02 July 2014

Are Soldiers and Teachers that Similar?

My two chosen life endeavors seem very different. I began teaching around 1999, then abrubtly joined hte Army in 2007. The worlds sometimes feel very far apart.

But I never really left teaching. Whether I am in a reserve status and in a civilian classroom, or activitated and doing the NCO thing, I teach.

You see, I believe that delivering instruction and training is at the heart of the NCO’s role in the Army. Although leading troops and supporting operations are critical jobs for non-commissioned officers, training and mentoring never stops, even during operations.

There has been a long debate about what makes for effective teaching. With the billions of dollars that are poured into K -12 public education in the United States, valid and reliable findings about the return on that investment has interested administrators, parents, and taxpayers for some time. Only recently have studies and measures been developed to answer the questions that get at the heart of what it means to be an effective teacher.

Ronald Ferguson, Senior Lecturer in Education and Public Policy at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, has made some important discoveries about how to measure teacher effectiveness. Traditionally, teachers have been evaluated by their superiors (much like NCOs are) during formal observations. Lately, they have been evaluated according to their students’ performance on tests. Ferguson wanted to know if student evaluations could be used to reliably measure teacher effectiveness. Through his own research and studies commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the evaluation tools he created predicted “value added” on student learning quite reliably. In other words, the surveys that students used to evaluate their teachers articulate the variables that indicate teacher effectiveness.

Ferguson’s measure consists of what he calls the “Seven Cs,” and just a quick description of those constructs shows that a good teacher is synonymous with a good NCO. They are the things good trainers must do when delivering instruction; they must: Care, Control, Clarify, Challenge, Captivate, Confer, and Consolidate.

Let's just consider (another C!) the first one.

Caring refers to the lengths to which NCOs will go to ensure that their students learn. It shows investment in the students. It is, as the NCO Creed states, placing the needs of students above his or her own. Ferguson puts it this way: “Caring goes beyond “niceness”; caring teachers work hard and go out of their way to help. They signal to their students, “I want you to be happy and successful, and I will work hard to serve your best interest.”

We understand that leaders need to show compassion and the type of care that servant leadership demands. Retired First Sgt. Cameron Wesson explains that, “Soldiers can sense when their leaders genuinely care about them and this builds trust. This trust forges a bond between all and solidifies the team. That bond is all-encompassing.”

So would a good teacher make a good NCO, or vice versa? Do the other Cs apply to good Soldier leadership? Think about the best NCOs you know, and tell me if I'm right. 

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