Observe with Mind & Heart
“No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.”
― Paulo Freire
The most challenging experiences I have had as a teacher have occurred when I needed to change or adapt some aspect of my classroom practice. I have noticed that when students fail it is because there was a disconnect between what I taught, how I taught it and what my students actually needed. This disconnect was also the cause of many sleepless nights for me. For example, I’d have a knot in the pit of my stomach every Sunday night knowing that Monday I had to go into work and try to help my students.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
When I was at Zombie High, I had students who were not traditional learners. Meaning they were not learning through just reading or just lecturing. Group work worked for some students while for others it was distracting so I had to plan accordingly. I planned for times in which I was working with each student on a one-on-one basis. Then there were times I worked in small groups of 2 to 3 students. However, this structure became clear to me after observing my students and having students-teacher conferences.
The observations I planned occurred during class time and students were either working independently or when I was reviewing a lesson with them and I noticed skill gaps. The student-teacher conferences consisted of me sitting with them in class and reviewing class assignments, grades and I used this as an opportunity to get to know them during class time and I’d take notes on a student-teacher conferencing sheet I created (see it below).
On the record I had their name, the date I observed them or conferenced with them as well as the period and class they were in. I also included their grade level because I needed to keep track of the seniors I had. In addition, I tracked their attendance so that I knew who I needed to conference with if they were absent on the day I wanted to meet with them. I also had their reading level in order to remembered how much support they needed when I reviewed something with them. I tracked their progress on the online curriculum we used and if they were not progressing I would provide the proper support to help them along. In the notes section I jotted down concerns the student or I had and any behaviors I was noticing. I had a parent or guardian contact reminder as well. I also asked them how they were feeling and if they needed anything from me such as tutoring or snacks. If they always wanted snacks it let me know they were hungry and I asked if they were eating at school. This process took one to two weeks to complete and I did it once every 4 to 5 weeks. I noticed that my students felt more comfortable with me after implementing this structure and I was able to provide more support to students because I was making an effort to speak with them.
While I was conferencing with a student the rest of the class was completing independent work but they could help each other out. After all this was the opportunity for students to work on soft skill development such as advocating for themselves and asking for help from classmates. I had also established expectations before starting student-teacher conferences so we could reduce misunderstanding as much as possible. However, there were always those students who were distracted and I made the effort to manage them as much as possible. But if students needed my help help I’d pause the conference and help the student. Then I would return to conferencing.
I call this process of observing and conferencing with my students Observing with my Mind and Heart because I needed my student to see and feel that I am seriously going to help them. Some of my students have had horrible teachers who punish them instead of find ways to make them feel successful and connected to learning. Thus, they have a tendency think teachers are disingenuous and are only teachers for a paycheck. This process also changed how I saw my students. I had the bad habit of thinking that my students who did not do any work were just lazy. But I came to understand that when one of my students did not complete an assignment, it was not because they were lazy, rather it was because they did not understand it. So, I used student-teacher conferences as opportunities to reteach concepts and allow students to make-up missed work when possible. School, after all, is for learning not punishing!
For those who really like to geek out on pedagogical practice I planned for independent work, group work and incorporated our online curriculum, videos, learning games and audio when possible. I did this because my students need multiple methods of learning concepts. I also made sure to incorporate multi-tiered systems of support especially with students who were English language learners, had IEP’s, 504 plans or needed any other type of support. Also, student-teacher conferences creates a positive relationship between students, their teacher and increase a sense of belonging in school. Research from the Belonging Project at Stanford Stanford University explains that a sense of belonging has positive mental health and physical health benefits,
Observing with my mind and heart was, at first, not easy to do. It required a shift in my mindset. I had to reflect on what I was doing in my profession. Was I an educator or was I just collecting a pay check? I concluded that I am an educator. To purposely allow students to fail is bad karma. It is also damaging to our society because failing means you do not have the skills necessary to find the jobs needed to get ahead in life. Thus, we need educator who are willing to do what is right not what is easy. Thus, I take my 21st century professional practice seriously.
21st century professional practice: Student-Teacher Conferences
This method of observing and supporting our students allows for us to build positive relationships with our students so they feel they belong and want to learn. Scan the QR code for access to the Google Doc. Remember to make a copy and personalize it.
Questions or concerns? Send me, Anel, an email at: email@example.com