Thursday, January 13, 2011

If you listen, they will talk

I am a big fan of Field of Dreams and the line, “if you build it, they will come.” This line has been used as a metaphor for more things than I could possibly list and has been rephrased just as many times. Yet, here I am using it once again, “If you listen, they will talk…” This has been proven to me in two very distinct ways this past week.

The first example of this was a meeting I attended a few weeks back that was organized by a group of students. A group of 7th grade students held a meeting of students, two teachers, and an administrator. I was one of the teachers who attended this student meeting. In the meeting the students brought up what they considered to be “issues” in our school. These were not necessarily bad things, but were clearly related to their learning experience at our school. In some cases the topics that were raised were simply them asking for understanding about a school policy. In others, they challenged the way things were done with the focus on student learning and overall school experience. The respectful and mature manner in which they organized, planned, and conducted this meeting was simply amazing.

Yesterday this same group of students came to me and asked if they could hold more regular meetings where students discussed these issues as well as potential solutions. My first question to them was, “why”. I support their cause but wanted to make sure they knew why they wanted what they wanted. Their response was that they had experienced changes from our initial meeting and wanted more… They felt empowered and felt like they truly had a voice. In addition, they wanted to open it up to more students to have their voices heard as well.

I welcome discourse and conversation if the goal is to make the learning experience better for students. Some teachers are not comfortable asking students what they think and offering potential improvements. However, if you want to know if the learning experience is working, who better to ask than students?

With that belief in mind, I also experienced the power of listening through a parent email. I sent all my parents an email asking for feedback on the learning experiences of their children in my class. I had specific questions that were centered on various topics related to the work and overall experience. The parent perspective is one that is not often sought and yet highly valuable. Kids will tell me as the teacher one thing and a totally different message to their parents at home. Again, some teachers would not think of getting feedback from a parent. Although, who better to get insight from than the people who spend the most time with the learners in your room? They offered me insight that I would have never gotten from a student or other source for that matter.

So I end with this…”If you listen they will talk”. Give your students and parents an opportunity to voice their opinion and offer feedback. The comments you get may not all be positive and may not be what you want to hear sometimes. In addition, it may or may not make you a better teacher, but it will empower and involve the two most important people in our job. On top of that, if we cannot accept feedback and reflect on our own teaching with the intent of improvement are we being hypocritical when we ask our students to do the same thing?
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