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Monthly Archives: January 2015

street art wizard

 

What does it take to be a wizard inside and outside the classroom?

 

1. Respond to student queries ASAP

For good or ill, people increasingly expect (and value) prompt replies to their questions or concerns, especially via email. And students seem to equate an instructor’s response time with instructor engagement and caring. A speedy reply is not always possible, and email communication can be delicate at times, but I try to live by the “24 hour or less” rule and interestingly, students make particular note of how helpful this responsiveness is to them in comments on the course evaluations.

 

2. Overcommunicate

Students’ lives, like ours, are complicated, busy, and sometimes chaotic. People don’t always attend to our verbal communications or instructions, and/or email, and/or written (print) communication, and/or online announcements. Similarly, the more channels that we can mobilize to share information with our students about upcoming assignments, due dates, key information or course resources, the greater the chance that our message will filter through the “white noise” of multiple, competing pressures and priorities.

 

3. Listen carefully

When students express an issue or concern, chances are –  especially if we’ve been teaching for many years – we’ve heard it (or something very much like it) before. And we’ve also responded many times before. It’s sometimes easy to forget that for this student with this issue it might be the very first time, and every person and every situation is unique. Take the time to listen carefully with a goal of understanding.

 

4. Provide the back-story

I’ve found that when students feel like an assignment, an academic decision, a policy, or a course expectation is unfair or unwelcome, it’s usually because they’re not satisfied that there is a good rationale behind it. The trick is, how to communicate this without coming across as defensive, or worse, officious? I’ve found that the elicit-provide-elicit framework in Motivational Interviewing has been helpful in providing information to students: (a) elicit the student’s understanding of why they think I am proceeding in a certain way; (b) provide a brief explanation from my perspective; (c) elicit the student’s response (“What do you make of that? How does this fit for you?”).

 

5. Get excited

Everything in the world is inherently interesting. And everything in the world can be made incredibly boring. If I’m passionate about what I’m teaching, chances are some of that will rub off.

 

6. Don’t work harder than your students

Learning is active. It takes effort, involvement and application. If I’m at the front of the room lecturing and the group is passively listening, who’s working harder? It’s a challenge to create dynamic learning activities that engage students in co-constructing meaning, wrestling with new ideas, and trying out new skills. Admittedly, high quality curriculum design generally takes more work at the front end – so perhaps it’s more accurate to say “Don’t work harder than your students in the classroom”.

 

And yes, highly effective teachers have more than these six habits – but they’re a pretty good place to start.

 

schoolofwoods - Copy

We all go to school. Every day.

 

Tuition costs are highly variable, and sometimes paid a long time after.

Our teachers are many.

We’re teachers too.

 

Where is your classroom today?

 

candle tin dark

No one likes to feel incompetent, but how else can we learn?

Last week I had a conversation with a student (not one of mine) who approached me because she was struggling with an essay she had to write. The obvious question is “Why not go to your instructor to talk about this?” In response, she described how the author’s key points in the literary theory text that she was referencing were hard to grasp, and raised more questions than they answered. The material was so challenging that she was having trouble even framing clear questions. Because she prided herself on being a bright and engaged student, she felt like her inability to wrap her mind around this complex and highly abstract material would colour her instructor’s regard for her abilities. In other words, she valued his positive approval and she didn’t want him to conclude that maybe she wasn’t that smart after all.

Are you thinking “high achiever”?!

In the midst of our discussion two things became apparent:

1. Whether as instructors, managers or supervisors, we invariably tell students/staff/clinicians to come to us when they’re in difficulty. I’m certain that the instructor in this case told his students on numerous occasions that he’d be glad to connect with them outside of class.

2. What we don’t always do is lay the groundwork to make it possible for others to come to us with their questions, concerns or issues. This example made me wonder…what more could the instructor have added to create a climate in which students felt 100% safe to risk looking foolish, clueless, unthinking (and all of the other labels we often apply to ourselves when we’re in the weeds). And what more could I be doing in this area?

It’s a human trait to want others to think well of us. Yet paradoxically, it’s hard to advance our knowledge and skills without venturing into the realm of not-knowing. Our willingness to shine a light on our weaknesses or knowledge/skill gaps might just be the biggest determinant of success!

The next time I hear myself say, “Please feel free to come to me with any questions that you have”, I’m going to add something along the lines of:

“It can be hard to shine a light on things you’re not so good at, but how else do you get good at them? If you’re feeling less-than-competent that’s fantastic – it means you’re learning! What can I do to make you feel totally at ease approaching me?”

Of course, creating a climate of mutual trust takes more than a couple of sentences – it’s a way of being, communicating unconditional positive regard and respect. But making a point to explicitly affirm the value of positive risk-taking might help tip the balance when others are struggling.

Now back to the student – as she talked more about her ideas and interpretations of what she had been reading, she was able to answer most of her own questions. And then I shared my own learning (see above) with her.

Another good lesson: we all possess a powerful innate wisdom. And we all benefit when a caring other takes the time to evoke it.

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