Friday, May. 24, 2024

What Makes A Successful Teacher?

Our columnist believes that integrity, which includes actions, competencies and values, is the foundation on which a teacher's life’s work should be based.

Many of us who love equestrian sports have dedicated our lives to being involved with horses and the people that accompany them by sharing our knowledge for the training of horse and rider.

I feel that the most important quality of a successful teacher is integrity.

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Our columnist believes that integrity, which includes actions, competencies and values, is the foundation on which a teacher’s life’s work should be based.

Many of us who love equestrian sports have dedicated our lives to being involved with horses and the people that accompany them by sharing our knowledge for the training of horse and rider.

I feel that the most important quality of a successful teacher is integrity.

You might be wondering why I chose just one attribute and why this one as the most important for a teacher to possess. It’s because integrity encompasses a host of other values, qualities and competencies that combined together create your personal level of integrity.

I see integrity, as it relates to teaching, as involving education and knowledge, the ability to communicate with horses and humans in a logical and understandable format, and realistic knowledge and confidence in your ability and competency. It also includes building a network of professional relationships with individuals who possess the same attributes and values, enthusiasm and the ability to instill positive values and attributes in others through your teaching and example.

How successful you are in being able to create your own integrity is dependent on your ability to cope with and welcome transition. Life is all about transitions, just like good flatwork.

Success has a lot to do with the ability to recognize when a transition needs to be made, what the best next step is and how to execute the transition in a way that efficiently takes you to a new place.

Regardless of the discipline you enjoy as an equestrian, your riding is filled with countless moments when transitions occur. How well you ride, and, subsequently, how successful you are in competition has to do with the same competencies required to be a successful educator and to navigate life.

As teachers, we’re tasked with great responsibility for our students. Just like doctors, lawyers and even Indian chiefs, we are considered the experts in our profession by parents and adults who don’t possess the same knowledge. Therefore, it’s our duty to these people, our equine partners and the sport as a whole, to strive to be the best teachers possible. That means seeking opportunities to improve ourselves by growing our knowledge of the sport.

Teachers have the ability to grow and nurture a person’s interest and passion for equestrian sports, or they can chase them away. Finding the right kind of teacher, who creates enthusiasm while instilling horsemanship and, hopefully, a lifelong passion for horses, is integral to how a person will develop.

Building your integrity will ensure that when the public is seeking out potential teachers, your reputation will draw people to you.

Learning Never Stops

Your own personal education as a teacher will help shape your range of competency and provide you with a level of knowledge to communicate to your students.

Continuing to improve upon your wealth of knowledge will not only keep you current with the changes in our sport, but will also help you to advance in the sport.

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Whatever background you have in the sport, there are a multitude of opportunities to increase your knowledge, including clinics, seminars, symposiums, apprenticeships and reference materials.

There are so many incredible books on the market today, authored by many of the well-respected professionals currently active in our sport. Equally important, however, is finding and absorbing the works of our predecessors and acknowledged masters of the art of riding, training and horsemanship.

Whether you’re an Olympic gold medalist or a riding school instructor, no one has ever completed the learning process in equestrian sports. So many elements comprise the road to success, and formal education is the start.

In addition to learning through organized methods and reference materials, observing at competitions—the show ring and the schooling and training areas—provides you with the opportunity to see much of what you’ve been taught, heard and read put to use.

Your ability to translate all of your knowledge into a concise, logical format, which can be understood by horse and human, is the next step in the process of being a successful educator.

Whether through the use of proper aids in order to achieve a correct and consistent result from the horse, or through the use of correct language to instill proper basics and foundation in a rider, communication is critical.

Temperament also plays a role in how you interact with your students and horses and their receptiveness to what you’re trying to communicate.

Communication and learning is a two-way street. You have to be able to express yourself, and it has to be accepted and embraced by your audience. If either party cannot get the job done, then the partnership fails, and the education isn’t translated or received properly. This situation leads to an undesirable outcome of frustration and misunderstanding.

