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What I Learned About Being a Great Teacher…. (from murderers and thieves….)

What I learned about how to be a great teacher from murderers and thieves….

How can we possibly lead someone to greatness, if we cannot see beyond their weaknesses? Click To Tweet


What makes a great teacher?

There are countless ways to measure the success factors of a great teacher, and many of them are subjective or immeasurable in their nature.

The fact is, there are many factors that must combine to make a great teacher, however, there is one skill that has significantly contributed to my success in the education industry – and I learnt how to apply this skill when working in an all-male prison at the start of my teaching career.


This article began as a Facebook live stream that I did after seeing educators pecking at one another over whether it’s ‘right’ to teach people who are ‘bad’.  

The general consensus was that if you teach people who are ‘bad’ then you must be bad yourself.  

This blew my mind as an educator, as I believe that we are the epitome of creating change.

The fundamental purpose of our role, indeed of our EXISTENCE, is to help people change, grow, develop, be more, be better, be greater and reach their truest potential.   Ironically it is often the worst and baddest of people who need that help the most.


Despite the headline, this article isn’t actually about whether or not it is right or wrong to teach rapists, murderers and thieves.   This reference is simply an extreme real life example I have included here to put the ‘real’ message of this article into context.

This article is actually about a huge challenge that we face in everyday life as an educator.  It is about how every student, situation, customer and client that we encounter every single day, may have views behaviours, thinking and lifestyle choices that are in conflict with our own – Yet if we focus on these personal differences,  instead of  the ultimate destination,  we simply cannot be  the change catalyst that we are supposed to be.


How can we possibly lead someone to their own levels of greatness, if we cannot see beyond their supposed weaknesses?

How can we make someone feel as though they are valued or encourage them to dig deep and find the best within them, if we cannot see the goodness in them ourselves?


A teacher that judges is not a teacher. They are part of the problem.

It’s important for us to have strong morals, values and standpoints as educators, but it’s more important to be able to put them aside, IF we want to help our students truly reach their potential.


A teacher that judges is not a teacher. They are part of the problem. Click To Tweet


Great teachers put their judgements aside

In my opinion, our job is to TEACH, to facilitate change, to lead, to help – not pass judgement on the way our students live.

When there are so many people in the world who are quick to criticise others, WE (educators) need to make it our responsibility to help them be better, not tear them down further.  

We are not the behaviour police, we are our learner’s chance to have a better life.

Our job is to TEACH, facilitate change, lead and help - not pass judgement on the way our students live Click To Tweet

There are things that come up when you are teaching in the adult education space that you can’t always plan or prepare for. But this is one of the most beautiful and amazing things about teaching in the adult education sector.  

It puts the variety into our work – we never know what we going to get until our students enrol; and even then, our pre-enrollment process can only collect a limited amount of information prior to them entering a classroom.

Adults naturally bring with them a whole range of life experiences, and this provides an abundant source that we can tap into to contextualise and inform the training process itself.   

By tapping into the sources of who they are, and what they bring into a classroom, we can ensure that we are making the whole of their training experience relevant to them and their lives.


We can contextualise any type of topic to their unique experiences.  These experiences, knowledge and skills can be also used to inform the the actual training itself.   

In my 11 years of educating, it’s rare that any training session has passed where I havn’t picked up something new from my learners, or have directly improved my training programs as a result of the contributions that they made, due to a different way of seeing, perceiving or applying the training that I was delivering.  


Sometimes however, you are going to get students who have done things that are completely in opposition to your own morals and ethics.  Sometimes you going to get students who you just don’t like – and this is where the real challenge of being a great teacher really comes in.   This is where the real teachers are separated from those who are just not cut out for the business of changing lives.


I started my career teaching in the prison system.  A fresh-faced trainee teacher, I was designing and delivering a range of training programs in a remand prison.  It was my brand new job to educate, to the best of my ability, people who had done things that were entirely against my morals.  Things that disturbed me to the core of my being.  Things that in another setting, perhaps would have me walking (or running) as fast as possible in the opposite direction.  Yet here I was in a situation where it was my job, my purpose, to help these people be better.


Despite my own pre-existing ideations and feelings about the crimes my learners had committed, I knew HAD to put all of that aside, IF i was going to deliver a quality learning experience and deliver the outcomes and experience that they were in that training room for.  If I was going to deliver the best results for my learners, if I was going to deliver transformation, if I was going to create efficacious learning experiences, if I was going to create transformed, better people – it was absolutely critical that I walked into that environment and completely let go of all of my own ideas and preconceptions of what is right and wrong.  I had to let go of whatever my students may have done before they walked into my classroom – because judging these things is nothing to do with my role as an educator which is to help my students achieve and progress towards whatever they have come into my classroom to achieve and progress’ towards.


This can be really challenging for us as educators.

The prison education system was a very immersive and extreme way for me to learn how to entirely disassociate the actions and behaviours of my students and focus completely and exclusively on helping my students get to where they need to go.

The level of dedication to your profession and care that is required for your students results is absolutely immeasurable, because their results has to be the only thing that you care about in that situation – more than what people wear, what they do, what they say, who they associate themselves with or what they’ve done.  

You just can’t control these things with adult learners.


