June 6, 2011

When I lead teaching seminars, I often start out with a quote and a challenge that I hope tie together well enough to give the audience members something to ponder.

The quote is: "Teaching does not come from years of doing it. It actually comes from thinking about it." Your teaching, I believe, will not get better simply by ongoing repetition. Too often, bad teachers stay bad teachers year after year until they retire (often with an established list of rationalizations). Teaching gets better when people sit down and think seriously about what is going on in their classes, why it is happening in that way, whether they like the result, and—if not—what can be done differently. I am always reminded of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you do something in class that does not work as you hoped, don’t just do it again and expect better results.

The challenge is: “Work to become 5 percent better as a teacher over the next year.” I consider that a reasonable and worthwhile goal. No one is going to become 50 percent, or even 20 percent, better as a teacher in one year. But, 5 percent is a goal that I think everyone can achieve. And, if you meet that goal for a few years straight, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you become one of the best teachers at your school. Evolution does happen.

Many of us do not teach during the summer making this the ideal time to think about teaching. A brand new school year is coming up in the fall. What do you need to work on? What elements of your teaching need to be evaluated and retooled? How are you going to make 5 percent improvement? Surely, there is some aspect of your teaching where you can get better.

One of the things that I like to do is break teaching down into its various components and then consider them individually. Many times, I will work on one single component of the learning process rather than try for across the board improvement. What are some of these components?

--How often do you want students to be prepared for class and how do you get them to do the preparation that you want? Does this preparation stress critical thinking? There is a big difference between: “why does a lessee want an operating lease?” and “write down the four criteria for a capital lease?”

--How do you get all of your students to participate in class and not just the most extroverted ones?

--How do you introduce a new topic into class without just telling the students about it (lecturing)?

--How do you move from a mechanical/memorization based class to one where students truly are pushed to understand?

--After material has been covered in class, how do you encourage students to continue spending time on it until they understand it fully? Class coverage is rarely enough to establish complete knowledge.

--How do you encourage students to learn on an ongoing basis and not just to prepare for tests?

--How do you test in a way that encourages students to learn and not just memorize?

--How do you grade so that students are challenged without being overwhelmed, encouraged without everyone getting an A?

--I led a discussion this past Friday where I stressed I I E E – involve, interest, engage, excite. How do you add those verbs to you class?

There are lots of components to this learning process that we deal with each day in our work lives. Today is June 6, 2010. Think about the components of your teaching and pick one or two to focus on over the next 12 months with the goal of using that thinking to help make yourself 5 percent better as a teacher. Come back on June 6, 2011 and hold yourself accountable. What did you actually do? What did you try? Did you get better at those components of teaching and did they make your overall teaching 5 percent better?


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