Anyway, Angela Maiers (someone worth following if you don't already) offered up a list of 12 things kids want from their teachers. So my top three things a great teacher can do are these: 1) listen; 2) make your expectations clear; and 3) remember it's always, always, always, always about the kids.
- Greet your students each day. Really, how hard is that? How hard is it to acknowledge your students as individuals?
- Smile. Again, it's not really all that hard to smile, even if it's only now and then. Sure, maybe you wanna be the tough guy teacher, and that's fine. But even tough guys smile every once in a while. It won't hurt.
- Give them your attention. I think this is a corollary of the first one. Making eye contact, asking them questions that are more substantial than "How are you?" and actually listening to the answer. Not hard. Perhaps you worry about how much time it will take. But this of it as an investment. You take the time to invest in them at the beginning of the school year, what's the likelihood they will trust you more and be more willing to be responsive to you as the year continues.
- Imagine with them. This will cause some cracks in the facade for some folks because some kids will imagine some really wacky stuff, but this goes back to what I think is the first and most important quality of a great teacher: listen. Hear what wacky stuff they imagine because it will give you more insight into the students as individuals and that will help you as you think about ways to make your expectations very clear and how you make sure your classroom is student-centered.
- Give them challenging content and assignments. Oh the places they can go if you trust them to step up to your expectations, if you provide the support and encouragement they need, if you listen to their concerns and help them learn how to manage, even overcome, those concerns.
- Ask about them. See #1, #3, and #4. Kids will be blown away when you say stuff like, "Wow, Marcus. I hadn't thought about that. What prompted you to imagine that?" But also ask about them. Start small. For example, if they play any sports, there are all kinds of questions you can ask that aren't necessarily personal but open the door for you, and them.
- Let them have time. Some educators will remember when "wait time" referred to several seconds as opposed to a few nanoseconds. Yes, give them time. It's their learning and that learning may not always happen on your preferred schedule. Sometimes you may have to slow down so you can go faster later.
- Demand of them. See #5 and my observations about expectations. They can surprise you and we do a tremendous disservice to our kids but not giving them the benefit of the doubt and by setting our expectations too low.
- Notice them. See many of the preceding. Notice the kid in the back of the room who spends most of the time giving you the stink eye and, mostly likely, feigning indifference. At some point, if you're student-centered, that kid is going to react in a positive way and you need to see that. Not make a big deal of it, but acknowledge it with some small gesture that you noticed. There are lots of ways to notice kids without being creepy. They just need to know that you know they're in the room.
- Let them ask the questions. Again, they will surprise you. Sure, you'll get some weird questions and the some to which you won't know quite how to respond. But you'll also get some impressive insight. Go ahead. I dare ya.
- Engage them. Through most of the above, you will engage them. You will let them know that this time together is about their learning and their growth.
- Trust them. And when you trust them to begin to take ownership of their learning, to be invested in what they learn and how they learn, you'll see a difference. And when you show them you acknowledge them as individuals, that you see them and hear them as individuals, and that you will listen to them and begin to expect more of them, they will trust you, too.