Tonight, after our friends had left for the night and before another batch of friends showed up for a late-night chat around the fire, I asked my children who their favorite teachers were and why. After they shared the names of their favorite teachers and told me a little bit about their experiences with those teachers, I asked why they chose the teachers they chose. I was as interested in what they said as I was in what they didn't say.
Overall, they said that they liked their teacher because he or she helped to build their confidence. They left that particular grade feeling better about themselves than when they went in.
What wasn't said is that they liked their teacher because he or she was nice or fun.
I probed a little more. How does a teacher help to build your confidence? I was really curious about this piece especially when it came to my daughter. In elementary school she had been a quiet student. My guess is that she enjoyed blending in. Her work was stellar (it helped that she was older for her grade) and she took school very seriously but she wasn't what I'd consider a student-leader. Now she is heading into eighth grade. Yikes! When I reflect back on those years in my own life it is with a little bit of a cringe. They were awkward years dominated by feelings of uncertainty especially when it came to my friendships and academics. However, my daughter has only grown in confidence. Her personality has really blossomed. While she does put tremendous pressure on herself to do well and measure up to classmates, she does take risks and is an active learner who is comfortable sharing what she is thinking.
Anyway, one of the ideas that both kids cited was that the teachers who built their confidence called on them a lot. Interesting. I asked if there were times when they were called on when they didn't want to be. They both acknowledged that there probably were but that because they were called on so often and got positive feedback, they weren't upset when they were called on and had to provide an answer that they were unsure of. This makes sense to me.
What can I learn from this conversation? It is important for me to give my students as many opportunities to get their voices in the room as possible. Providing adequate think time and then giving students an opportunity to share their thinking is really critical. It also holds students accountable for the thinking. Fewer students, when asked to consider a concept, make a connection, solve a problem, etc. will just sit there if they know that they are going to be held accountable for their thinking. If they know I'm going to be calling on them to share their thoughts they're more apt to think so that they will have something worth sharing. Also, it is okay if I'm calling on kids who are not raising their hands. Helping kids to think about their thinking (metacognition) is an important part of helping children to develop as thoughtful learners. Developing this Habit of Mind sets kids up for a more successful future where they are capable of thinking deeply and are able to communicate with clarity and precision.