Optimal Education - APPLICATIONS - The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life - Tal Ben-Shahar

The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life - Tal Ben-Shahar (2009)


Chapter 5. Optimal Education

The perfect is the enemy of the good.


Aristotle, in his discussion of the psychology of the soul, provides a guiding principle that he refers to as the doctrine of the mean, also known as the golden mean. Virtue, according to Aristotle, is not an extreme manifestation of a personal quality but rather lies between insufficiency and excess of that quality. For example, the virtue of courage means behaving neither in a cowardly manner (exhibiting insufficient boldness by fleeing unthinkingly at the slightest sign of danger) nor rashly (exhibiting excessive boldness by plunging headfirst into a dangerous situation without considering potential consequences). Similarly, modesty means finding the happy medium between self-negating humility and arrogance.

Nowhere is finding the right balance between two extremes more important than when it comes to raising and educating children. More than two thousand years after Aristotle, educators and psychologists are showing us how the principle of the golden mean can apply in our homes and in our schools.

The Underprivileged Privileged

Certain apparent paradoxes that we encounter in students from wealthy families have an important lesson to teach us about education in general. Although these children are materially well off, they are often impoverished in terms of their well-being. Statistically, they have a greater propensity than other children for substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. Psychologist Suniya Luthar and her colleagues have researched the so-called underprivileged privileged, and they have identified two major factors that are responsible for this phenomenon: the pressure to achieve and the feeling of isolation. A related factor, which Luthar discusses indirectly, is the over-involvement by parents and teachers in these children’s lives.1

Affluent children are often sent to private schools or, in certain neighborhoods, to the best public schools, where the focus is on achieving academic success, taking advanced-level classes, making the honor roll, and entering top colleges. They are under considerable pressure to achieve academically, and in their environment little emphasis is placed on actually enjoying the learning process, on exploring, on learning from failure. The journey is merely a means to an end. Needless to say, the parents’ or teachers’ intentions are good, but good intentions do not necessarily pave the way to a good place. As Luthar notes, many of us are unaware of the “risks and pressures that can arise, paradoxically, from trying to do the best for our children.” For many of these children, these risks and pressures manifest themselves in the form of perfectionism.

Sadly, the system inadvertently reinforces (or at times creates) the obsession with perfection. Who is more likely to be rewarded with an acceptance letter from a top school: a student who explored and got lost, who risked and fell a few times on his way to discovering what he is passionate about, or a student with a flawless transcript? All things being equal, most colleges would admit the latter over the former, rewarding formulaic success rather than courageous failure, measurable results rather than passionate exploration.

Expecting a lot from children is important; one of the common problems in poor neighborhoods is the low expectations that some parents, teachers, and politicians have of children. Demanding standards can potentially lead to healthy, adaptive perfectionism, or what I’ve been calling optimalism. A child’s long-term success and happiness are largely contingent on her pursuing challenging goals while at the same time accepting failure and imperfection. The challenge for parents and educators is to combine high expectations with the permission and encouragement to explore, to take risks, to make mistakes, and to fail.

Of course, it is not only children who are under immense pressure to achieve. Parents, themselves often the product of a similar education, spend most of their waking hours at work, and not necessarily because they wish to. These parents usually have little time or energy left for their children, and the children feel isolated and alone as a result. In the absence of parental presence and support, children are significantly more susceptible to depression and anxiety, as well as to peer pressure. The consequences of parental under-involvement are potentially grave.

And yet the consequences of over-involvement may be just as harmful. When a child feels that whenever her parents are around she is constantly under observation and that every action she takes is being evaluated, when she receives feedback every step of the way and is bombarded with instructions on what she should or shouldn’t do, the lesson that she ultimately learns is that there is only one correct way of doing anything—one perfect path that represents the shortest distance between where she is and where she wants to be. No deviations from this path can be tolerated. Over time, the child internalizes the voice that comments on everything she does, and she carries it with her even when her parents are not around.

