Identifying the most important teaching skill to have as a modern educator is a tough consideration. Is it confidence or empathy? How about organization or creative thinking? All these are contenders, but what about a skill that could potentially include all of them?
We’re talking about the one singular ability that any teacher can’t do without. This skill will serve you (and your students) in many aspects of life. It’s certainly indispensable in the field of teaching, where stress abounds. That problem student? You need to be able to reach him. That bad day? You’ll need to recover from it and carry on the next. Unit plans not effective? You’ll need to change direction.
The teaching skill that accomplishes all this and more is the ability to turn things around. It all begins with your mindset.
The Art of Turning It Around
The teaching skill of being able to turn things around often starts with recognizing our own failure and then changing direction. For example, a beginning teacher may not believe in planning. They may feel that master teachers simply know how to improvise their way through a lesson because they know their material, and they want to emulate that.
In the beginning they start winging it. Last minute inspiration becomes their modus operandi. Most of the time it works, and a lot of times it doesn’t. Then one day their eyes are opened by their learners’ test scores and mediocre performances. The novice teacher thinks, “What gives? I thought I had been teaching.”
In reality, they were—it’s just that the kids weren’t learning.
This is a harsh but incredibly valuable lesson. As a teacher, you can do all the crisis intervention in the world, but ultimately nothing beats long-term planning. So if the teacher who has trouble planning wants to increase the times where their lessons are actually learned and absorbed, they need to employ that teaching skill of turning things around, and learn how to plan for success the right way.
Failure is not a label, nor a destiny. It is, however, a ‘not yet’ of a particular skill. ‘Not yet’ means you are capable and will get it eventually. Learning to plan properly benefits you and your learners in ways you can’t imagine. Like any other teaching skill, it can be learned and mastered to the best of your ability.
The Power of Planning
In order to succeed the best thing you can do is to commit to planning regularly, and this involves rethinking what the word means. Planning is not “writing in stone”—it’s about putting a plan in place with your best idea as to what’s most effective. If it isn’t working, you can then call on your improvising skill to change direction on the spot. You can also solicit advice from colleagues who have planning down to a science.
Start jotting down notes at the end of your lesson plan on what went well and what didn’t, and what you need to change for the next plan. In addition to this, strive to base your lessons on a larger plan. By turning things around, you’ll also acquire a new teaching skill—the ability to be committed to the plan yet be flexible enough to change directions. In other words, you can turn things around at will.
We are redefining and refocusing the nature of teaching in light of today’s digital natives and ubiquity of the Internet. Globalization and information overwhelm are new pieces of the puzzle. We teachers have to adapt and stay current, and we have so many tools now which help us plan and implement more efficiently.
Tools like the Solution Fluency Activity Planner help you do this. This system helps you identify the driving question of your problem-based unit and takes you through the thought processes needed to accomplish your goals. For the modern teacher, it’s indispensable.
Other Teaching Skills
As new teachers enter the field, everyone wants to know how to master the art of teaching and connect with their students in the most meaningful ways. The modern teacher utilizes planning tools to guide their students’ paths. At the same time, lessons can organically change as long as they are relevant and meaningful. The students can drive the lesson from their own interests
We talked about the teaching skill of turning things around. Next, we mentioned the importance of committing to a plan but being flexible when needed. Here are a few others:
- Master “Sticky Learning”: This is about making learning relevant to students’ lives. If learners can’t connect subject matter to their own lives, it will not stay in their memory. You have to find a way to connect concepts with their lives as kids. That which has meaning will ‘stick’ better.
- Know what came before: Kids come to us with all kinds of knowledge. If you assume everyone’s at the same level, you lose chances for allowing kids to show you what they might already know. When you pre-assess for prior knowledge you can be more of a facilitator and mentor. Honouring what kids know already gives them a ‘success’ right off the bat.
- Embrace repetition: Re-teaching must be worked into your planning. Kids need to examine things from different angles in order to understand something. Don’t just repeat; try different things.
- Master frequent instant feedback: The quicker and more often quality feedback comes to your kids, the better off they’ll be. Formative assessment is that assessment which occurs in order to plan further steps, not for a grade. We owe it to our kids to let them know how they are doing at any given time.
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