(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
Who should teachers listen to when it comes to advice on classroom instruction?
In Part One, Andrew Sharos, Cristiane Galvão, Allyson Caudill, John Cox, & Ashley Blackley offer their answers. All five were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
Today, Roxanna Elden, Luisa Palacio, Julia Stearns Cloat, Ph.D., and Luiza Mureseanu provide their perspectives.
Roxanna Elden is a teacher-turned-author whose most recent book is Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel. The Washington Post calls it “a funny but insightful look at teachers in the workplace … reminiscent of the TV show ‘The Office,’ but set in an urban high school”:
You’ve probably heard about how important it is for teachers to have a high-quality mentor—and it is. But even the best mentors get busy, and sometimes the person you turn to for one kind of help isn’t the right person for every kind of help. That’s why, as a teacher, you don’t just need one mentor. You need a whole board of advisers. Here’s who should be on it:
1. Someone who gives great all-around advice.
How do you know whether you’re getting good advice? Think about how you feel afterward. Or read this piece on teaching advice – the good, the bad, and, “That would never happen in MY class.”
2. Someone whose teaching style you admire.
The best teachers you’ve ever seen won’t necessarily become your confidantes—in fact, you may even be too intimidated to share your most humbling moments or embarrassing questions with the teacher of the year. But you’ll gain a lot if you gather the courage to ask if you can observe their classes.
3. Someone who teaches a similar subject.
From this person, you want tips on explaining concepts, lesson plans in an editable format, and help troubleshooting your own lesson plans. As a bonus, this person is more likely than other colleagues to think your grammar-joke or periodic-table-pun coffee mug is funny.
4. Someone who teaches similar students—or even the same students.
This can be the same person you talk lesson planning with, but it doesn’t have to be. If you teach remedial biology, it can be helpful to get lesson plans from an AP bio teacher, but you may be better off holding strategy sessions with a remedial English teacher.
5. Someone you complain well with.
Sometimes you have to break the “stay positive” code to stay sane. But picking the right complaining buddy is an important decision. Here’s why… plus, some other reasons complaining about work can be a lot like drinking.
6. Someone who remembers your strengths, even when you don’t.
Often, the people in this group aren’t teachers at all. Rather, they are friends, family members, or significant others who know other sides of your personality. Nonteachers don’t always know exactly what to say about specific classroom challenges, which is why they occasionally blunder into well-meaning suggestions like, “Try making your lessons fun!” But after a hard day, it sometimes takes people who know you outside the classroom to remind you of all that you bring into it.
Listen, But Apply Advice Selectively
Luisa Palacio is an ESL and Spanish teacher from Colombia with 19 years of teaching experience. Currently, she teaches K-12 at the Northampton County schools and Spanish with South Carolina Virtual Education:
It is all about collaboration, and when it comes to professional growth, we should value everyone who has been in the field!
- Veteran teachers: They know the field and even if times have changed, they are knowledgeable of strategies they learned empirically. Although some of them might be reluctant to try new strategies, they sure know what has worked and hasn’t worked in their classrooms.
- New teachers: They come with that fresh mind, new ideas, creative and fun activities that are appealing to students. From new teachers we can learn new tendencies, social networks, slang, anything that can help us connect with students.
- Students: We have to know their interests, what motivates them, their learning styles. When we listen to students, we learn exactly what they need, and it helps generate new strategies and activities to reach their diversity and to meet them where they are so we can bring them where we want them to be.
- Administrators: They are data-driven and they know exactly where they want us to take students. Administrators have a different vision, and when they conference with teachers, they can offer different perspectives that we can be missing when we are in the classroom.
I believe one can learn from everyone. We just need to be selective when deciding what we want to implement in our classrooms, what we want to adapt into our own teaching style, and what we definitely do not want to replicate.
Listen to Students
Julia Stearns Cloat, Ph.D., has spent the past 25 years working in unit school districts in roles including literacy specialist, instructional coach, and curriculum director and has earned awards for her work in student services. Julia currently works as a coordinator in Kaneland School District 302, in Illinois, and as an adjunct professor at Northern Illinois University:
Often, it seems that most everyone has an opinion about schooling that they feel compelled to share. It can be overwhelming and even a little frustrating to teachers to be the recipient of some much unsolicited advice. However, there are a few key people that teachers truly should listen to when it comes to advice on classroom instruction.
1. Students: The most important people to listen to about the effectiveness of your instruction are your students. Students often have insights about issues related to classroom management, equity, and even instructional practice. Here are a few ways to establish a learning environment that encourages students to share and opportunities for you to listen:
a. Community Circle
Having a community circle at the beginning of the day or even just once a week will provide opportunities for students to listen to one another—and more importantly—for you to listen to them. Among the insights that they will provide will be suggestions about classroom management that work for them.
b. Funds of Knowledge
Listen to your students and learn about their cultures. Get to know them and make the instruction culturally relevant and responsive.
Teachers should check in with their students frequently and consider their feedback about the instruction. What is helping them to learn? What isn’t? Most students will have ideas about how to make what is done in class better for them.
2. Their Own Inner Voice: Perhaps the most important lesson that teachers can learn is to listen to their own instincts. Take the time to know their students and take into consideration their needs. Use that information, along with your own professional judgment, and do what you know to be best for your students. No prepackaged curriculum will know your students as well as you do when it comes to their day-to-day needs. As a group, teachers are very conscientious people who want to do their job well. Sometimes they don’t give their own instinct the credit it deserves.
3. Research and Data: Consider your data and identify areas for potential improvement. Using that information, do some research on effective instructional practices and consider what some changes you can make to make a difference. Often, it is just a small change—like explicitly identifying the student learning target of the lesson—that can make a big difference.
Don’t Ignore Student Feedback
Luiza Mureseanu is an instructional resource teacher - K-12, for ESL/ELD programs, in Peel DSB, Ontario, with over 17 years of teaching middle and high school students in Canada and Romania:
Teachers can gather a lot of relevant data about what works best in their classroom instruction by listening to their own students.
For many reasons, this is the first and best source that can inform our practice because it is authentic, responsive, and it leads to effective ways to differentiate instruction.
Students generally have a good sense of who helps them learn best. As a secondary school teacher, I notice often that students line up in the guidance room during the first two weeks of the semester to change their timetable. They usually ask for time accommodation or a change in the course selection, but it is common knowledge that sometime they want another teacher from the faculty. Why is that?
Students will always say that they want such and such teacher because “they teach well” or because “they help them get the content.” In essence, the teacher will perfect their repertoire of strategies by constantly adapting their classroom instruction for and with students. Learning does not happen by teaching in isolation, and it is effective only when it gets constant input from the learners.
Many aspects of teaching instruction—from finding relevant curriculum to perfecting the teaching strategies—must be informed by the student results and feedback. We need to validate our teaching by measuring student impact. Using student input is not the only element needed in perfecting instruction, but it is definitely one that should not be ignored.
Thanks to Roxanna, Luisa, Julia, and Luiza for their contributions!
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