Tag Archives: Relationships

What Students Want

Recently I wrote a piece about asking students for feedback, which I have since discussed with several friends who are also educators. Subsequently, I had a conversation with a teacher assistant who is working towards teacher certification. She had a few questions that made me smile because they were questions that I first had in her shoes many years ago, questions that I grapple with often. In light of this, I thought it would be helpful to outline a few themes that came through in the DP Psychology course evaluations from my grade 12 students. As their words suggest, students appreciate the following:

Opportunities to learn from each other

I believe that the world needs good people, and I believe that good people work together. They support one another, they work towards shared goals, and they do what is right for the benefit of the group. Schools are phenomenal places of socialization and I’ve learned that these are the lessons that carry outside of the classroom and into the real world. Therefore, one strategy I often use in class is “jigsaw” learning. Divide a task into pieces, share the pieces among the group, conclude the task in a way that requires all pieces to come together. For example, if an essay question contains three parts and then requires an overall evaluation, all three parts must be complete before the group can work together on the evaluation.

But what if he doesn’t do his part, or she completes hers to a much higher degree than they do?

Certainly, this happens. But this is where the framing comes in. When this is framed as an opportunity for students to learn from each other rather than just to complete a task, interaction is more positive. When jigsaw activities provide a means of sharing a range of examples and information in circumstances where there is choice in what students ultimately decide to study, sharing knowledge means that a student might find what a peer has to say more interesting than what they themselves had prepared. In this case, the student has some background knowledge when it comes to making the choice to study a different example than the one they were originally assigned. A student’s overall success does not depend on peers, but working as a group gives everyone a clearer point from which to start.

Real deadlines

I am a stickler for deadlines and have always been. Normal classroom interactions, regardless of grade level, are as follows:

  • “I didn’t finish this.” –> “Submit what you have now.”
  • “Can I have more time?” –> “Submit what you have now and if you’d like to make changes, you have until X time. At that point, I’ll mark whatever is submitted.”
  • “I’m not ready for this test.” –> “Give it a try and if it’s a disaster, we’ll talk about it.”
  • “Do we have to turn this in today?” –> “Yes.”

(Full disclosure: There are exceptions, but they are rare.)

When students ask, as they always do, why deadlines matter, the answer is straightforward:

Deadlines matter because everything operates within the context of a bigger picture. If the problem is procrastination (this is very often the case, and the issue of distraction due to technology grows more alarming with every passing year) postponing a deadline will not solve the problem. Instead, it will exacerbate the problem by creating a domino effect with other deadlines.

Deadlines matter because they allow teachers to catch significant errors when there is still a chance to fix them.

Deadlines matter because unlike the students I work with, who are going through the IB Diploma Programme for the first time, I actually do know how the two-year program works, where the areas of difficulty are likely to be, what to watch out for, and the fluctuations in work ethic that occur throughout. It is not my first time guiding students through this program and that expertise counts.

The easiest example of maintaining real deadlines is with the submission of my students’ replication of a psychology experiment, an internal coursework component that makes up 20-25% of their final official psychology grade. Many students complain about the deadline and protest that we are months ahead of the IB required submission date. Yes we are, I tell them, and you will have plenty to do between now and then. Invariably, every single year, we laugh at this before students go off on study leave. They are always glad that this task was one more thing off the to-do list that never ends.

Organization

A number of years ago, when I moved into a school system that was fully integrated with technology, I started keeping daily plans for my students on blogs and websites with links to all of the resources we would need for that day. This evolved to include search functions, folders of resources, calendars, key words tags, and useful external links. Parents love it because class becomes transparent, and students love it because they know exactly what to do when they’re out and they know where to find everything we’ve ever done in class. When revising for an exam that covers two years of coursework, knowing where to find materials is especially useful. If I am organized, it takes that cognitive load away from my students and allows them to focus on the aspects of learning that require their individualized attention.

My students also wrote about how helpful it was to learn how exam questions are constructed, to begin every unit with a revision document that we filled out in sections throughout the unit, and to follow the same patterns and procedures over and over again. By the end of the course, our psychology key ideas organisers should contain absolutely everything students need to study. And I have heard from students over and over that while there is a lot in these documents, they work.

Thoughtful use of time

I think that one of the reasons students complain about school is similar to one of the reasons adults complain about meetings – they feel that their time is being wasted. I am all for teachers developing a rapport with students. This is critical to creating environments conducive to learning and and to getting to know one another as people, which is essential for working together. However, there is a time and a place. There is a time to laugh and joke, a time to tell a quick story, and a time to spend a few extra minutes on one topic over another.

On the other hand, classroom time is limited and there is a lot that is important to do during that time. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and get caught up in tangentially related ideas, or to spend too much time sharing an interesting story and not enough time following the plan for the day.

