The Secret to Successful Teaching

For Hollylynne S. Lee, an award-winning teacher of mathematics and statistics education at North Carolina State University, the secret to being a great teacher is cultivating a joy of learning – not just for students, but for yourself.

Lee, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Education at NC State, is the recipient of the national Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, which is awarded every two years by Baylor University.

The Abstract spoke with Lee to gain a few pearls of wisdom on strategies for successful teaching, why what teachers do truly matters and what’s next for her.

The Abstract: What is your secret for successful teaching?

Lee: I have three main ingredients. First, collaborate with really smart and fun people whose perspectives and skills are complementary to mine [and who have] a shared commitment to build on good ideas to make them truly innovative. Second, I am not afraid to think outside of the box and challenge myself to do something new. Third, I lean on the supports I have when I need them — in colleagues, family, friends and faith.

The secret to being a great teacher is loving the joy of learning for your students and for yourself. Learning new content and developing new approaches that can engage and excite your students keeps a focus on developing students’ joy in their own learning. Teaching is then a playful and joyful experience.

TA: What message would you give to other teachers, especially in STEM education?

Lee: What we do as teachers really matters – not just because of the important STEM concepts we teach, but [because we can] engage students to get them excited for making sense of their world through developing and applying new knowledge.

The past two years have been really rough on teachers at any level – preK-12 through college.

I am sure that teachers everywhere are reinventing themselves and learning new ways to engage students with content, new tools and new strategies, while enacting compassionate empathy for one another. We all know there have been a lot of struggles and we have tried things that simply did not work out so well.

I hope teachers take the time to reflect on these growth opportunities and see how their professional identities can become stronger through such struggles. Thank you to all my fellow teachers for persevering and problem solving together to keep learning and emotional well-being a top priority for everyone.

TA: What’s next for you in terms of advancing the teaching of math and statistics?

Lee: I want to make math and statistics relevant to every person’s life and change the experiences they have in schools. My team at the Hub for Innovation and Research in Statistics Education [HI-RiSE] has been working hard at creating learning opportunities in data science and data literacy for students and teachers in K-12 math and science classrooms.

I want to get meaningful curriculum materials in the hands of teachers so they can change the types of experiences students have with relevant data in their classrooms.

My work in online professional learning teachers will continue as we launch our new instepwithdata.org platform and hope to bring in thousands of teachers within the next few years to learn about teaching statistics and data science. 

This post was originally published in NC State News.