Many of us will face new learners as another semester of classes begin. For some of us, this can be a frightening and stressful experience. It should be. We have an enormous responsibility as educators to inspire our students to be continuous learners, explore their curiosities and search for solutions to problems that need to be solved. We have the responsibility to inspire our learners to immerse themselves in the beauty of learning whether it is for their own passions, curiosities or self-discovery.
Unfortunately, the system isn’t exactly cut out to support students in exploration. Students are taught that only one answer is correct and if that one answer isn’t given, then the road stops there for learning. The reality is that our learners have to take standardized assessments, curricula will focus on them passing these assessments, colleges will admit those who receive high enough scores on these assessments, and education policy will continue to focus on outcomes based on these assessments. As educators, we often see these realities as shackles. We think we do not have the freedom to truly inspire great learning in our classes. We feel we do not have permission to teach in the way we know promotes effective learning.
I have often been a new teacher in my career. I have been placed in new systems and in various institutions where I felt powerless. I was so afraid that if I did not teach according to their standards, I would be fired. Although, in my more than 15 years of teaching, I have never seen any teacher fired because an administrator did not like the way the teacher taught. I was so immobilized by my fear that I hid from administrators and other teachers.
Then I began to grow some confidence and maybe I was also a little fed up. I began to start teaching the way I knew was effective and began to take back control of my classes and curriculum. I decided that I’d ask for forgiveness later and gave myself permission to be the kind of teacher I always wanted to be if I thought I had the support and freedom to be that. Years later, I do not regret that decision and I am now the kind of teacher I want to be, and I have never met with any negative consequences. Instead, I have a string of learners worldwide who have thanked me for helping them along their learning journeys.
I want to give you permission. I want to tell you that yes, you have the freedom and power to inspire incredible learning this year. You are the instrument in your classroom that determines whether your students will love learning or hate learning. So how do you begin to implement that power and ensure your students learn effectively? Try a few of these ideas in your class this year. They are meant to be accomplished in only one class period in one semester. This way you can take baby steps and reflect on the outcomes in the coming months. If these ideas don’t work, you can always go back to your regular way of teaching.
- Ask a question that has many answers or no answer at all.
- Give your students the reins for one class period. Give them the topic or learning objective, then ask how they would like to learn about that topic. They might suggest a game, project or exploration with technology.
- Allow your students to choose how they will be assessed for one topic. They might suggest a project, game or another method.
- Ask your students what they really are interested in learning and for the day, allow them to interview an expert in that field online. Your students can search for the e-mail address, blog address, Facebook account or Twitter handle of that person. For example, a student might be interested in skateboarding. Have that student connect with Tony Hawk on Twitter or another famous skateboarder.
- Tell your students everyday for a week that you are glad to be their teacher. Do this by greeting them at the door with a smile, handshake or high five.
- Conduct a class in a different environment, such as outdoors or in another part of the building.
- Stand for an entire classroom period. Break students into groups or pairs and move around constantly, asking them questions or taking notes about the way they learn.
- Play a fun game in your classroom. Find a way to incorporate games and play to teach your subject matter. Scavenger hunts, board games and video games have all been used to teach various subject matters.
- Contact each parent and share with them specific ways their children made you proud of them.
- Have your students work together in performing an act of kindness for either a charity, organization or other students. This could be as simple as creating books and reading them to younger kids or volunteering to clean up the campus.
Many of these ideas can be found at Teacher Reboot Camp. Join nearly 10,000 educators online who are using various free social networks to support each other in accomplishing 30 short-term goals related to education. We support each other through various social networks, Facebook, YouTube, GooglePlus, Twitter and blogs.
Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is a teacher trainer, author and international speaker. She co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects Edchat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference and ELTChat. Her prolific presence in the educator community through social media has been recognized by several notable entities, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Find free e-books and resources for teachers on her blog, Teacher Reboot Camp. Look out for her upcoming book, “The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators,” published by Eye on Education. Find her on Twitter (@ShellTerrell).