Although my story is an extreme example, there are going to be times throughout your career as an educator where you experience the exact same challenges, albeit on different scales.

Your students may be on diets you don’t agree with, date partners that you don’t agree with, have religious beliefs that you don’t agree with, do things in their spare time that you don’t agree with or run their business in a way that you don’t agree with – but if you are a good teacher, if you are a quality and professional teacher; you are able to put those things aside.  Because the only thing that is important is delivering for your learners what your training promised, and in a way that fundamentally makes them different for the better.


Great teachers respect their learners – no matter what

After we have mastered this art of being a quality teacher, we can then take it to the next level – having respect for our students.

Having respect for all of your students means more than just ignoring the fact that they bring their past and present flaws into the classroom with them. We cannot treat our students as if they are inanimate objects.

We now need to take our professionalism to a whole other level.  Not only do you have to let go of our own thoughts and feelings about their ‘flaws’, but we have to care about them, find the good in them and respect them for the human being that they are.  

We have to find things that are likeable about them  – even if we don’t like them

We have to respect what they bring to the training room and search for ways that their unique selves can contribute to it; because how can you encourage people to be better, do better and transform themselves, their lives, behaviour, skills and their knowledge if you’re not prepared to invest in them and believe that they are able to be better?


How can you expect anyone to change If you don’t believe that they can change?

How can you expect anyone to change if you don’t provide a platform and a safe space where they can do so?

Respecting your learners – every little bit of them – is critical if you wish to be an educator that makes a difference to anyone’s life, or to an industry – let alone to Planet Earth.

If you can’t put your learner and their results at the core of everything that you do when you walk into a classroom, when you are conducting a one on one, when you write a blog post, when you make a video, when you deliver a bootcamp – then I’d be asking you why you are even working in the business of education at all.


A great teacher builds educational efficacy

Finally, another quality of a great teacher, is one who combines all of the above, with the ultimate ingredient to success; self-efficacy.


In short, self-efficacy is believing in our abilities to create desired results.  Here is the kicker, we don’t actually have to be GOOD at something to benefit from the power of self-efficacy.  We simply have to have a little faith that we can get a desired result in that thing.  

A little bit of efficacy is all it can take to encourage us to put all of our effort and motivation into learning it, mastering it and attempting to achieve the desired result.  In fact, having a high self-efficacy in something is a higher determinant of success than actually having a pre-existing skill in that thing.

Educational efficacy then, is when someone has belief in their ability to achieve desired educational or academic results.  Great teachers care as much about building this internal faith, as they do about getting the learning results – as educational efficacy is the fuel behind the action, and it lasts well beyond the educational scenario.

My life could have been really different; and in my book ‘The Theory and Principles of Creating Effective Training Courses’, I tell a more full story about how.

But, at a time when my educational efficacy was low and I was drifting frighteningly close to a very different life, it was an educator who took the time to show me that I did have abilities within me to create desired results, that helped me turn everything around.

On the outside I was a rotten, hard-done-by teenager.  But he took the time to see that somewhere inside me there were skills, abilities, an ability to change, an ability to adapt – and all he had to do was believe it, see beyond my external flaws, and tell me.  

Having educational efficacy doesn’t mean that you have to be amazing at something.  All it means is that you have to believe that you’ll figure it out, that you’ll find a way; that within you there is the ability to overcome the challenge, to learn how to deal with the challenge and to make a successful outcome from the challenge.   

That is educational efficacy, and it can change somebody’s life.  

When you help somebody see that they’re capable of achieving a set result, of achieving a desired outcome, to make change in their life and be different – then you change their world.

So the next time that you are challenged by a client, student or a customer because you don’t agree with the way that they do things, the way that they live, the way they speak or spend their spare time; remember – please remember – that if you want to change the world, if you want to change somebody’s life, if you want to make them better –  you need to see beyond your own ideations and focus on the result and the outcomes that you are there to give to your student.

If you can walk into a room full of people who have opposing ideas and behaviours to your own and you walk out having left them with a belief in their ability to achieve desired results – because you managed to put aside your own ideations to give them the belief in their abilities to change and be more than what they are today – then you are one of the world’s best educators .

Building educational efficacy in your students, regardless of how you feel about their behaviours or anything else they may bring to your classroom, is everything, if you are going to truly transform your learner’s lives and be a great teacher.


Here is the original Facebook Live video:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO (it will play on Facebook Live):


So what do you think makes a great teacher?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and contributions below.  And please do share this post if you found it interesting.




On another note, my latest book has what I call ‘efficacious education’ at the core.  

It’s all about how to create truly transformational training courses that have the learner and their outcomes at the core.

No educator can survive if their learners come out unsatisfied, and true fulfilment as an educator is impossible without knowing that our learners are leaving our training with better lives ahead of them.

This book is not about how to BUILD  a course.  It’s about what to do BEFORE you build a course so that you get it right from the ground up in the first place.

It is for the quality conscious edupreneur, educator and course creator who puts their learners and the learning experience first.


I have also included access to both of my best-selling online courses inside this book FOR FREE.  Inside this book, you can get free access to: ‘How To Create Profitable Courses’ AND ‘The Online Course Marketing Masterclass’, as well as over 300 pages of content on being the best educator you were born to be.



You can get the paperback or Kindle version here:











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