The goal is to be able to bring along your students in a safe, consistent environment that advances their knowledge and ability by carefully challenging them to stretch their comfort zones, thereby creating positive rewards. Accomplishing this endeavor is a true gift.

Sometimes you’ll see equestrians who are “true naturals” at this sport. Everything seems to come easy to them, and they are like fish in water. When it comes to communicating to others what comes so naturally, there can be a real misfire in the communication connection, however.

In my experience, most true naturals are typically visual learners. They can watch something and do it without having to analyze it. Book learners are the opposite; they analyze and practice to get the same result, which takes more time. The investment this type of teacher makes in her education often results in success. Sometimes, what comes easy may not provide enough stimuli to ignite the passion and fire in a person to become a success.

The advancement of your knowledge and the ability to successfully communicate that knowledge to your student give you the foundation for your confidence in your ability and competency. Your confidence should never be arrogant, as no one knows everything.

Confidence should be used to support your ability, to admit when you’re wrong and to make the changes necessary to correct the situation. Confidence should be used as a foundation on which you con-tinue to build your education and increase your awareness of your sport. No one will ever hold it against you if you’re able to admit a mistake, however great or small, providing you create and implement a positive solution.

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It’s when you are too arrogant to think you could ever make a mistake that you’ll fail as a teacher and a person. A teacher needs to embrace and shine in their confidence, without being pompous, arrogant and rude.

Picking Peers

Along with educating yourself in horse sports and the process of communication, you’ll need to build your network of professional relationships. These relationships should be with people you respect and who you feel possess the same characteristics and standards as yourself.

It’s often said that great business people surround themselves with competent and bright people. Why should you be the exception? Seek out those professionals in our sport whom you wish to learn from and with whom you would enter into a business transaction.

Business isn’t strictly confined to sales and leases but also involves the movement of students between professionals as needed to further their education and opportunities.

I believe that one of the problems we face today throughout our sport is the lack of a ladder system for educating students. More often than not, the training barns of today aren’t specialized. They have become more diverse and now cater to all levels of riders, from short stirrup to grand prix, much like our competitions.

An unfortunate consequence of this situation is the high cost of entering the sport through one of these portals and the fact that with a reduction in specialization comes a reduction in overall education.

Sure, there will be a small number of students who excel in this environment and become true horsemen, but that number is consistently dwindling.

I hope that with the introduction of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Trainer Certification Program we’ll be on the road to establishing a system for the transference of riders between the levels of professional teachers, even within the same barn.

In order to be open to this concept, teachers have to acknowledge and accept their level of education, ability and competence. We have to recognize when it’s the right time to send a student on to another level, whether to another instructor or out on their own. This process can be the hardest of all to embrace. My fellow Between Rounds columnist, Shelby French, also addressed our sport’s pyramid of learning in her July 24 article, “We Are The Base Of The Hunter/Jumper Pyramid.”

When teachers are young and starting out, hungry to make their mark, client retention is a high priority. The problem with this scenario is that teachers don’t own clients, and clients don’t own teachers. Understanding that relationship will serve you well in your career, and you’ll have removed the greatest stumbling block to learning, which is fear.

A confident and educated teacher will do all she can to ensure that her student has every opportunity to increase her education, even if that means sending her on to another teacher. It’s our duty as teachers to give our students additional opportunities when we have reached the limits of our ability to educate them.

All of the above will provide you, through your actions and examples, with the ability to instill positive values and attributes in your students. As we age, we’re given the ability to reflect on our pasts. We should always use our own experiences to continue changing our actions to increasing our integrity.

If you’ve dedicated your life to being a well-educated and knowledgeable professional teacher, you’ll also, through your actions, gain the respect of your fellow professionals. Yes, it’s nice to train a winner, but respect isn’t all about how often our students win. It’s more about how we play the game.

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