With twenty years of experience navigating the rewarding yet demanding path of teaching, I have found myself continually evolving, not just as an educator, but also as a learner. After several years in classrooms, shaping young minds, and now as a scholar and researcher in the field of education, I’ve had the privilege to explore the intricate landscape of teaching from multiple perspectives.
The journey from chalkboards to interactive whiteboards, from textbook-based teaching to an era infused with technology, has been transformative. Through these experiences, I’ve garnered a wealth of insights into effective teaching practices.
Along the way, I have continually sought to distill and refine the essence of effective teaching. As such, I’ve gathered ten critical pieces of advice that have proved invaluable in my career as an educator.
These aren’t simply theoretical ideas, but practical tips that have been tried, tested, and honed over time. These guidelines encompass the various aspects of teaching, ranging from relationship-building with students to the incorporation of technology, and from offering constructive feedback to the often neglected practice of self-care.
Teaching advice points at a glance:
1. Build Strong Relationships2. Set Clear Expectations3. Encourage Active Learning4. Foster a Positive Learning Environment5. Differentiate Instruction6. Keep Learning7. Incorporate Technology8. Teach Beyond the Textbook9. Give Constructive Feedback10. Take Care of Yourself
10 Key teaching advice points
Here are ten teaching advice points to help you in your instructional practice:
1. Build Strong Relationships
Establishing strong relationships with students is the cornerstone of effective teaching. The essence of these relationships extends beyond just the formal teacher-student dynamic and delves into the realm of genuine human interaction. This necessitates showing an authentic interest in students’ lives beyond the classroom.
Inquiring about their hobbies, interests, and general wellbeing not only makes them feel valued but also encourages a positive attitude towards learning. It helps in building an environment where students are more willing to express themselves freely, leading to a better understanding of their individual learning styles and needs.
Listening to students’ concerns is equally crucial in fostering strong relationships. By offering a listening ear, you provide students with a platform to voice their worries, frustrations, and challenges. This can pave the way for crucial conversations that lead to solutions, accommodations, or helpful advice, contributing to an overall more effective learning process.
2. Set Clear Expectations
Setting clear expectations for both behavior and academic performance is an essential component of successful teaching. When students understand what is expected of them, it reduces uncertainty and provides a clear framework within which they can strive and succeed.
These expectations should extend to all areas of the classroom, from how to behave during lessons to how to approach assignments and tests. By explicitly stating these expectations, you provide students with a roadmap for success in your class. They know where the boundaries are, and they understand the goals they should be working towards.
However, simply defining expectations isn’t enough. Consistency is equally as important in maintaining these standards. Inconsistencies can lead to confusion and can undermine the teaching and learning process. By being consistent, teachers reaffirm the importance of the set standards and ensure fair treatment of all students. It also creates a sense of security, as students know what to expect day-to-day.
3. Encourage Active Learning
Active learning is an educational approach that seeks to fully engage students in the learning process, rather than have them passively receive information. The ultimate goal is to make learning a dynamic experience, stimulating higher-order thinking and deepening students’ understanding of the subject matter.
To encourage active learning, teachers should design lessons that are interactive and prompt students to think critically. This could be achieved through various teaching strategies like group discussions, problem-solving exercises, hands-on experiments, or even educational games that ignite curiosity.
These active learning strategies provide students with the opportunity to ask questions, make predictions, and draw connections between different concepts. Asking questions stimulates curiosity and can lead to further exploration of the subject matter. When students make predictions, they’re forced to apply what they’ve learned in new ways. And when they’re encouraged to draw connections between concepts, they can see how different pieces of information fit together into a coherent whole.
The end result of such a teaching approach is a student who is not just a passive recipient of information, but an active participant in their own education. A student who can analyze, synthesize, apply, and create knowledge, is a student well-prepared for the challenges of the 21st century.
