1) Content is not as significant as delivery of content.
I know I will raise some eyebrows with this little gem. No matter how well you know your content, if you don't take the learner into account, that content will remain with you. I had a GREAT education, but my most useful experiences came from learning about student engagement techniques. I also learned to trust my gut. I learned to know my students and what could reach them. I think we all know people who know their content, but do not know how to share that content. That is the key to great teaching: engagement AND content. It's a special recipe. When politicians and bureaucrats spout that anyone with a degree should be allowed to teach, I like to point out this little gem. Unless they take a hard core course in student engagement, they will not be teachers---period.
2) If you want kids to really learn and grow in your classroom, get out of their way.
I began my career in front of the classroom. I had perfect teacher outfits, heels, and the belief that I should direct all student learning. I taught as I had been taught, and I loved to control everything. Wow. I am glad THOSE days are over. If you're still the "sage on the stage" in your classroom, your kids are only learning within a window, a window that you present to the middle level group of your students. Some kids need to plunge ahead and explore; some kids need individualized attention, and while you are controlling the pace, only a few are really getting what they need. I learned (and this has been the magically delicious part of my world for the past decade) that facilitating student learning allowed my students to really grow. I had to make them the driver and me the facilitator/coach. It has been the most rewarding aspect of my career so far.
We all know that learning to work within a group or team on projects and problem-solving is essential to a career-ready skill set; however, until this year, I didn't really get it. I learned that as the facilitator, I had to TEACH kids how to work within a group. I spent a week helping kids find their role within our groups. I mentored the team leader (who was elected after each team member applied for the job). I helped each member find their unique voice and see how the the group outcome was a melting pot of their ideas. Team leaders learned special tricks of motivating their team through praise and planning. I gave them TIME to develop concepts and we evaluated the overall team work at the end through reflection. It was like a pink Disney dream. My students revealed why they hate group projects during our journey. On average, they revealed that group projects tend to happen like this: 1) They get assigned to a group. 2) They are never given enough time to work on the project in class. 3) They are just expected to find time outside of class to make things work. 4) Due to these issues, the motivated students complete the work assigned alone while the others take equal credit. We all would resent group projects like this.
4) Give your students the benefit of the doubt and treat them with dignity.
Don't you think this sounds normal? In a traditional school setting, it is not. Students have to ask to go to the restroom. We, as individuals, do not. Can you imagine if we had to call the office to ask to use the restroom? I have learned to make few rules and trust kids until they demand that I stop doing so. I am blessed, however, to be within my own building. I have 4 simple rules. I expect kids to show me, each other, and our equipment dignity and respect. This holds true unless they make poor judgement choices. It works really well. Keep it simple.
5) Let them know that they are not more special than others, just special to YOU.
I want my students to know they are a part of the BIG picture, a piece of the puzzle. Yes, they are each unique, but not more special than anyone else. However, I make sure they know they are special to ME. I get to know my kids very well. I know their quirks, their dreams, their fears. I watch them play football, give speeches, and sing. I meet their parents and share what they are doing. I invest in each of them. THIS is the biggest gift of teaching: meeting those emerging personalities and watching them blossom. It's priceless.
I am nearing the end of my teaching journey, but I wish I had known all of these things at the beginning. If you are beginning your journey, or somewhere within it, I challenge you to look inside and find the 5 most revolutionary realizations in a reflection of your career. It's worth the look in the mirror. Here's hoping for 30 more!