20 Simple-yet-meaningful Things Educators Can Do Every Day
The year was 1999.
Bill Clinton was in the White House, Austin Powers was in movie theaters, and Ricky Martin was “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” And while it received much less fanfare than the aforementioned topics, something else happened in 1999: I was about to become a teacher.
While I felt prepared to take on my new challenge, I, like many new teachers, was also hopeful that somehow within those first few weeks, I’d be able to discover that one “big thing” that would catapult me toward becoming a real teacher.
Fast forward to today.
It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally come to the realization that there is no one “big thing” that will suddenly transform a teacher into one of those wise educators that they make movies about. But I’ve also learned something else in that time. It’s often the small things that teachers do for their students that end up leaving a lasting impression.
So, as I prepare to dive into my 20th year of teaching, I share 20 simple-yet-meaningful things teachers can do every day to improve the classroom atmosphere for themselves and their students.
- Arrive early. I know things can be hectic in the morning, but getting to class 20 minutes before your students walk in gives you an opportunity to organize your thoughts and lay out any required materials for the day. Plus, taking care of these issues before class means you won’t have to do it during class, giving you more time to focus on your students and the learning.
- Greet your students at the door. A smile and a fist bump (or, for the adventurous, customized handshakes) not only start class on a positive note, they allow you to make a personal connection with every student.
- Create an engaging and relevant lesson plan. No matter how much you know about your content, it doesn’t mean much unless your students find it relevant and are excited to learn about it.
- Vary your teaching methods. Let your students discuss their ideas in small groups, bring in guest speakers, and provide real-world experiences (along with other methods) to help them better understand the topic. Try to limit direct instruction to less than 15 minutes at a time.
- Praise each idea. Presenting your thoughts within a group can be scary, so you need to make sure you let your students know that you appreciate their effort each time. Doing so will model how to be polite, and it will also invite them to share more in the future.
- Trust your students to do what’s right. Many teachers tell their students that they trust them, but very few show their students that they feel this way. Allow them to do a take-home exam or to grade their own test in class. My philosophy is to “trust ‘em ‘til you bust em,” and if given the opportunity, your students will likely exceed your expectations.
- Provide assessment options. Rather than the traditional one-size-fits-all final exam, provide students with a range of options that allows them to demonstrate their understanding of the content. And for those looking to take it to the next level, give students a “do something that impresses me” option. I think you’ll be more than pleased with the results.
- Lead by example. Be on time. Be prepared. Do your best. If you want to see those things from your students, you need to show them how it’s done.
- Plan out your transitions. Many classroom disruptions that arise occur during those pesky one- or two-minute transitions between activities. Planning out what your transitions will look like is an effective way to keep those problematic issues to a minimum.
- Incorporate opportunities for daily movement. When students sit too much, they get bored. When they get bored, they cause disruptions. To help eliminate this, make sure you include multiple opportunities for students to move during class. Even simple things like a turn-and-talk or walking up to the board to write out an answer can reap positive results.
- Support them outside the classroom. Want your students to be interested in what happens within your classroom? Show an interest in them outside of it! Talking to them in the hall, asking them about their weekend, or supporting them at an extracurricular event goes a long way in building “street cred” with students.
- Let them do a self-assessment. The big fear on this one is that students will inflate their grade, and then you, as the teacher, will have to play the “bad cop” and lower it. From my experience, students are more critical of themselves and their effort. The key element to this is to make sure students are clear about the expectations of the assessment prior to the assessment itself.
- Always over plan. Every second of your class should have a clearly defined purpose. You know bad things happen when you let students “talk quietly” for the last few minutes of class. Plus, if you multiply all those wasted minutes over the course of a year, it suddenly turns into wasted days and weeks.
- Don’t talk too much. You shouldn’t be the only voice in the room. And if you’re not sure how much you talk during a class, record yourself and keep track how often you speak. But be prepared, it’s usually more than you think.
- Send a positive email home daily. Too often, the end of the day comes with a feeling of exhaustion. To offset this, try sending at least one positive email to a parent before leaving school. This will make you, the parent, and most importantly, the student you are referencing, end the day on a high note.
- Have fun with your students. Try to find opportunities to laugh, play, or even sing with your students on a daily basis. And trust me, the worse you sound, the more your students will enjoy it.
- Be emotionally consistent. It’s hard enough for students to keep track of their own emotions, so don’t complicate it even more by making them keep up with yours. Generally speaking, things aren’t as good or as bad as they first seem, so try to keep any mood swings in check.
- Do a wrap-up. The bell going off should not be your closing activity! Make sure you schedule a few minutes at the end of class to clarify questions, give reminders about homework, or to informally assess if the learning target was hit.
- Thank students at the end of class. In order for a student to be successful in class, they need to listen, share, collaborate, and engage in a range of activities each and every day. An effort like that deserves to be thanked.
- Reflect often. Regardless of whether something worked flawlessly or failed miserably, take a few minutes each day to reflect on why things ended up like they did. There is something to be learned from every situation.
As you make your way through the school year, just remember that it’s not about doing that one “big thing,” but it’s about doing those little things. Best of luck in the new school year!