Parents and teachers often try to accelerate children’s development by providing clear directions and by pointing out right from wrong. After all, why shouldn’t a parent who is more experienced—who often really does know better—help the child avoid errors that are avoidable? The answer is that although children need and desire guidance, and guidance is good for healthy child development, there can be too much of a good thing. It is equally important to allow children to explore what is for them uncharted territory, to run into dead ends every now and then. Parents with perfectionist tendencies find it especially difficult to let go, to refrain from controlling their child’s every move. Such behavior by the parent impedes the child’s development. As long as the child is safe, she should be allowed to make her own imperfect decisions, to experience the pain of failing and the pleasure of learning, the pride of success and the vulnerability of independence.

Ironically, excessive parental praise and encouragement may be as detrimental to the child as excessive parental criticism. Some parents, on the advice of psychologists and “parenting experts,” provide positive reinforcement every time their child does something right. While positive reinforcement is undoubtedly important, children also need comment-free periods—times during which they can engage in work or play that is uninterrupted by either praise or criticism.

Children from affluent families often receive the worst of both worlds. What Luthar and her colleagues found was that the underlying cause of the high levels of substance abuse and distress among teenagers from wealthy backgrounds was typically the “perceived parent criticism for both girls and boys as well as the absence of after-school supervision.” On the one hand, parents are insufficiently involved in their children’s lives. They spend very little time with them and do not provide adequate after-school supervision. On the other hand, in the limited time that parents do spend with their children, they overcompensate for their overall absence and become excessively involved, which leads to “perceived parent criticism.”

Research on first-born children provides additional insight into the delicate balance, the golden mean, between over-involvement and under-involvement.2 An eldest child is more likely to be classified as gifted, and a disproportionate number of students in top colleges are first-born. This is due, at least in part, to the extra time and attention these children receive from their parents. However, at the same time, the eldest child is also more likely than his siblings to become a Perfectionist. This, too, is partially due to the fact that his parents have more time to spend with him, which also means that he is supervised more closely and enjoys fewer comment-free periods. While some parents feel guilty for not being as attentive to their second or third child as they were to their first, they may actually be doing their younger children a favor. Having said that, the need to provide children the space to meander is not a license for negligence: there are clear and indisputable benefits to parental involvement. To paraphrase Aristotle, writing about the doctrine of the mean, the key is to be involved at the right time, to the right degree, with the right motive, and in the right way. Of course, as any parent knows, this is easier said than done.

A prime example of the educational golden mean in action can be found in Montessori schools. The aim of the Montessori classroom is to create “freedom in a structured environment.” Freedom without structure or boundaries is under-involvement; structure or boundaries without freedom is over-involvement.3 It is hard not to be impressed by the calm intensity of Montessori schoolchildren who are utterly absorbed in their individual or group tasks. While the child knows that the teacher is there for her if she needs help, and while the teacher praises as well as criticizes when appropriate, the actual involvement of the teacher is reduced to the bare minimum: as much involvement as necessary and as little involvement as possible. The teacher is in effect creating a safe environment, one that is appropriate for the child’s age. The child is then allowed to act independently within that environment, whether by putting a set of objects through a hole or exploring a big question about the origin of our species.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who was seminal in launching the positive psychology movement, has conducted research with Kevin Rathunde comparing Montessori schools to traditional ones.4 One of the major differences was that in traditional schools, students spend much of their time listening to lectures and taking notes, which is a highly structured activity. By contrast, in Montessori schools, students spend more time involved in independent projects, whether individually or in groups. This type of activity provides a combination of freedom and structure. Not coincidentally, Montessori students had more favorable perceptions of their fellow students, their teachers, and their school. They were more engaged in their schoolwork and more energetic and reported higher levels of intrinsic motivation.


Do you create for others, whether children or adults, an environment conducive to learning, with sufficient comment-free periods and adequate involvement? Do you enjoy such an environment in your own life?

The Good-Enough Parent

Work on child development by influential British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott sheds light on healthy parental involvement.5 While Winnicott focuses on the role of the mother, his ideas apply as much to the father and indeed to anyone who is actively and directly involved in child rearing.

Initially, says Winnicott, the child is completely dependent on the mother: there is full physical and psychological symbiosis. What the child needs at this stage is for the mother to respond to his every wish, whether it is to be fed or to be held. Gradually, to help the child mature through the process of differentiation—becoming an independent, fully functioning individual—the mother has to pull back. Rather than responding perfectly—in other words, immediately and fully—to her child’s every need, Winnicott says, she should respond adequately. This imperfect caretaker, who Winnicott calls the good-enough mother, “starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure.”

