements and all of this stuff that we all have piling on us where we start to become focused so much on that. I have to do this, I have to do this, I have to do this and then at the end of all that we say, well if I had time to actually do those things to be authentic and connect with kids and do all that I would, but I don't even have the time to figure out how to do it and once I do figure out how I don't have the time to work it into my day. Which is really unfortunate.

  • Robert: I think we have to really be thinking about how can we meet those requirements, how can we do all of that stuff, because that is part of why we're there. But also how do we actually connect with our kids in our classrooms, because all of that other stuff is going to be enhanced if we actually put the kids and the connections and the authenticity first. So I think that's something else.

  • John: Well said.


“...think about are you putting content first or are you putting kids first and the connections and relationships that you have, because everything that I talk about with authenticity in the classroom comes from the connections and the relationships that you build with your kids. So I would say, a dare maybe that I would have would be to ask yourself every day when you start your class and end your class, does it start and end with content, or does it start and end with connections?”

— Robert Hand


 

  • Robert: Eduction policy gets in the way. Teachers and students not having a place at the table where decisions are made about how teaching and learning take place. That gets in the way. I think that we need to have a more welcoming environment when anybody is talking about what decisions and laws and policies and practices are being made, for teachers and students to have a voice at the table.

  • Robert: Then just habits and not knowing how to change or be unwilling to put the time in to learn. That gets in the way. We know what we know how to do and sometimes we're afraid to step out of that or to learn something new. A lot of times because we're afraid of making mistakes right. I know what I want to do and I'm really scared that it might not work, or they may not learn what I need them to, or I may make a fool out of myself or whatever. You got to let that go. Just try new things and learn from the mistakes. Your kids are going to learn from it, you're going to learn from it, everybody's going to be better.

  • Robert: Then lastly, isolation. We kind of live in silos where we teach and we need to break out of those and open our doors and learn from each other and welcome each other into our classrooms and see what other people are doing. That's honestly the best place that I learn is when I go see what other people are doing and realize, wow, look at the amazing thing that that person just did, or that person did. That's something that I can put into practice in my classroom and I might be afraid to try it, but when it doesn't work I'm going to figure out how to make it work.

  • Robert: I think there's a lot of things like that that get in the way.

  • John: Well said. Man I feel like you should be writing a blog, if you haven't already, on this topic of the authentic teacher. I love those pieces and each one of them you can even build out even more. So one of the things, and kind of to close down this part of the conversation, and then I want to follow up again and have this kind as a multi-part series here, but one of the things we use at CharacterStrong is things called CharacterDares, and so just because I feel like there was multiple things in there, if I'm listening to this and I'm going into my classroom today or I'm going into work, take one of those areas. What is a CharacterDare that you could leave with us today where I'm going into a classroom and or school and I could practice this authenticity piece? What is something you might charge us with today? To be more authentic I challenge you today, or I CharacterDare you to, right? What might be one that you could challenge us with?

  • Robert: Yeah. Alright, I would say that I would challenge people to think about are you putting content first or are you putting kids first and the connections and relationships that you have, because everything that I talk about with authenticity in the classroom comes from the connections and the relationships that you build with your kids. So I would say, a dare maybe that I would have would be to ask yourself every day when you start your class and end your class, does it start and end with content, or does it start and end with connections? If it's with content then I think that my dare would be to switch that and you only have the time for things that you make that make sense. A lot of times we say I don't have time for that. We make time for the things that are priorities in life so I think that if you make those authentic connections with kids in your room a priority, then you will make the time for it, and it doesn't have to eat away your entire class period, but a couple minutes at the beginning and a couple minutes at the end and to not talk about content but to talk to kids, to say hello, to go around and greet kids.

  • Robert: I greet every kid individually every day in every class. That's the way that we start our class every day and there's a lot of other things that I do with them while I'm doing that, but it's non-negotiable. I have to say hello to every kid. I like fist bumps so I go around and fist bump every kid and I say hello and I ask them how they're doing. It's not a lot of time but the impact is huge. So that would be, I think, a simple way to start if you're not already doing that, is just to say am I starting and ending every day with content or with connections and if it's content, then switch it to connections.

  • John: Thank you for that challenge. Love the conversation, the topic of authenticity, becoming a more authentic teacher. Let's keep the conversation going in this next piece. Thanks for being with us today Robert and we'll be talking again real soon.

  • Robert: Thanks a lot John. I appreciate it.

  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Spotify and iTunes. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.


If you enjoyed this episode, please rate review and subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, & Google Play and also please feel free to share this page on social media.

  • CharacterStrong
  • SEL
  • Social Emotional Learning
  • Character Development
  • Character
  • K-12
  • Education
  • Teaching
  • EdTech
  • Positive Schools
  • Youth Development
  • Advisory
  • Curricula
  • Curriculum

Share:

John Norlin

John is the Program Administrator for Student Leadership & Community Involvement for the Sumner School District, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year and taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School.