By Tammy Davis
We all want our children in school, and we all want to be safe. Nobody is quite sure how to make that happen, but we do know the roles of teachers have never been more important. I’ve learned from many master teachers during my career. Their styles may be wildly different, but the best ones all share some common traits. We’ll call this master class in education, but most of these principles apply to all situations, not just the classroom.
Harsh Words, Gentle Delivery
Good teachers must have difficult conversations with parents and students. Years of experience has taught them that it’s ok for their words to be harsh, as long as the tone and delivery are soft. As long as the intention comes from a place of genuine care, the message can be as direct and detailed as it needs to be. This strategy works in almost all situations, not just the classroom. Mind your tone. Operate from a place of concern. Do that, and everything else falls into place.
Good teachers know how to command a room without raising their voice. You’ll never be louder than a group of kids so don’t bother trying. No, the best teachers simply stop and let silence do the work. After a powerful pause, they lower their voice and slow the cadence of their speech. I saw a teacher hold the attention of an entire fifth grade class while standing in the pitch dark on the streets of historic Williamsburg, Virginia. A logistical issue caused a delay, and the kids were getting restless. My co-worker gathered all 76 children to her by whispering, “Come here. Come closer. I need to tell you something important.” It was amazing to watch her herd them in. They listened attentively to her barely audible words. I stood in amazement as she distracted them until we were ready to carry on. In the classroom, on field trips, on social media, and in life, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all quit yelling?
It’s ok to send home a bad grade now and again, but the best teachers always reach out to the student and parent first. The “no surprises” philosophy applies across the board. Always give someone a heads up. Never let anyone get broadsided.
Connect and Empower
Early in my teaching career, I had trouble connecting with a student who struggled academically and was awkward and self-conscious. I never called on him in class because I didn’t want to put him on the spot. I went to one of my wise colleagues for advice. She taught me the value of setting students up for success, not just giving false praise but truly giving students the chance to show what they know. “Always look ahead at his work. Find a question that he got right and call on him for that one. If you can, give him a heads up. Just tap that question so he knows it’s his. He’ll pick it up quickly enough.” Genius. I would scan his work for something, anything, that he could share with others without being embarrassed. He learned that I that I expected him to do his work, that I believed his work had merit, and that he could count on me to always give him a heads up. That simple strategy gave me a way to connect with the child in a way that made him feel smart and safe.
Wouldn’t this world be a better place if we could all learn that lesson? At school and in life, what if we all set our friends and family up for success?
The next few weeks will be interesting, no doubt. Face to face, virtual, hybrid models, it seems everything is changing, but the basics of education stay the same. No matter the setting, we could all benefit from these four tried and true philosophies. Mind your tone and think about your intention. Quit all the yelling. Try to limit surprises. And, look for the good in those around you.
We all feel like there is a giant question mark on our planners. But if we can implement some lessons from the very best teachers, each day might be a little bit better for us all. Fingers crossed.
Tammy Davis is a writer and teacher finding lessons in everyday life. She looks forward to meeting her new students and seeing her former students very, very soon. Follow her on Instagram @tammydavisstories or subscribe to www.tammydavisstories.com.