Sunday, January 3, 2016

9 Pieces of Advice Every Teacher Should Ignore

Every educator has received their share of advice from many well-meaning sourcesother teachers, administrators, college professors, parents or even your students. You name it. You may have even received some of the advice on the list below. If so, you might want to ignore it.

1. "Don't Smile Till Christmas"

It seems every beginning educator hears this advice. Establish an authoritative presence in your classroom we are told. Be stern. Don't let the students see you as a real person until Santa has dropped a lump of coal in your stocking. Bad advice, right? Absolutely. While there may be a thread of truth to this sentiment, it is not good advice. The teacher needs to establish a leadership role in the classroom right away, but that doesn't mean we should frown. We need to smile in the classroom and start building positive relationships from day one. 

2. "Never turn your back on your students"

Now let's think about the assumptions underlying this advice. Do you want to be on opposite teams from your students? Or, should you work cooperatively and build positive relationships? If the classroom climate is so broken you can't turn your back, very little authentic learning will happen. 

Instead of this advice, try moving around the room, sitting next to your students, asking them questions, getting to know them, and investing in their potential.

3. "Give 'em an inch, and they'll take a mile"

Another piece of advice that assumes students and teachers are at odds with one another. This advice implies that teachers should be the unchallenged authority in the classroom. Every decision is the teacher's decision. 

Instead of using this approach, try this instead. Listen to your students. When they have valuable input, consider their ideas and requests. It's okay to bargain occasionally. When there is some give and take, it builds a feeling of positive intentions. 

It should also be noted, however, that teachers must be strong enough to say "no" when evidence suggests it's the best decision. Some teachers have trouble saying no to their students, and that is not healthy, either.

4. Be "Data-Driven"

This bad advice has been rampant of late. Educators are being asked to quantify all learning in the classroom on a spreadsheet. It's not even possible. We are spending our time focused on data points, instead of more important concerns, like our students. 

Please ignore this advice. Not everything that can be counted matters, and not everything that matters can be counted. Start with learners. Be learning-driven. Then you can use data to support and inform your decisions. Numbers are not evil. Data is not bad. But we should use it wisely and not allow it to become the driver.

5. "State your daily objective"

Even better, write the objective on the board. This classic advice for educators sounds great. But it's not. What's more important than stating your objective, or writing it on the board, is that there is evidence of an objective throughout the lesson. 

Besides, if you post the objective in advance, most students will largely ignore it or be confused by it, even if you try to say it in student-friendly language. And, when you spell out the target, you remove much of the mystery and curiosity that makes learning fun. 

It's much more effective to front load instruction with words and actions that help students feel connected and invested in what will be learned. Make it personally meaningful.

6. "Control" your classroom

How can you be a good teacher if you can't control your classroom, right? The problem is the word control. Some teachers think that to control your classroom means that you must be strict, threatening, or raise your voice in anger. These methods are not constructive.

The more you try to prove you are in charge, the more your students will try to prove you wrong. To the observer, a healthy classroom will seem under control, but it didn't happen by controlling measures on the part of the teacher. It happened because the teacher built a culture of mutual respect, clarified expectations, and provided consistent feedback to students.

7. "Avoid the teacher's lounge"

I'm not sure how many schools even have a teacher's lounge these days. In fact, I don't know of any teachers "lounging" at school. We were warned as young teachers to avoid any gathering of teachers where there might be a negative or unprofessional vibe. Even if there isn't a teacher's lounge, these gatherings still occur.

Avoiding negativity is not a bad thing, but wouldn't it also be great if more positive voices were brought into the pool of meaning. Better advice would be to learn how to stay positive, and have influence, even when other voices are blaming or complaining. With these skills, it's beneficial for leading teachers to interact with others.

 8. "Grade everything"

I'm not sure how common this advice is, but I know I felt I needed to grade everything as a teacher. That's how you show that the work is important. There are points at stake. And what's the first question students ask when given an assignment? "How many points is it worth?"

A much better way is to actually grade very few assignments, but give feedback on many. In fact, I believe something should happen with just about every assignment, but it doesn't have to be a grade. When we grade everything, it communicates that grades are important. When we give feedback, it communicates learning is important.

9. "Treat everyone the same"

What teacher hasn't received this advice? Or, heard a colleague proclaim proudly, "I treat all my students exactly the same." This usually means the teacher applies all the same rules and procedures for every student in the class regardless of the unique, individual needs of the student.

Instead of this rigid approach, we should base our decisions on what each student needs, not on all students being the same. It starts with empathy. Some students are dealing with hunger, violence, family trauma, or serious learning problems. The wise teacher will know how to adjust to help each student be successful, even if that means doing half the math problems the other students are assigned.

Bonus: "Stay Off Social Media"

There are still many teachers who are being told to stay off of social media, or to keep it completely separate from any part of their professional life. This advice is driven by fear that something could go wrong.

But social media is a great way to model appropriate digital citizenship for students. It's a great way to tell the story of a classroom or school, to celebrate learning, to encourage and lift up. And, most of all, it's a great way for teachers to connect with other educators to learn and share. 

Question: What other bad advice should teachers ignore? Leave a comment below or share on Facebook or Twitter.

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