The good-enough mother does not abandon the child, but she does allow him to struggle. For example, rather than immediately responding to his need to be coddled each time he cries, the mother slowly, over time, lets the child experience some discomfort on his own—as long as he is safe, of course. When the child learns that he cannot always rely on his mother, he learns to rely on—and soothe—himself. As the mother gradually and sensitively “fails” the child with increasing frequency—as she engages in what Winnicott describes as “graduated failure of adaptation”—the child develops the ability to deal with the external world independent of her. Given that failure is an inevitable part of the real world, the mother who truly cares about her child prepares him by simulating, in a controlled environment and at a pace that is suitable for the child, what he will eventually have to deal with by himself.

The process of separation—the time lags during which the crying child, for instance, confronts the mother’s absence—is unpleasant, to say the least, and difficult for both parent and child. There is, however, no way around it. A child would never learn to walk if he were perfectly protected—if he were constantly held up, supported, deprived of the unpleasant experience of falling down. We either learn to fail or we fail to learn.

We can extend this idea of the good-enough mother—or, more generally, the good-enough parent—to apply also to the infant’s behavior, not just to his needs. For example, a perfect parent would be reluctant to let the infant make a mess while eating; she would either feed the child herself or constantly hover around him, cleaning up after him every time he spills something. A good-enough parent recognizes the importance of learning by doing, of getting one’s hands dirty, and will allow the baby to drop some food, smear his face, bring empty spoons to his mouth, and stick food in his hair. At the same time, the good-enough parent makes sure that the baby gets enough food and is not in danger of poking himself with a fork. Finding the right amount of involvement, the parent allows room for failure while not compromising on the child’s health and safety.

Good-enough parenting is important for healthy development throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence. For instance, in contrast to the good-enough parent who is able to find the golden mean between negligence and overindulgence, the “perfect” parent continuously caters to all his teenager’s material and psychological needs. The child is showered with gifts; whatever she wants she has only to ask for—assuming, that is, she hasn’t already been provided with the financial means to buy these things for herself. But there is another kind of indulgence that is even more damaging, and that is the emotional and intellectual sanitizing of the child’s environment: if a teacher or a classmate is disagreeable to the child, if the child struggles with a certain subject or project, the parent (or the parent’s representative) solves the problem. While part of a parent’s role is to help the child when necessary, solving, or trying to solve, every problem for the child, in every possible situation, can do more harm than good.

Many parents who have experienced personal hardship desire a better life for their children. To want to spare your children from having to go through unpleasant experiences is a noble aim, and it naturally stems from love and concern for the child. What these parents don’t realize, however, is that while in the short term they may be making the lives of their children more pleasant, in the long term they may be preventing their children from acquiring self-confidence, resilience, a sense of meaning, and important interpersonal skills. As Samuel Smiles, a nineteenth-century English author, wrote, “It is doubtful whether any heavier curse could be imposed on man than the complete gratification of all his wishes without effort on his part, leaving nothing for his hopes, desires or struggles.”6 For healthy development, to grow and mature, the child needs to deal with some failure, struggle through some difficult periods, and experience some painful emotions. As a parent, I often wish there were shortcuts, or ways around the hardship, but there aren’t any.


Reflect on your relationship with a child—your own or someone else’s—and think of opportunities to be “good enough,” finding the golden mean between under-involvement and over-involvement.

Our schools are full of Perfectionists. Short of turning back the clock and engaging in different child rearing or early education practices, what can teachers or parents do about a perfectionist child? And if the child is not a Perfectionist, how can the educator ensure that she remains that way? Understanding Carol Dweck’s research on fixed mind-set and growth mind-set and the distinction between person and behavior can help educators inoculate the child against the bug of perfectionism.


Dweck distinguishes between a fixed mind-set and a growth mind-set.7 A fixed mind-set is the belief that our abilities—our intelligence, physical competence, personality, and interpersonal skills—are essentially set in stone and cannot really change. We are either gifted and talented, in which case we’ll succeed in school, at work, in sports, and in our relationships, or we are permanently deficient and consequently doomed to failure. In contrast, a growth mind-set is the belief that our abilities are malleable—that they can, and do, change throughout our lives; we are born with certain abilities, but these provide a mere starting point, and to succeed we have to apply ourselves, dedicate time, invest a great deal of effort.