4. Foster a Positive Learning Environment
A positive learning environment is key to effective teaching and successful learning. When the classroom feels safe, supportive, and engaging, students are more likely to participate, explore, and take risks in their learning. This involves creating an atmosphere where students feel physically and emotionally safe, knowing they can express their thoughts without fear of ridicule or judgement. A sense of mutual respect and understanding should permeate every interaction, both between teacher and student and amongst the students themselves.
A positive environment also celebrates students’ achievements, regardless of how small they might seem. Acknowledging progress and effort is a powerful motivator and helps students recognize their own learning growth. Celebrations of success foster self-confidence and can fuel a desire for further learning.
Yet, it is equally important to recognize that learning often involves mistakes and failures. Encouraging students to persevere and try again after a setback fosters resilience and an understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, but a stepping stone on the path to achieving it.
5. Differentiate Instruction
Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching that acknowledges and caters to the diversity of learners in any classroom. Recognizing that each student is unique, with distinct learning styles, interests, and abilities, is central to this approach. Students come to class with differing levels of prior knowledge, varied learning preferences, and they certainly don’t all learn at the same pace. As such, a one-size-fits-all teaching method falls short of addressing this multiplicity of student profiles.
Differentiating instruction involves tailoring your teaching strategies to meet these varied needs. It might mean adjusting the content you teach, the process through which students engage with that content, or the product that students produce to demonstrate their understanding.
For instance, this could involve presenting information in multiple formats to cater to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. It might mean providing enrichment activities for students who have already mastered the material, while simultaneously offering focused instruction for those who need more support.
Effective differentiated instruction requires an understanding of each student’s readiness level, interest, and learning profile. It’s about ensuring that each student is challenged just the right amount – not too easy to induce boredom, and not too hard to cause frustration. It’s about giving every student an entry point into the learning and a path to success.
6. Keep Learning
As an educator, the quest for knowledge should be never-ending. Teaching is a dynamic profession, with new research, methodologies, and technologies continually emerging. This necessitates that teachers become lifelong learners themselves, consistently seeking to broaden their knowledge and improve their skills.
The world around us is evolving rapidly, and to ensure relevancy of instruction and to prepare students for a future that’s yet to be defined, teachers must stay abreast of the latest developments in their field.
Continued professional growth can be achieved through various avenues. Attending professional development workshops is one effective way of gaining new knowledge and skills. These workshops often cover a range of topics, from pedagogical techniques to content-specific knowledge, and provide the opportunity to learn from experts in the field.
Reading educational research is another means of staying informed about the latest findings related to teaching and learning. It can provide valuable insights into effective teaching strategies and emerging trends in education.
Equally important is learning from peers. Colleagues can be a wealth of practical knowledge and experience, and collaboration fosters a professional community of shared learning and support. This can involve formal activities like co-teaching and mentoring, or more informal sharing of ideas and experiences.
The key is to maintain a growth mindset, being open to new ideas, willing to take risks, and viewing challenges as opportunities for learning. Ultimately, by continuing to learn, educators model for their students the value of lifelong learning and instill in them the same passion for knowledge that they themselves possess.
7. Incorporate Technology
Incorporating technology in education, often referred to as EdTech, can significantly enhance teaching and learning when used thoughtfully and appropriately. With the proliferation of digital devices and the internet, the traditional boundaries of the classroom are being redefined, offering myriad possibilities for enriched learning experiences. However, it’s crucial to remember that technology should be used as a tool to support learning goals, rather than as an end in itself.
There is a vast array of educational apps, online resources, and tech tools available that can make lessons more engaging, interactive, and effective. For instance, digital content platforms can provide access to a wide variety of resources, such as interactive lessons, videos, and simulations. These resources can be used to introduce, practice, or review concepts in a way that is engaging and interactive.
Moreover, technology can support differentiation and personalization of instruction. Adaptive learning platforms can tailor content to meet each student’s individual learning needs and pace, providing immediate feedback and allowing students to learn at their own pace. Other tech tools can help students collaborate on projects, conduct research, create multimedia presentations, or develop other 21st-century skills.
Importantly, as digital citizens, students also need to learn how to use technology responsibly and safely. This involves teaching them about online etiquette, privacy, and the importance of critically evaluating online information.
