We are teachers. We have to think on our feet at every moment of the day. It’s what we do. It’s part of our job. Just like actors on the screen, good teachers make good teaching look effortless. It looks so easy that a passerby might even think, “I could do that!” But honestly, it takes a lot of work to make the art of teaching appear almost effortless. The power of good instruction comes from tapping into every opportunity to engage students.
Every moment in the classroom presents an opportunity to learn. However, most of those opportunity don’t come from the teacher – they come from students. As humans, we are social beings. Students are no different. That’s why they are constantly asking questions, even if they aren’t always on topic. They discuss things they are passionate about with classmates. They freely share information about their family, sometimes too much information. These are all opportunities to engage. But, do we take advantage of it? Do we see that side conversation as a class disruption? Or do we tap into it as an opportunity to engage?
As teachers, it’s hard to disengage from the content at hand. We have state assessments to prepare for. We have pacing guides to keep up with. We cannot afford to lose a moment of instructional time. So, it’s hard to deviate from our script. But while we are preparing students for their future and staying on pace with our curriculum, are we paying attention to our students? By embracing teachable moments, we let students know that we are not only listening to them, but that we are truly hearing what they have to say. We are letting them know their thoughts and ideas matter. We are validating that their passions and interests have value. By taking time to interact and directly engage with students, whether it deals with our content or not, we have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. We provide them with an audience for the things they find important. Content and pacing are important, but letting kids know you value what they have to say could be even more critical to their success.
Good teaching is not magic. There is no secret formula for success. There is no how-to manual that can be followed. So what do good teachers do differently? They put the focus on their students. They find ways to make their students look good. Their students success is their success. When their students look good, they look good. So many teachers worry about how their objective is worded or how creative their weeklong project looks to others. Some will even put on a dog-and-pony show when it’s time to be observed. Good teachers don’t stress about how they are viewed by others. Success isn’t measured by their performance. It is determined by student success. Having a clearly worded objective is great. Designing creative projects for students is wonderful. But if you don’t take time to find out if your students are actually learning, then what’s the point? Waiting for an end of year state assessment to let you know what your students have learned isn’t going to help you teach the children you have in your classroom right now. If you want to know what your students know, ask them. Talk to them. Engage with them. Show them that you care about their success by taking time to appreciate who they are as individuals. Be in the moment with your students. You will find that every moment is a new opportunity to understand the people who enter your classroom each and every day.
Sean Junkins is an Instructional Coach at Whittemore Park Middle School in Conway, SC. He is a former Social Studies teacher and Instructional Technology Specialist. In 2017, Sean was named an ASCD Emerging Leader.