This month, April 2017, marks the end of my thirteenth year as a Professor at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, Missouri. Over these years, I’ve taught hundreds of students and have spent countless hours teaching and advising them.
When I started teaching, I thought I had all the answers. I had two Master’s degrees and was fresh from leading a church ministry in my 20’s. I was ready to unleash my wisdom on the world.
I had no idea that I would learn as much (probably more) from my students as I would teach them. These seven lessons have reinforced key principles of success in my own life. They will also serve you well as you lead and influence others.
1. First impressions are sometimes wrong.
Time has a way of revealing someone’s true character.
The student who comes across as confident and successful will sometimes end up on academic probation. The student who seems like a slacker will sometimes surprise you with their discipline, kindness, and creativity.
We tend to make snap judgments about people based on their appearance and a few scraps of knowledge about them. Sometimes these impressions turn out to be wrong as we get to know the person and their story.
2. Relationships mean more than titles or positions.
The irony of education is that teachers spend years earning degrees that give them a position. But degrees, titles, or positions don’t guarantee you’ll change any lives.
People may respect you for your accomplishments, but they will love you if you invest in a relationship. The old saying is true: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
3. Feedback is critical to success.
At the end of every semester, I hand out evaluations for each course. I ask students to honestly answer questions such as “What can I do to make the course better?” and “How can I improve as a teacher?”
They have given me lots of great ideas over the years! As I read over my Spring course evaluations this past, I made note of several ideas I’ll implement next year.
Sometimes we’re afraid to ask for honest feedback because we’ll hear something we won’t like. But if we can set aside our insecurity, people will give us great insights we couldn’t receive any other way.
4. It’s OK to not have all the answers.
The three hardest words for a teacher to say are “I don’t know.” We’re supposed to have all the answers, right?
True learning is not just about gaining knowledge. It’s about having a curious mind and a willingness to change and grow.
It’s also about the excitement of searching for answers, not the security of feeling like you already have them all.
People are tired of the “experts” who claim to have all the answers. They are looking for guides and coaches who can provide feedback, direction, and motivation.
5. Success is more about persistence than talent.
I once had a student who was a naturally gifted guitar player. He thought his talent was a blessing. Actually, it was a curse because he assumed he didn’t need to practice.
On the flip side, I’ve also had students who were only moderately gifted but showed up faithfully and put in the required effort. Most of them make good progress in the end.
When it comes to grades, a well-earned “B” is worth more than an easy “A.” The people who put in the day-to-day work end up being more successful than those who are naturally gifted.
6. Sometimes you need to show tough love.
I like to maintain a positive, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. I have good relationships with students and don’t like personal confrontation. But sometimes it’s necessary.
I will occasionally kick a student out of class for being disruptive or sleeping. Sometimes I won’t let a student turn in late work because they need to learn to meet deadlines.
Being a leader isn’t about what makes you comfortable. It’s about doing what’s needed. Sometimes that means showing grace, and other times it means showing tough love.
7. You’re never too old to learn.
A few years ago, I taught a course on spiritual development. One of the students was a 74-year-old woman named Barbara. She had suffered many tragedies in life, including the loss of her husband and a child.
No one would have blamed Barbara for wanting to coast through life at her age.
Yet every day when I came to class, Barbara was there ready to learn. I was impressed with her humility and her willingness to learn from a kid half her age. Many times, I wanted to step aside and just let her teach the class.
So, what have I learned from my students? You never graduate from the classroom of life.
These seven lessons have helped me be a better man and a more effective leader, and they can do the same for you as well.
What life lessons have you learned lately?
Originally Published on Kent Sanders
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