'Connection over content.' 5 things that took me 14 years of teaching to learn.

Commonwealth Bank
Thanks to our brand partner, Commonwealth Bank

Teachers have the unique ability to inspire, educate, and help create opportunities for the next generation. As the caretakers of our future, the work they do has a profound impact on the world around us. 

Quite a grand statement, right? 

We’ve all had moments where a teacher has had a profound impact on our lives. For me, I’ve been on both sides. Firstly, as a student, learning from other teachers, to becoming an assistant principal.

Looking back on my own experiences, there are plenty of lessons that took me years to learn. 

1. Gratitude goes a long way. 

I feel grateful to have had incredible teachers in my life. We know there are countless others out there who are making a difference in the lives of their students. That's why I’d encourage you to recognise and celebrate great teachers who are making a real difference, by nominating them for the Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards.

For the 12 outstanding educators who are chosen, they will receive a Teaching Fellowship valued at $40,000, as well as a unique 12-month professional learning program.

In addition, 10 exceptional early career teachers will receive $10,000 for professional development and an exclusive learning and mentoring program – imagine the further impact they could have if we’re willing to stop and recognise them.

Teachers are often unsung heroes of our society who deserve our recognition and support. 

By nominating great teachers, we not only show our appreciation for all that they do, but we also help to ensure they continue to inspire and educate future generations.

What an impact that could make.


Image: Supplied. 

2. Connection over content.

We’ve probably all seen videos of teachers standing at their classroom door, greeting students with individualised handshakes. All of us want to belong and be a part of something.

Even that student. Especially that student.

One of the greatest lessons I learned as a teacher was the need to balance connection over content. Just because my lesson plan looks fantastic, it doesn’t mean my students are ready to learn.

Plans are one thing, but making the time to greet my students, smile, make eye contact, and build that little bit of connection pays off. Chances are, the greatest teachers actually made you feel connected.


The tricky part to this lesson is there is no hard and fast rule or time. Every child and young person is different, but the quicker I realised those initial moments should be focused on connection, the better I could make lessons stick. 

3. Words are powerful.  

Time in the classroom taught me the power of words. It lead me to discover the joy and pain of Maya Angelou and how the influence of words can change how you act and engage with the world around you.

It wasn't until I was lucky enough to run my own classrooms, that I realised nothing beat that 'Aha!' moment when a child breaks out into a huge grin as you read out a piece of their writing and celebrate purposefully, and powerfully, selected words. 

One boy in particular, Declan, still stands out when he beamed with pride, as his class shared how his words had impacted them. He replied with, “I didn’t even know I could write like that."

4. It’s alright to do things a little differently.

Learning isn't always about doing everything right. It's about taking the time to just try that thing you've been contemplating, and become comfortable putting yourself out there. 

Over 14 years as a classroom teacher and school leader, that lesson still rings true. Everyday that I am in a classroom or staffroom, I remind myself it is about discovering the strengths and interests of others, and empowering them to take risks and share their learnings with others.

The way we learn isn't always linear and through teaching countless young people, I am still learning new ways to engage my students. 

5. Be a warm demander.

As an early career teacher, you’re continuously a duck on water. Things look calm, but under the surface you’re juggling about a million things. Sheer luck gave me Mrs Caldwell as an official mentor.


Mrs Caldwell was the sort of teacher who could make you feel on top of the world, stop you dead in your tracks with a simple stare, and make you feel genuinely seen and heard. A master of her craft.

I spent months sneaking into her class to watch her in action, listening to how she taught and engaged the room. A key aspect that took me years to practise and learn? Be a warm demander.

She expected a great deal of her students, knew each of them, spotted and shared strengths and potential, and helped her students reach that potential – all in a safe, disciplined and structured environment. 

What I discovered from years of experience, and hundreds of students, was that successful outcomes happen when you create the expectations together with kids. Modelling these expectations yourself also hugely helps, and I learnt the importance of active listening to their individual needs.

From those hours, I learned and practiced the power of building trust, listening, setting and holding high expectations, and embracing failure – because that’s where the real learning occurs.

Jan Caldwell, thank you for pushing and supporting us to do more than we thought possible.

The Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards celebrates teachers who are making a positive impact on children and communities around Australia. Nominate a great teacher by 7 May, 2023. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

Commonwealth Bank
Each year, the Commonwealth Bank, in partnership with national education non-profit Schools Plus, celebrate great teachers for the profound impact they have on children and their communities.
12 outstanding teachers will be chosen for a prestigious Teaching Fellowship valued at $40,000 including funds for a strategic school project and a unique 12-month professional learning program. Plus 10 exceptional early career teachers will receive $10,000 for professional development and an exclusive leadership and mentoring program.
Nominate a great teacher or apply yourself before 7 May 2023.