For a person with a fixed mind-set, hard work is threatening, as it indicates that her abilities are limited and that, by extension, she is, too. After all, if she were gifted and talented, then she wouldn’t need to work. Not wanting to appear deficient, and given her belief that nothing can be done to remedy a deficiency, she constantly feels the pressure to prove to herself and to others how smart, competent, and perfect she already is.

The experience of a person with a growth mind-set is radically different. For her, hard work is not only necessary, it is also fun and exciting; she enjoys the journey because, rather than trying to prove herself constantly, her primary focus is learning, developing, and realizing her potential. In addition to being happier, a person with a growth mind-set is more persistent in her efforts and is therefore more likely to succeed. There are, of course, people with a fixed mind-set who work hard, but they are usually driven by the need to prove to themselves and to others how smart they are. It is a heavy burden to carry.

Thankfully, the fixed mind-set itself is not fixed! In a seminal study, Dweck and her colleagues randomly assigned fifth-grade students to two groups. In the first round of the study, students in both groups were given ten fairly difficult questions; they generally did well on the test and answered most of the questions correctly. After completing the task, participants in both groups were praised but in different ways. In the first group, the fixed mind-set was induced by praising participants for their intelligence (along the lines of “you must be smart at this”), while the growth mind-set was induced in the second group by praising participants for their efforts (along the lines of “you must have worked really hard”).

In the second round of the study, participants had to choose between taking a new test that was difficult and from which they would learn and taking one that was easy and quite similar to the one they had just taken. Ninety percent of the students in the group in which the growth mind-set was induced, who had been praised for their efforts, chose the difficult test that offered them an opportunity to learn. By contrast, most of the students in the fixed mind-set group, who had been praised for their intelligence, opted for the familiar over the challenging and chose to take the easier test.

In the third round of the study, students from both groups were given a test that was too hard for them to solve. Those previously praised for their intelligence were miserable as they struggled, while those praised for their effort actually enjoyed themselves—the struggling and the learning. As Dweck explains, “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

Interestingly, when Dweck then gave both groups one final test with the same difficulty level as the very first test they took, the “smart” students performed about 20 percent worse than they had in the first round of the study. By contrast, the “hardworking” students performed 30 percent better than they had before. As this study demonstrates, the growth mind-set leads to taking on new challenges, to greater enjoyment when facing challenges, and, finally, to better performance overall.

Dweck was able to induce fixed or growth mind-sets with a single sentence, by praising either the students’ intelligence or their effort. Her findings are both disturbing (because they show how much impact ordinary words that we utter can have on our children) and encouraging (because we know how we can easily make a significant and positive impact). We need to praise children for their efforts, for that which is under their control, rather than for their intelligence, which is not. In her book Mind-set, Dweck writes:

Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence—like a gift—by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.

The fixed mind-set is akin to perfectionism, the growth mindset to optimalism. Praising intelligence induces the fear of failure, because it engenders the belief that being truly intelligent ought to preclude the possibility of failure. In contrast, praising effort shifts the focus to the journey and away from outcome; whether one succeeds or fails matters less than whether or not one works hard. A fixed mind-set (the Perfectionist) leads to an intense fear of failure and to catastrophizing failure when it does happen; a growth mind-set (the Optimalist) leads to perceiving failure as an opportunity for growth and development.

Educators should constantly emphasize the process—the hard work, the effort, the enjoyment of the journey, the importance of failures as learning opportunities—rather than the raw achievement and the outcome. Telling children how smart they are leads to a short-term high (for the child, as well as for the parent or teacher!), while in the long term it hurts the child’s motivation, performance, and well-being. Parents and teachers should constantly be asking children what they learned—from others, from books, from their own mistakes and successes—and in what ways they have improved, not what prizes and grades they received and what the competition was like.

Children also have to understand that they don’t have to be the best at everything and that just having fun is a legitimate reason for doing something. At the same time, if they do want to excel, then effort is necessary—which does not preclude the possibility of having fun along the way.

