The biggest shift in the early part of my teaching career came when I came across a blog post (author since long forgotten) about how another teacher became not only happier, but also more successful with their students’ learning when they focused more on what the students were doing and less on what they were doing. They figured that the big problem for them up to that point was that they were doing so much more work for the learning of the students than the students themselves, and this was backwards. It did not matter how much work they put into their lessons, their lessons were more teacher focused than student focused.
This changed how I viewed things myself since I was feeling burned out and was not looking forward to another week of hard work for not enough student gain. I realized that I was focusing too much on what I was doing and not enough on what the students were doing. It didn’t matter how well I could explain that topic or idea, it did not matter what media I used or what I did, it mattered what the students were doing. I mislead myself into thinking that I was being successful since it seemed like a great discussion was happening each day, but that discussion was between me and a small number of students. Most of the students were bystanders in the learning that was taking place.
At that point I decided that if I was doing more work than the students, then I would be the one learning but I wanted them to learn. I changed things around and made sure that I was not talking more than them, that I was not asking all of the questions, that I was not the only one thinking about how to solve some problems. I gave the students more control in the class, gave them problems to solve and I would only occasionally guide them but not lead them. My job was not to dictate what they learn but help them learn what they could.
I even made sure my classroom reflected this change by making sure I was not the sole focus of the room, that the students were focused on each other. If all of the seats pointed to me, that mean that I thought I should be the focus of learning and that is wrong. The students need to be the focus of the learning. You can walk into almost any classroom you want and tell right away who is the focus of the classroom, the teacher or the student, just by looking at how the seats are arranged.
Not only did this change give me more energy but the students were learning better than ever. This may mean that not every day seems to run smoothly but that is not the focus, the focus is on the student being an active participant in their learning and not a bystander to a lecture or a “discussion”. To see how you are doing, compare the amount of time you are talking to your students, compare how many times you ask a question versus them asking a question, compare how much time the classroom learning is dictated by the students and not your pre-determined path set by your lesson plan. Great learning will take place when the learning is really centered on the student, not on us.