"One of the greatest needs of the human spirit is to be inspired and to inspire.”
This quote from leadership expert Lance Secretan gets at the heart of what it means to be an inspiring teacher. We did not choose this profession to make sure that we covered an entire textbook in a year. We became educators to help students find the joy in learning and discover the power of knowledge.
With the increased standardization of student assessment and curricular content, it can sometimes feel like there is no room left for wonder, curiosity, or inspiration in our classrooms. But we at Infinite Horizons firmly believe that the mandates of the Common Core are absolutely not a barrier to creating classrooms that INSPIRE our students. If we notice that some of our students are apathetic or “unmotivated," weIl we should reflect on what Lance Secretan tells us about the difference between motivating and inspiring others. When we attempt to motivate another person we are trying to get him or her to do something that is in OUR interest (raise test scores, for example.) Motivation attempts to change a person through external incentives. It treats the symptoms, and we all know that it is NOT working. If we truly want to reach our students, what they need from us is INSPIRATION! As Lance says, “We inspire when we love what we do, we love the people we do it with, and we love our reason for doing it. Love powers inspiration.” To support you in engaging your students while still meeting your standards, we have created a list of top ten ways to create an inspiring classroom.
TOP 10 WAYS TO CREATE AN INSPIRING CLASSROOM:
10. POST STANDARDS AND BENCHMARKS IN STUDENT-FRIENDLY LANGUAGE: Students don’t really care about Standard 2.54 or “can do” objectives. However, the human brain responds to knowing “why” and students respond to knowing what they are expected to learn. Posting the BIG IDEAS you want them to learn in student-friendly language helps keep wonder and curiosity alive. (FYI, collaborating with colleagues to rewrite standards into BIG IDEAS makes it more fun for you, too.)
9. CHUNK AND CHEW: The brain needs time to process and makes sense of new learning. One of the best ways to keep students engaged is to break your lessons into small chunks of instruction, and then give students time to process or chew on the information in small groups, with a partner, or on their own. When planning remember this, “For every 10 minutes you teach something new, the brain needs one or two minutes to chew." The chewing is where the learning is happening.
8. MIX IT UP: Though the standards are non-negotiable, the path to get the students there can vary! Mixing up the modalities of instruction will keep the content fresh and exciting for you and your students. (See the “Resources” on our website to find learning style and multiple intelligence surveys at your grade level.)
7. OFFER CHOICE: When “checking” or assessing understanding, allow students to choose how to show what they’ve learned. Perhaps one student is best able to express his understanding of a concept in poetry; whereas another might prefer to create a detailed poster display. Concepts become more meaningful when students are able to engage with the material in the way that best suits their learning styles, interests, and talents.
6. GET PERSONAL: Share your own stories and challenges around learning. It’s inspiring for our students to know that our journeys have not been perfect. Sharing your own struggles with your students helps them to realize that your classroom is a “risk taking, mistake making” kind of place. Nothing great is achieved without some bumps along the road. (See “Resources” tab for a Risk-taking poster for your classroom.)
5. BE PASSIONATE: Students know when you truly care about what you are teaching. (Recall the qualities of teachers who inspired you.) Passion for your subject matter and learning is expressed differently by each of us. Honor your own style of passion, and let it shine through in what you do. Remember why you’re teaching what you’re teaching. Students can feel your passion, and it’s contagious!
4. MAKE IT FUN: Rigor and fun are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to have fun around deep learning. Find ways to spice up your instruction to keep yourself and your students inspired.
3. GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS: We need to understand who our students are socially, emotionally, culturally, and academically, because each of us brings our whole self into learning. By keeping student needs in the forefront of our minds as we design our lessons, we inspire our students to become individuals who know and value themselves as learners and who can assess their own growth. Kids don’t care what we know until they know that we care. Fair2
2. CREATE COMMUNITY: The brain learns best in a supportive, safe environment. We must create a community of learners who respect, value, and learn from the diversity around them. As a student, it’s inspiring to know that your teacher cares about you, but it’s even more powerful to know that every one in the class supports you and your learning. (Download a “Fair is not the Same ” Poster for free on our website.)
1. FIND YOUR OWN INSPIRATION: Teaching is beautiful, wonderful work, but it can also be exhausting. There’s a good reason why flight attendants remind people to put the oxygen mask on themselves first before assisting others. You can’t inspire when you are nearly expired! Find ways to regularly fill your own cup back up. At least once a day, stop and smell the roses. Watch a sunset, sip a cup of tea, practice mindfulness, count your blessings and be grateful for all you have.
Article Credits: Michele Leip, with Kathleen Kryza