There is a very unusual type of statistic kept in professional Australian Rules Football called a ‘one-percenter‘. A one-percenter is a statistic that recognises an action by a player that entails just a little more effort or courage than normal.
An example of a one-percenter is when a player chases the ball-carrying opposition player over an extended distance. Even if the player is unable to catch or tackle the ball-carrier, the added pressure applied because of the chase is deemed valuable. These one-percenters, in themselves, often have very little apparent impact on the game, in fact they can easily go unnoticed, but collectively they can change the result.
The best educators tend to make an artform of one-percenters. The next chance you have to see an outstanding teacher in action, try to see beyond their content expertise and refined pedagogy and you might observe things like:
- their ability to subtly shift the energy in the room;
- an almost imperceptible nod of gratitude to a child who has again helped another student;
- a well-timed, self-deprecating joke to defuse anxiety;
- an extraordinary level of organisation, readiness, adaptability and withitness;
- an enhanced ability to ‘think like a student’, to empathise, and to inspire;
- an absolute present-mindedness, the sense that there is nothing more important than this lesson, this child, this moment.
In football and in teaching, it’s true that, sometimes, it’s the ‘big’ moments that matter – the great goals, the amazing lesson. But ultimately, the most respected and valued footballers and teachers are the ones who turn up authentically again and again, and really commit to the one-percenters.
Teaching, at its best, is both incredibly uplifting and exhausting. The main cause of this uplift and exhaustion is relationships. Great teaching hinges on ‘real’, meaningful connection with students. But each teacher-student relationship, like all meaningful relationships, requires an ongoing investment of emotional and energetic capital.
One of the unique aspects of teaching is that it is, perhaps, the only profession that requires the sustaining of, typically, up to 20 or 30 real-time, simultaneous relationships for a significant proportion of a working day. When you walk into that classroom on Monday morning, there are 25 children looking at you and looking up to you. All of them are your responsibility. Each of them has a need to be directly engaged by you. And if you’re a quality educator, each of these children matter to you deeply.
And so to inspire and educate them, you give your heart and soul to each of these 25 children at the same time. And you do it all day, every day. It’s no wonder teaching is so tiring.
Jacob Kounin was an influential 1970s educational researcher and theorist who coined the term “withitness” (with-it-ness) to describe the ability of top teachers to know what was going on at all times in their classroom. Through remaining connected to each student, withitness enables a teacher to notice subtle signs of understanding or confusion, to respond personally to each student’s needs, and to make students feel almost as if the teacher has eyes in the back if their head. Withitness is still being researched and evaluated today and it might just be the key defining feature that distinguishes outstanding educators from the rest.
If you’re doing teaching well, there is no way to avoid this level of connectedness. Because great teaching is about great relationships, it will always be uplifting, exhausting, and wonderful.