Whenever I fall into the perfectionist trap and experience an intense and debilitating fear of failure, I remind myself that ability is malleable, that ups and downs are natural, and that with effort I can improve, as I have often done in the past. The growth mind-set focuses me on the journey, and the pressure subsides. I do it for myself—to enhance my performance and enjoyment—and I do it for my children and students who are more likely to do what I do rather than what I say.


Think about an ability or a skill that you have improved over time as a result of your efforts. It could be anything from your ability on the tennis court to your speaking skills, from your courage to your empathy. What did you do to improve this ability or skill?

It is important to point out that Dweck’s distinction between the fixed and the growth mind-sets is different from Sowell’s distinction between the constrained and the unconstrained views of human nature. Dweck looks at our abilities while Sowell looks at our nature. The Optimalist generally subscribes to the constrained view of human nature (the belief that our nature is fixed) and at the same time espouses the growth mind-set (the belief that our abilities are not fixed). The Perfectionist generally believes the opposite to be true—that our nature is not fixed (unconstrained view) and that our abilities are fixed (fixed mind-set).

Tradition and Progress

When I was in Australia last year, I happened to listen to a radio program in which a group of business leaders were complaining about the most recent crop of university graduates. These smart, well-educated twenty-somethings entering the workforce needed endless pampering and praise, and when criticized they would often sulk or even quit their jobs. Managers in the United States and throughout the Western world are facing the same problem. To the older generation, many of whom were educated in the school of hard knocks, the phenomenon of the spoiled and weak newcomer spells trouble.

Carol Dweck calls these newcomers “the praised generation.” They are often the product of well-meaning parents and teachers who, out of a desire to raise the children’s self-esteem, tended to offer constant and unconditional praise (to strengthen the ego) while refraining from any form of criticism (which might damage the fragile ego). The results, however, were often the opposite of those intended: instead of becoming adults with high self-esteem, the children turned out to be insecure and spoiled. According to Dweck, “We now have a workforce full of people who need constant reassurance and can’t take criticism. Not a recipe for success in business, where taking on challenges, showing persistence, and admitting and correcting mistakes are essential.”

The future, it seems, does not hold greater promise. A new generation of children is being raised by adults who applaud loudly and reprimand meekly. One reason for doing so is the natural desire of parents and educators to be liked and the assumption that the child will like them more if they are generous with praise and frugal with criticism. In fact, however, children know (though not always immediately) that they need boundaries, and therefore educators are more likely in the long term to be appreciated for being real, for calling it as they see it—the good with the bad, the praise with the criticism. A forthright parent who sets clear boundaries is more likely to earn respect over time than a parent who aspires to be liked and consequently caters unreflectively to the child’s whims.

But it’s not just the need to be liked that drives educators. Modern educational practices, it should be remembered, developed in reaction to a long history of harsh and often cruel teaching methods, in which parents and teachers ruled with an iron hand. Those who suffered under such practices understandably wanted to replace the stick with a carrot. With the publication of his book Democracy and Education in 1916, John Dewey, considered by many to be the father of modern American education, launched the progressive education movement.8 The child, no longer devoid of rights, was placed on an equal footing with the educator. Rather than commanding the child, the educator was to ask the child; rather than bending or, if necessary, breaking the child’s spirit, the educator was to nurture and support the child.

This was an important change in the history of education, but as is often the case with a movement born in reaction to something else, the change went too far to the other extreme. The laissez-faire progressive schools in which criticism was scarce and praise plentiful did not produce well-rounded, self-confident, highly educated children but rather restless and insecure graduates. Dewey was not blind to the potentially negative effects of progressive education. He realized that he—or those who interpreted and implemented his theory—had gone too far. He wrote another book, Experience and Education, calling for a more nuanced synthesis between the old and the new, but unfortunately this book received little attention.9 For half a century the effects of progressive education were not as grave as they might have been. The external reality that the students faced—the Great Depression followed by World War II—made tough men and women out of the soft boys and girls.

Then came the Sixties. A generation of rebels wanted to break the shackles of traditional education. They applied their new sense of freedom to the raising of their children. But in their eagerness to do away with the harshness of traditional educational methods, they also dispensed with discipline and boundaries. Their children, born in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, did not by and large have the “benefit” of the hardships that previous generations had been exposed to; there was nothing there to toughen them and prepare them for life’s challenges. The overpraised generation remained spoiled.

