Rather than plop a number or letter on something a student labored over for weeks, consider an on-going conversation that helps drive learning throughout the process.
As teachers and leaders, the most valuable tool we have is the relationships we develop with our students and our team and the level of honest communication we hone to impress success upon them. From the inception of an idea to the completion of the product, there are dozens of ways we can promote confidence and push learning.
It starts with being open and promoting that truth to students. Don’t just say it, mean it. Provide a means for students to be in touch when they need help and make sure to be available when they ask. Whether offering an email, a social media account or a phone number, students should have access to their teachers. Boundaries shouldn’t be clear, but providing office hours and leading by example can be an easy way to open communication and foster conversations.
Don’t be the only expert in the room. Promote other strong students as a viable first alternative to the teacher’s feedback. Students should always elicit feedback from peers and teachers can develop this culture by developing it in class. Expressly teach students how to provide meaningful feedback by setting up stations and other workshops where students can practice important skills that will support their success in the space.
Have hard conversations with kids, in a frank but meaningful way and always provide a strategy for a solution. Kids respond better to critical feedback if they know there is a way to improve what they have done. It’s not good enough to say this isn’t correct. Tell them why and then also give them a strategy for strengthening the learning. If the work deems it, make sure the conversation happens in person rather than just written or commented on a draft. If in-person time is not possible, consider voice applications like Voxer that will promote faster, two-way communication. Our voices are gentler than words on a page. Consider the message and then the best way to send it, because it matters.
Praise is important when growing strong relationships with students, but it has to be genuine. Empty words deflate the purpose and also water down the real compliments when they come. So if you have something to praise, be specific and show students that you’ve been paying attention. The more you notice, especially nuance (not just in their learning, it could be in their demeanor), students appreciate and this kind of communication helps relationships flourish.
The most essential adult connection between a student and his/her learning is the support he/she gets while experiencing something new. Students are more likely to take major risks in their learning that will help them grow if they trust the person facilitating learning in their space. Be what you profess to be and transparently share your own successes and challenges. Appreciating not only the honesty but the humanness will deepen learning and communication. If a student knows that his/her teacher struggles and they can connect in that way, that student will try harder to get it done.
There are many ways to communicate learning with learners whether they be students or teachers. Whether providing comments on Google docs, sending Voxes or short videos, teachers and leaders have many means to effectively communicate with their learners. We need to know our students well enough to select the best means for each one. Know how your students like to hear feedback and then do your best to provide it in that manner.
In what areas can you improve communication with your students? Please share
*This article was originally posted on Starr Sackstein’s Education Week blog in 2018.