Things Teachers Need to Hear
It doesn’t matter what time of the school year it is; there are things teachers need to hear. Most times these things come from their administrators, sometimes from other educators, many times from students, and certainly from parents and anyone else interested in education. It’s a good idea to share things with teachers they should hear, because most times they don’t hear them, and many times never will hear them in a career. That shouldn’t happen. So, this post is a beginning, and hopefully followed by more posts of things teachers should hear.
Ask teachers what they think.
Teachers should be asked what they think far more often. Some are never asked at all, and that’s unfortunate—too many good ideas are lost that way. Certainly, in a week at school, an administrator or someone (more later) can touch base with all educators in some way, and ask their opinion about something specifically important to the school. If the answer requires more thought, well a simple “get back to me” with a definite time deadline works fine. This really should be a face-to-face question, too. Think of it as a teacher/student relationship for the administrator. The administrator has a class of educators, and that class is the entire school.
In your lesson today… I really liked…
Teachers need to hear about their teaching far more often than a planned observation. Observations really prove a teacher can prepare and demo a planned observation lesson, rather than handle a real working lesson with students—with spontaneity. The only way to do this is for administrators to become comfortably welcomed into every classroom. And the only way for that to happen is that visiting classrooms, teachers and students on a regular and consistent basis happens. Too often administrators are tied to their office desks and never get to say what they liked about a lesson, because they never get out to see it—and teachers never get to hear the words they need to hear.
Have you thought of this?
Teachers need to hear more than hello, how are you, and have a nice day. There is no reason why each teacher, each week, shouldn’t hear, “Have you thought of this?” Most teachers won’t know more than they know unless someone takes the time and thought to share something new, or different. It doesn’t have to be something huge either. It could be as simple as suggesting starting each class with an essential question and ending each class with its answer. Small suggestions are invaluable, and can make more than a teacher’s day. If an educator never addresses his/her students by name, just a simple suggestion to try, is a friendly conversational way to say everyone likes hearing his/her name. If administrators are comfortably accepted into the classroom environment, those suggestions are welcomed and teaching helpful, rather than seen as purely criticism. As in anything, we take for granted so much, and it’s quite possible that some teaching fundamentals may have been missed, or lost somewhere along the journey. Teachers need to hear, “Have you thought of this?”
It’s OK not to know.
Teachers really need to hear what they tell their students, too. It’s OK not to know something, and it’s OK to share that you don’t know something. This is especially true when teaching with technology. The teachers who have figured things out for themselves, and are considered the school’s instructional technology superstars are not the majority—at least not yet. The majority of teachers need to hear that it is OK not to know all the ins and outs of teaching kids with technology. Those are the teachers we need to embrace, and those are the teachers that will lead the education change—and it may all start with understanding that it’s OK not to know everything. The next step for everyone is different, but the next step needs to be taken by all—whatever that is. You need to understand and engage in learning what you don’t know.
Teachers need to hear that it’s OK to move on.
Teachers need to hear that it is OK to start at their teaching beginning, whatever that is, but it is not OK to stay there. If a teacher begins teaching at a whiteboard in a very direct-lecturing way, and does it well—then that beginning is fine. But if that teacher hasn’t moved from that first step after a few years of teaching, that teacher needs to hear that it is OK to move on, and also hear some suggestions along the way—in a consistent and helpful way. Again, if administrators are comfortably accepted in classrooms and what they say and suggest is seen as helpful, then the snapshot of a teachers first year shouldn’t look like the snapshot of the following years—and that goes for educators at every level of expertise.
There are many more things teachers need to hear, but we must recognize one constant. The constant is that whomever is in the administrative role needs to be comfortable in a classroom and comfortable talking with teachers, and patient enough to ask the right questions and able to guide change. Some administrators just aren’t prepared to do it, or have the time to do it properly or consistently.
Then, who could make it happen?
That doesn’t mean abandoning a good idea for improving teaching, student learning, and school culture. There are ways to make this happen. Many schools appoint a Lead Teacher, or someone with administrative credentials, but also has wonderful peer-to-peer teaching and collaboration skills. It is imperative for a lead teacher in a position like this to have a demonstrated understanding of instructional technology, but not the technology background of a technology specialist. This is a teacher—heart and soul—who uses tools for this century with students, daily, and knows how to share that with those, who need to know. Someone like that would be comfortably accepted in a classroom, and very able to say the things teachers need to hear. Look for a teacher’s teacher, who has more energy than most, and future-thinks in a positively creative way as an advocate for educators and students. Every district has these teaching gems, and they might just be waiting for a call to make an education difference.
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology experience, as well as a blogger on all things education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.