8. Teach Beyond the Textbook
Teaching beyond the textbook is a concept that goes beyond simply delivering content knowledge to students. It involves helping students understand how what they’re learning in the classroom connects to real-world applications. This approach does not diminish the importance of textbooks or the knowledge they contain; rather, it emphasizes the idea that learning should extend beyond these resources, into practical, relevant experiences.
Textbooks often provide a structured path to understanding key principles in any subject area. However, they can be limited in their ability to engage students’ interest and show the relevance of what they’re learning to their daily lives or future careers. By connecting the curriculum to real-world scenarios, teachers can enhance the learning experience, making it more interesting, relevant, and engaging for their students.
For instance, a math teacher might demonstrate how algebra is used in coding or graphic design. A science teacher could connect lessons on sustainability to current environmental issues. An English teacher might show how persuasive writing skills are vital in advertising or political speeches. These real-world connections help students understand why what they’re learning is important, increasing their motivation and engagement.
Teaching beyond the textbook can also involve leveraging a variety of resources, including digital media, guest speakers, field trips, and project-based learning, to enrich students’ understanding of the topic. By making learning more contextual and relevant, teachers not only deepen students’ understanding of the subject matter but also equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the world beyond the classroom.
9. Give Constructive Feedback
Giving constructive feedback is a vital part of the teaching process. Feedback serves as a communication tool that helps students understand their strengths and areas for improvement, offering them a clear path towards progress. It should be more than just a correction of errors; it should provide guidance and support, encouraging students to reflect on their learning and take ownership of their improvement.
Constructive feedback involves recognizing and reinforcing what students did well. This positive reinforcement helps to build confidence and motivation, affirming students’ efforts and acknowledging their progress. It’s not just about praising results, but also effort, improvement, and the application of strategies or skills. It helps students understand what effective strategies they should continue using or develop further.
However, constructive feedback also involves offering clear, specific suggestions for improvement. Rather than merely pointing out a mistake, it’s important to explain why something was incorrect and provide guidance on how to improve. This might involve demonstrating the correct method, suggesting a different strategy, or posing questions that encourage students to think critically about their work.
The aim is to provide feedback that is honest but encouraging, that helps students see mistakes as part of the learning process rather than as failures. This approach to feedback supports a growth mindset, fostering resilience and the understanding that learning involves taking risks, making mistakes, and continually striving to improve.
10. Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of oneself is an often overlooked, yet critically important aspect of being an effective teacher. The role of a teacher can be emotionally and physically demanding, with long hours, high-stakes responsibilities, and the emotional labor that comes with caring for and educating a classroom full of students. Amidst these demands, it is essential for teachers to prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance to sustain their well-being and prevent burnout.
Self-care involves engaging in activities and practices that promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This might include regular physical exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and making time for relaxation and leisure activities. These practices help to reduce stress and maintain physical health, improving one’s capacity to handle the challenges of the job.
A healthy work-life balance, on the other hand, involves setting boundaries between professional and personal life. This could involve allocating specific time for marking and lesson planning, as well as time disconnected from work to spend with family, pursue hobbies, or simply relax. Finding this balance can prevent overwork and allow teachers to come to school refreshed and ready to engage their students.
Furthermore, seeking support when needed, whether from colleagues, friends, family, or professionals, can be a valuable part of self-care. Teaching, while rewarding, can sometimes feel isolating. Having a strong support network to share experiences, discuss challenges, or simply decompress with can greatly contribute to emotional well-being.
Teaching is more than a profession – it’s a calling, a responsibility, and at times, an adventure. Over the course of my two-decade journey in this field, these ten pieces of advice have been instrumental in shaping my approach and guiding my practice. They reflect not just the essence of effective teaching, but also the heart of it.
However, as important as these insights are, it’s crucial to remember that teaching is a highly personalized endeavor, one that requires constant learning, adaptation, and growth. While these guidelines offer a foundation, the art of teaching truly comes alive when you blend these principles with your unique teaching style, values, and personal experiences.