Digging Deeply Into “Portrait of a Teacher”

Home/Design Thinking, Governance and leadership, Innovation in Education, Uncategorized/Digging Deeply Into “Portrait of a Teacher”

Digging Deeply Into “Portrait of a Teacher”

A thoughtful colleague at one of my client schools (anonymous now but not for long) wants to create a “portrait of a teacher” for and with her faculty.  It is a great challenge: we need to know what we are aiming for if we want to hit it.  She sent me some proposed questions for a survey and a set of focus groups. I loved how open-ended the questions were.  Yet I wondered if they would really allow teachers to think expansively about their jobs, roles, and hopes, or if teachers might revert to a comfortable self-image based on past experience.

I thought about how a designer might approach the same task, the questions we should ask to dig more deeply into what we want, think, and hope about our aiming point of the “great teacher”.  I came up with some suggested questions and prompts for discussions, out of which an empathetic observer might dig nuggets that would lead to new insights into the evolving portrait of a “great teacher” at this, or any other, school.

  • What is great learning?
  • What is great teaching?
  • Tell me about one of the best teachers you had growing up.  Why?  Why?
  • Tell me about one of the worst teachers you had growing up.  Why?  Why?
  • What are the roles a great teacher plays in making school better?
  • How do good teachers lead change?
  • How do great teachers relate to administrators? To each other?
  • How do great teachers connect with the world outside of the classroom?
  • Five years from now, how will you have changed as a teacher and as a person?
  • What makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning and come to school?
  • What makes you want to stay in bed?
  • What is the best use of your time and talent as a teacher?
  • What is the biggest waste of your time and talent as a teacher?
The last thing we want to do is to ask these questions in a vacuum.  They belong as part of an organizational reflection on who we are and what we want to be in the future.  These questions lead us to design ways to build on our strengths and mitigate our individual and organizational weaknesses, which is part of the process of ongoing evolution and innovation.  What other questions belong on this list? Tweet them out and include my handle @GrantLichtman and I will re-tweet and share!
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author:


  1. Susan Barstow October 27, 2016 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    Great topic. Here are a couple more questions.
    What is the role of listening for a teacher?
    What is your “image of a child”?

    • Grant October 27, 2016 at 1:40 pm - Reply

      Thanks! I get the first question (and will tweet it). Not sure I understand the second? Do we expect teachers to have one image or many? Is that the point of the question? How we see children?

      • Susan Barstow October 27, 2016 at 1:52 pm - Reply

        What does “image of the child” mean? Educators influenced by the Reggio Emilia philosophy use this phrase. It refers to what people believe, understand, and assume about the role of children in education and society. This image includes how people think about children’s capabilities, development, motivations, purpose, and agency. Social, cultural, and historical experiences influence a person’s image of the child. So, yes, I meant to ask – in the broadest way-, How does the teacher see children?

        • Grant October 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm - Reply

          Thanks! I was pretty sure I understood the question in a general way, but wanted to steal from you that far better articulation. I love the openness of the question: How do you “see” a child? Thanks for sharing that; I know I can always count on Sabot-at Stony Point for great insight into the young learner!

          • Susan Barstow October 27, 2016 at 2:00 pm

            Thanks so much! Love reading your blog.

  2. Virginia Kennedy October 29, 2016 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    Great provocative questions. Thank you!

Leave A Comment