Ironically, despite being polar opposites, the two approaches to education—the traditional and the progressive—result in similar perfectionist tendencies. A child educated in the traditional way is punished for every deviation from the narrow, straight path. His education does not prepare him to look at failures as learning opportunities, and he learns to fear failure. The person educated in the progressive mold does not learn how to fail and rebound from failure, and therefore he, too, learns to fear it. After all, nothing he has done was subject to criticism or punishment; sooner or later, when no longer protected by his teachers or parents, he faces the real-world consequences of failure. Unprepared, he is lost and afraid.

So what can be done? The solution is to find the golden mean between the old methods and the new. In this case, the key is learning to separate the person from the behavior.

Person and Behavior

When we, as teachers and parents, focus on our students’ and children’s inherent worth, we are able to bring out the best in them. We must learn to appreciate the child as a person—to see her essence beyond SAT scores, school grades, success and failure. We need to create an environment in which children can develop a sense of self-worth that is not dependent on standardized tests or the images that they see reflected in society’s mirror. In the words of Carl Rogers, children, as much as possible, have to feel “unconditional positive regard” from their parents and teachers.

All this is the part of the equation that progressive education largely got right. The other part, which progressive education largely missed, is the need to set very clear boundaries on behavior. “Unconditional positive regard” is not synonymous with “anything goes.” A child who brings home a poor report card because she slacked off can and should be reprimanded. A child who purposely and unjustly hurts another child deserves punishment. So while children need to feel that they themselves are unconditionally accepted by the significant adults in their lives, they also have to know that there are behaviors that the adults will not accept. Marva Collins, an extraordinary schoolteacher who has transformed the lives of thousands of students, gives teachers this advice:

When you must reprimand your child, do so in a loving manner. Don’t ever try to degrade or humiliate him. His ego is a precious thing worth preserving. Try saying:

“I love you very much but I will not have this kind of behavior.”

“Do you know why I won’t tolerate that? Simply because you are too bright to behave that way.”10

Focusing on behavior, the parent can say, “You played when you should have studied, and you put very little effort into your schoolwork. Next time, I expect you to work harder so that you can do better.” If the child does not respond to verbal criticism, she can be punished by being grounded or by being deprived of a game that she likes.

Separating the person from the behavior is equally important when dealing with success. Parents are often quick to praise the child and convey to him how much they love him (explicitly or implicitly) when he performs well. And when the child feels that Mom and Dad love him more if he does well, he extrapolates that they will love him less if he does less well. The child begins to fear failure because he understands that his parents’ love is conditional. As Ginott points out, praise should deal “only with the child’s efforts and accomplishments, not with his character and personality.”

Telling a child that she is wonderful for earning a good report card or terrible when she brings home a poor report card focuses on her person; telling the child that she has worked hard or that she did not work hard enough focuses on her behavior. That the child is wonderful in her parents’ eyes must be a given—whether performance is good or bad. Parents and educators who praise or criticize the person are increasing the likelihood of perfectionism in the child; focusing on the behavior, both in praise and in criticism, is more likely to lead to optimalism.


How do you praise children and adults? Do you focus on effort and process? Make a mental note to do so in the future.

As teachers and parents, we can go a long way toward correcting the obsession in our culture with praising external success. Because so much in our world conspires to glorify measurable success, a child very early on internalizes the idea that to be valued he needs to bring home a good evaluation and that net worth is a prerequisite for self-worth. Parents and teachers can create an alternative environment in which love and support are there throughout the journey and not just when the child reaches the destination.


Image My Best Teacher

Write about the best teacher you’ve ever had. It could be your parent, a first-grade teacher, a college professor, or a boss who invested a great deal in your professional development. What was it about this teacher that brought out the best in you? What can you learn from this teacher when it comes to dealing with children?

Now think about how you function as a teacher in various areas in your life. How can you apply the lessons you learned from your teacher in the workplace, at home, and in other areas of your life? You can repeat the exercise, this time reflecting on another teacher and comparing him or her to the first one. What are some of the similarities and differences between the two? What else can you learn about effective teaching that you can apply to your role as a teacher?