A student once more…
After fourteen years of teaching I was understandably tired and depleted and needed to bring some freshness into my teaching. So, I took some time off work and attended a short course on education at a graduate school in New Hampshire, USA.
After joining the graduate school in New Hampshire role reversal from teacher to student was a significant change and helped me view things from a completely different perspective. I have tried to cull five major general learnings that could be useful to others in the profession.
Physical space matters – Classrooms are extremely structured both in terms of space and purpose. As multi-tasking teachers, we are so engrossed with our lesson plans that we don’t consider enhancing the physical settings that we operate in. The arrangement of chairs and desks is the last thing that draws our attention. However, minor modifications can have a significant impact on the classroom interaction. In the graduate school, the teachers would often re-arrange the seating guided by the activity of the day. For example, the chairs were arranged in a semi-circle when there was to be a discussion in the class. They were arranged in rows the day we had to compose individual essays. As a student, the physical set up helped me to psychologically orient to the task at hand. For example, sitting in a semi-circle and facing other students did help in creating the right atmosphere for an informal discussion.
Variety matters – We as teachers have a very difficult job as we teach the same content year after year. We have to constantly innovate to maintain freshness in our teaching. Besides the lectures and discussions, it was wonderful to be exposed to a variety of teaching methodologies such as field trips, videos, interaction with subject matter experts, role play, etc. Each method brought a unique insight because it focused on a different aspect of a particular topic. I was delighted to see that some classroom time was allotted for individual assimilation. For example, some of the teachers often laid out books connected to the topic and we were given time to browse through them. An insight during one such browsing session germinated into a huge project once I was back in my classroom. That individual time for reading was crucial to digest all the information that had come my way earlier.
‘Doing’ matters – Classroom study can be mentally rigorous as we tend to focus on the cognitive skills of the students, ignoring other forms of intelligence like musical, kinesthetic, spatial, etc. In the graduate school there was a lot of activity based learning, such as garden landscaping, acting, bookbinding, monologues, etc. Every activity involved a different set of problems which required different skills (not just cognitive ones). One had to use (and develop) one’s interpersonal, spatial, kinesthetic skills, etc. to deal with the tasks at hand. All this made learning more engaging, personal and interesting.
‘Human touch’ matters– I was a foreign student entering a session mid-way and so naturally there were some jitters on how I would fit in. However, I must say that I felt very welcome and safe in the classrooms. Both the teachers and students were extremely kind, considerate and helpful. Despite their busy schedules, the teachers took time to interact with me at a personal level and we shared some wonderful conversations. In our classroom set up we tend to focus on ‘the class’ as an entity and not much time is spent individually with each child. However, a personal interaction with each student can go a long way in helping the child feel accepted and psychologically comfortable. A one-to-one relationship with each child also helps teachers to guide them effectively.
Mindset matters – The single most important theoretical concept that I picked up from the course is ‘growth mindset’. The term was coined by Dr. Carol Dweck and describes a particular mindset that helps people in their development. When our underlying beliefs do not allow us to move forward then we are operating under a ‘fixed mindset’. The ‘fixed mindset’ promotes status-quo. A person with a fixed mindset believes that one is born with a certain amount of intelligence or capacity and they can’t do much to change that. The feedback from teachers and parents is crucial in shaping these mindsets. As teachers we can help the child acquire a ‘growth mindset’ by giving them honest realistic feedback and at the same time teaching them that intelligence and capacity are malleable and can grow. There are some specific feedback strategies that help in this endeavour and can lead to a marked improvement in motivation and achievement.
Payal Adhikari has been teaching English and History in both urban and rural schools for the past 14 years. She is keen on enriching the classroom experience and creating a holistic learning environment for the children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can follow the author’s tweets on education, history, culture and heritage on Twitter @Payal_swar