When I was a freshman in college, I was fortunate enough to have several professors who didn’t wait until the end of the semester to engage me in a conversation about what I was learning and how their efforts were helping or hindering that process. The fact that my teachers cared enough about my learning to ask me such questions inspired me to begin taking myself seriously as a student for the first time in my academic career. This practice also began to challenge my perceptions of what it meant to teach well. Thanks to the examples set for me, when I finally became a teacher myself, I began each school year by learning as much as I could about my students interests and needs, and I continued to ask for their feedback about how well I was serving them throughout the year.
Some of my colleagues thought this was pretty courageous. Others thought it was naive. I’ve never regretted doing this though, and I’ve never stopped doing this either. I don’t know how to be a good teacher in any setting without this kind of input from the learners I’ve been called upon to teach. And incidentally, in nearly twenty years, not a single one of them has ever responded in ways that were cruel or inappropriate. In fact, the most helpful feedback I’ve received as a teacher has always come from my students.
When I began planning this series of posts on self-advocacy, I couldn’t help but remember the first teachers who ever invited me to advocate for myself and the simple but powerful example they set for me.
- How do you get to know your students at the beginning of the year?
- What have you learned they need from you in order to be successful?
- How often do you ask them to provide criteria-specific feedback about your practice and how it is (or isn’t) serving them well?
- How have their responses shaped your work?
Inviting learners to advocate for their needs doesn’t have to consume a tremendous amount of your class time or professional energy. Making these efforts can forge a powerful connection between yourself and the students you serve, though. Paying attention to the things they say and responding to what they request of you can create powerful shifts in your practice, as well.
Imagine being that teacher who helps kids realize that what they think matters and what they need is important.
Imagine inviting them to share their thoughts and needs so often that they notice when other teachers do not.
Imagine kids working to change that reality as they move though their school careers or as they become teachers themselves….because of you.