My Students Helped My PD Teaching

I’ll let you in on a secret. I was a philosophy minor in college. Of course, my education major took top billing. But, every so often, my bank of otherwise impractical philosophy knowledge comes in handy. Given the opportunity, I’ve been known to dust off a couple of little gems that have relevance in a particular situation. One of my favorites is from the Greek Philosopher Aristotle who was the founder of the proverbial “everything happens for a reason” mantra.

It was a day. You know, we’ve all had them. You’ve pulled out every last teacher trick in your arsenal, but your kids are just “off”. Is it because it is a week away from winter break? Or perhaps because there is palpable excitement over a student handing out invitations to everyone in the class for her upcoming bounce house birthday party?

After spending a good portion of the day looking outward, I realized it was time to look inward. It was me. I was the one who was “off”, nervous about the PD seminar I was leading later that day. If I couldn’t harness the interest of a room full of eager eight-year-olds, how was I going to manage managing a class of my peers?
And then, I thought, “everything happens for a reason.” The reason for my challenging morning was the things I needed to learn at that moment to make my teaching stronger and my students more supported, regardless of their age.

     1.    Meet Your Students. Whether you are teaching to a room full of kids, adults or somewhere in between, it is imperative to understand your students. That is true whether it be a room full of strangers or students who you have taught for the better part of four months. After lunch and some reflection, I decided to take a ten-minute break with my students to find out what was on their mind. We collectively decided that a one minute timed “wiggle and stretch break” every hour would help them disperse that excess energy in their overstimulated minds. Similarly, at the start of my PD class, I took the opportunity to understand the state of mind of my peers. To accomplish this, I had each of my colleagues provide a single word to describe their day.You know what? They wound up needing that “wiggle and stretch break” too, except this time we did it to Rappers Delight. Having this information, relating to my students, and providing a reaction to their feelings allowed me to carry on with my lessons without unnecessary distraction.

     2.    Catch a Vibe. Every class has a vibe. The way your students interact. The manner in which they collaborate. And how they help one another to further their skills. Even how they react when one of their peers may not be having their finest moment. Don’t be afraid to catch the vibe. Do the wiggle dance with your students. Build off their excitement. You can also use it as an opportunity to acknowledge their feelings and sometimes redirect the vibe or their behavior.

     3.    Provide a Roadmap. Most of us don’t get in the car and just drive. Even as the passenger, it helps us to know where we’re going. Let your students in on your secret. Allow them to understand what you are teaching, the reason why and what they can expect to accomplish. A syllabus for a PD class and a list of daily objectives for your students can work wonders.

     4.    Be Flexible. While road trips are wonderful, so is the unplanned stop at the scenic overlook. The key to successful teaching is one that provides structure but allows for adaptation. As an expert in your field and the leader of your classroom, you need to give yourself permission to deviate from a scripted plan. Whether taking a wellness check with my class or taking a deeper dive into a content area during my PD session, those side routes allowed for a more enriching learning experience.

     5.    It’s Okay to Not Know the Answer. While our students often see us as all-knowing, it is also okay to not always have the answer to astudent’s question. Take it as an opportunity to model humility. Depending upon the situation, you can also crowd-source an answer. You’d be surprised what students may have to offer. A perfect example of this was when a colleague during our PD session asked how he should address a challenge that he had faced in his classroom. While my gut reaction was to just make something up, instead, we were able to brainstorm as a group to come up with a solution to the question raised.

As Aristotle taught us, anything we learn, we learn by doing it. After practicing these five techniques on both by students and then my educator-students, I think he might just have a point.