I had a fantastic brainstorm meeting with an extremely talented educator and colleague Maya Foster (@MayaFoster4) where we decided to summarise our vision for a teacher’s daily priorities, the order they should be placed into and how we could get teachers to reflect on their own practice in regard to them.
We developed an idea that Maya had sketched out on paper which placed the student at the heart of successful teaching and highlighted assessment as the last thing an effective teacher should be considering. We both agreed that many teachers start with the assessment and work backwards towards considering the students as individuals. This leads to very uninspiring and often un-motivating classrooms. I’ll break our discussion into its four components but here’s the graphic:
Priority One: KNOW YOUR STUDENTS
Spending time to build a strong understanding of exactly who each student is can save time in the long run. Students who feel genuinely appreciated will perform better throughout the school year and just knowing their name isn’t enough. The more you can connect with a student around a personal interest, the more a student will work with you and respect your ideas. This will make everything else much easier. Using the school’s data to find out which areas or school they are strong in can also help build a more useful understanding of how to design activities for the class.
Priority Two: PEDAGOGY AND ACTIVE LEARNING
You might know your students but you won’t get every student to engage with your content unless you have a variety of sound pedagogy at your disposal. Successful pedagogy leads to student engagement in the content without constant teacher oversight. The careful design of activities and tasks tailored for the specific students in the room can reduce the energy required by the teacher in the classroom. I have covered in previous posts my belief and findings that any lecturing does not attain the the assumed outcome of all students engaging in or listening to the content. Make sure your students are active and working together to challenge the content with deeper thinking.
Priority Three: KNOW YOUR CONTENT
Successful teachers bring any content to life. This is done by knowing the students, using appropriate pedagogy and the linking the content to current affairs, the students’ culture, other subjects being studied or its relevance to the future. All topics can be made relevant. Throughout history, humans have showed a wonderful talent for sticking to about 5 core themes, such as, greed, love, war, innovation and charity. If your subject is not directly linked to modern developments like the sciences might be, then it will always parallel something going on in the students’ lives or the world at large. Make sure you are reading-up on the developments and stories relevant to your subjects. Make connections and place the content in some kind of real context. Disconnected content leads to disconnected students.
Priority Fore: Know your assessment.
Yes, the assessment should be the last consideration, but sadly is often a teacher’s first. Worrying about tests and marking guides can suck the joy from both teaching and learning. That said, it should not be completely ignored either. Make sure the requirements of the assessment are known early in the course and ensure the classroom activity allows the students to explore and challenge the content whilst being able to relate it to the demands of any future assessment. One trick is to use Flipped Teaching to relieve the pressure from worrying about whether you’ve mentioned every detail. The students can then access that detail in their own time.
Priorities for success
Too many teachers worry about assessment and grades and in doing so actually do damage to the success of many students. Many, if not most high school teachers are still subject first, teacher second. This devotion to content can lead to a devaluing of pedagogical ideas and a reduction in genuine engagement from all the children. I say genuine because ‘good’ kids will always play the game but if you get your teaching priorities straight, more students will love learning.