I’ve been thinking a lot about connecting with students lately. Part of the reason for doing so is that I am taking a graduate course on the Models of Teaching and Learning. The text for this course is set up in “families” of models and has been informative. Believe it or not, many of the models are familiar from either “default” usage on my part, or exploration of the models during my advanced practice nursing curriculum in pediatrics. However, one of the results from reading for this class is that the examples and outcomes are all very “utopian”. How I wish all teachers taught like what is described in this text-book! Exemplary and amazing are understatements! This feeling of unreachable model instruction was compounded by reading yet another text on Differentiated Instruction by Carol Ann Tomlinson for the same course. Both texts, filled with real life classroom examples from many grade levels, inspired me to reflect upon the best possible ways to teach content in garden club and writer’s circle and really have the students learn, or at least learn how to learn, which is a large focus of both books.
One recurring theme has been how best to connect with your students. I seem to have an ability to so this without much effort and reading these texts has caused me to wonder what happens to cause teachers and students be unable to connect. Of course, I am at an advantage in that as a non-formal educator, teaching and leading enrichment groups, I do not have the burden of assessment or even teaching to standards (although my lessons are pretty well aligned to the common core state standards). I can design my lessons to reach the students in any way that I see fit. In other words, I can be creative in the development of my lessons. Other that using project and place based learning, as well as advanced organizers, some direct teaching, and experiential learning are what I choose to use on a monthly basis. But, really what is it that helps me to connect to students? After some thought, this is what I came up with:
1) Approachability – my students know that I want them to ask questions, be curious, even be wrong in their theories about life science and all that we explore. They know I will not yell or demean them in any way for their curiosity. Some of my best units were developed because a curious student asked a hard question which I could not readily answer. What do I say when that happens? We will find out together!
2) Kindness – I love students. It shows. I am kind to them, no matter who they are.
3) Fairness – I have an innate sense of fairness and that comes across to my students. If I give one a break, or a hint, I will do that for all.
4) Passion – I am passionate about my subject matter. It shows. I’d like to think it is contagious, motivating the students to be in awe of the natural world as much as I am.
5) Conscientious – None of my work has been paid, but I still work and craft my lessons by researching how best to get the information across to the students in my groups, as if I were being paid a hefty salary.
In short, I have learned to invest in my students. Intuitively, by my words and actions, not because I am telling them, they know I want to be the best I can be, for them.
I know what not to do. By default, I’ve seen what not to do. Unfortunately, what not to do is still being done by many. Please do not call a student stupid because they asked a curious question or showed you they do not understand. There is really no room for sarcasm in a classroom, even at the high school level. Please do not assume that if they do not come to you for help, they are doing nothing to help themselves. Please do not label or categorize them based on their out of school interests, especially if they are things that you were not a participant in (sports, music, theater) and might not understand. Please do not assume the way you are teaching fits everyone’s learning needs in your classroom. Please. You are a teacher. You hold in your classroom the power to instill the love of learning in a student or turn them off. I’ve seen it happen, both ways. Please. Invest in your students. It will pay off. I’ve seen that happen too.