By Randy Hollister
In the field of education, as in other fields, fresh phrases emerge from time to time as a way of illuminating practices or expressing ideals to which professionals aspire. Such is the case with the phrase “transformational teaching.”
What is transformational teaching? On first hearing, it sounds like a grandiose way for describing what we would otherwise call very good teaching. Built on the foundation of sound pedagogical practices, “transformational teaching,” as a concept, focuses on methods that deepen mastery of course content and promote meaningful and positive change in attitudes, beliefs, and skills related to the learning process.
Scholars and practitioners who have analyzed the concept of transformational teaching have identified elements that distinguish it. Among them are: creating experiential lessons; developing intellectually challenging lessons; personalizing attention and feedback; modeling a commitment to ongoing learning; and promoting reflection.
These are worthy elements. As I envision it, however, transformational teaching has much more depth to it. In the following, I propose what I see as a more robust vision of transformational teaching. As a way into the topic, let’s imagine the agent of transformational teaching, the transformational teacher.
Transformational teachers revere education and the teaching and learning enterprise. They respect the disciplines they teach and appreciate the knowledge and creativity required to design engaging lessons. Transformational teachers exude enthusiasm for teaching and learning through every lesson, activity and experience they lead. They demonstrate high regard for their students and serve humbly as guardians of their development. Transformational teachers are reflective and self-critical, always adapting and evolving their methods to best serve their students. They are dedicated to their own ongoing development and model transformation within themselves, ever-hungry for greater mastery of their disciplines and fluency in executing their craft.
Transformational teachers empower their students to take responsibility for their own learning and to develop as critical, creative, and independent thinkers. They pride themselves on knowing their students well. They know their learning styles, their strengths, their interests, talents and potential. Transformational teachers are empathic. They acknowledge their students as persons who have feelings, who seek affirmation and thrive on feedback, have aspirations, and who experience exhilarating successes and deflating disappointments.
Transformational teachers strive every day to inspire their students to appreciate learning for its own sake and to engage education and personal growth as a lifelong journey. This ideal of transformational teaching permeates learning across the grades and disciplines throughout our program.
Randy Hollister is the headmaster of Loudoun Country Day School.