Every educator out there brings with them distinctly different personal and professional experiences that shape their teaching in very unique ways. The beauty of teaching is that we are all different. However, in saying this, it is important to understand that despite these differences, there are common strategies and approaches that many great educators put into practice with regularity in their teaching. And it’s these strategies and approaches that can have a profound impact on student learning.
Over the past several years, I feel lucky to have visited several schools and observe many excellent teachers in action through the consulting work I have done. Through these visits I’ve learned so much about what it is that great practitioners do that make a difference in student learning. I’d like to share what I believe to be 5 habits highly effective educators put into practice on a consistent basis in their teaching. I’m sure there are many other excellent habits I could add to this list, but for now, I’d like to share just these 5 in no particular order.
It’s not enough to just create visuals of student thinking and learning but to do so in kid friendly language. I’ve seen many teachers create visuals in the past but often times this is done in a language that is very difficult for many students to understand. Simply printing off IB documents and sticking them up on the walls does nothing to enrich the learning space in classrooms. It is very important that the visuals posted reflect student understanding of the IB values and the learning taking place within the program of inquiry at their school. As well, another critically important feature of making thinking and learning visible is to create visuals using language and images that the students can grasp and understand. Everything that is posted on the walls of the classroom should add value to their learning journey.
Below are just a few ways that great teachers unpack the learning process and make it visual in their classrooms. These visuals can be done using chart paper and marker or using digital tools that help to capture student thinking and learning.
Great educators all have unique ways in which they make student thinking and learning explicit and visual, but the common denominator of success is that they take the time to fill their classroom space with colorful posters and visuals that captures student thinking and learning.
These ways of visualizing help to keep students on track with their learning journey and can be used as a reference point when helping students to better understand the expectations required during the unit itself.
Often times it’s these emotional hooks that serve to inspire and motivate students to take action in regards to their own learning during a unit. It helps them to thoughtfully engage and reflect on the topics and themes being explored in the unit itself.
Prior to the beginning of the unit, these powerful provocations are well planned out and always coupled with a driving question that helps to get the students thinking deeply about the topic or theme(s) being explored in the unit. The provocations used are not meant to capture just awe and wonder but to also tap into each students sense of compassion and empathy. When engineered correctly these provocations can have a huge impact on student learning from the very start of the unit and be used as a springboard for diving into their journeys of inquiry.
As the units unfold, great teachers also used mini-provocations with regularity in their teaching on a lesson-to-lesson basis. The mini-provocations used help to provide students with further emotional hooks that spark their continued curiosity and desire to learn more about the unit being explored.
Highly effective educators get as much value from this process as the students do and constantly strive to find provocations that will best challenge and inspire their students to take action on their own learning. Skilled teachers use these provocations to help draw out what students believe to be true about a topic or theme and challenge these ideas in order to reveal inaccuracies that ultimately help to further their learning. Students often remember powerful provocations for years afterward which speaks volumes for the emotional impact that it had on their learning.
Great teachers are voracious consumers of books, podcasts, magazines, newspapers, and other sources of knowledge. The highly effective teacher loves to find joy in learning outside their industry and to bring whatever gems they can back into their own teaching practice. Although they are always driven to develop sound pedagogical knowledge and deep learning of specific subject areas that they teach, reaching beyond the realm of education itself is also a rich and meaningful endeavor to these educators.
They are able to uncover insight and inspiration from outside the world of education and somehow find ways to apply it to their own learning when it comes to improving upon their daily practice in the classroom and their ability to collaborate with their colleagues. The highly effective educator understands that being a genuine lifelong learner is highly dependent upon looking outside the box of education itself in order to expand upon their toolkit of skills and knowledge. They consistently reflect on this learning and always bring it back to the world of education and the work that they do.
Highly effective teachers understand that their physical, social, and emotional well-being are all closely intertwined and consistently attempt to strike a balance in their lives in this regard. They recognize that being at their best is directly dependent upon creating specific routines and patterns that help to maintain and/or deepen their states of well-being.
How do they better achieve these states of well-being? Usually this is done through regular physical activity such as running, cycling, walking, yoga, hiking, or other recreational sporting endeavors. Many of these educators put different types of meditation and mindfulness practices into action in their lives which help to increase their levels of productivity and well-being and decrease anxiety and stress. Carving out quiet time and better identifying the need to find solitude is also a major factor in maintaining and deepening states of well-being. The highly effective education is able to better design time and space to build this quiet, reflective time into their regular schedule.
These educators are always able to find that ‘just right’ balance in their lives that enables them to not only maintain and/or deepen their well-being, but to ultimately have a much more positive impact on the students under their care and guidance.
Highly effective educators use language in a way that encourages their learners to think more clearly about their intended actions. Very rarely do you hear students asking for permission in these types of classrooms, instead you often hear students stating what it is they ‘intend’ to do and being able to justify their choices. When unsure of the student’s intentions, the teacher is able to dig deeper and ask questions that help to better specify what it is the student would like to do. They are able to nudge them on to the right path but do so through putting specific language and questions into practice.
Teachers who foster an empowering culture in their classroom admit their errors, model respective language use, avoid criticism at all costs, and allow the voices of their students to shine through. There is a strong sense of warmth, kindness, and encouragement that helps to build a solid foundation for self-directed, autonomous learning and to ultimately increase levels of trust in the teacher-student relationships that are developed.