We all know that it can be fun to get distracted in class, for teachers as well as students, and I have learned that students appreciate when teachers have an eye on this. There is always a lot to do and it is the responsibility of the teacher to make sure that it gets done and to make sure that limited time is used well.

A general sense of security

Overall, I think this comes down to the message that students appreciate actions demonstrating that teachers know what they’re doing and are working to help students achieve their goals. They want to know that teachers make decisions based on what works for students, that teachers are consistent, and that their time in school is valuable. They want to be treated with dignity and respect – and don’t we all?


Shortly after I wrote the first outline for this blog post at the beginning of April, this article came out. It says in better words, backed up with research rather than anecdotes, what I am trying to say here. “Calm, clear, and kind” are the themes that come through. And again, isn’t that what we all want in our interactions?

“Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think.” – Hanna Holborn Gray

Hints

I have just done a rare thing, which is why it bears mention: I have just made a second cup of coffee.

This is strange for me. My coffee drinking habits are pretty simple – a cup in the morning. Maybe a cup in the afternoon on the weekends if I’m reading or writing in a café, or if I’m meeting a friend. There were some mornings at my previous school where a coffee connoisseur department mate would offer me a cup and, depending on the status of my first cup, I might accept. He really did make delicious coffee. I’ve been on enough school trips to know that I’m just fine without it, but I so enjoy the ritual of a cup of coffee in the morning. And I just made a second.

I’m thinking.

I’m thinking about loss, about learning, and about where I might be getting things wrong even while I’m trying hard (maybe this is the problem) to do everything right.

I’m thinking about a colleague-turned-friend, and I’m wondering if that’s where I got it wrong. Maybe we remained colleagues. Maybe that’s where it ended. Maybe “keep in touch and don’t be a stranger” fell short of genuine. Or maybe not. Maybe life has gotten in the way, maybe there’s a long to-do list full of weightier priorities, maybe no one is counting weeks except me because it’s my world that has changed.

Or maybe I just can’t take a damn hint. There’s that possibility, too. Maybe I went wrong somewhere and unresponsiveness is a tap on the shoulder. I haven’t ruled that out.

This leads me to once upon a time, over four years ago now, when I was (according to me, at least) abundantly explicit about a specific set of choices. And I know someone who was clearly shocked when I proceeded to do exactly as I had said. Maybe I hadn’t been as clear as I thought, or maybe actions and words were misaligned, or maybe I was that clear. Maybe I did do the right things, and maybe the message just wasn’t received by someone who didn’t want to receive it.

The mind and heart must remain open if we’re going to understand what others have to say, even if we don’t like it.

The brain is protective. It hides us from things we don’t like, especially those that threaten our self-esteem. It makes extensive use of quick, intuitive thinking (System 1, for fans of Tversky and Kahneman) to get us through most situations. We get into trouble when a specific set of circumstances actually requires slower, more rational thought than our brains, wired for efficiency and avoidant of hard work, are willing to give it.

So I made another cup of coffee. I am trying to slow down and think. (We could address the irony of this substance – a stimulant – as a means of slowing down to think, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

The danger of thinking, in this case, is overthinking. Am I thinking too much when the best way to be is to just be and let life unfold? Am I thinking too much because I don’t want to get this wrong, because I don’t want to feel sad, because I don’t want to be in the position of wondering how, with the information I had, I could have understood differently? Maybe. I haven’t ruled it out.

In some ways, impulsivity has been beaten out of me. This could be an effect of age or experience, and is likely a combination of age and experience (they are, after all, positively correlated). But my sister has long cautioned me against my tendency towards over-caution and in this sense, I think she’s right. Numerous inspirational quotes spring to mind here but a simple question suffices: “What do you have to lose?”.

If being who I am raises eyebrows, I’m not going to gain anything by being someone else. If trying, with the best of intentions, to be honest about that is objectionable, at least I’ve given it a chance. It’s hard to be someone else; I’ve tried.

With the coffee almost done, I can report that I’ve concluded nothing. But I can also rest assured (at least, according to my brain that is designed to protect me) that I have acted in the best ways that I could. And if that’s not good enough, or if that’s not preferable in the given context, there is nothing else I would have honestly done. To act differently would have been a lie. It is possible I made a mistake, or two or twenty, but that happens. That is bound to happen. Mistakes come from trying and while I might not like the result, at least I have tried.

Weimar, Germany – August 2021

Better

Be the better person.
Be the bigger person.

Must we compare?

Is it not enough to be better than I, myself, thought I could be?
Is is not enough to be better in order to
be who I thought I could be.

Want to be.

To be the better person means to look at the other and think,” There is a reason you are doing this. You are insecure, inadequate, selfish, self-righteous, lost, hurt, afraid.”

To be better means to grow internally, to choose me over you.
To be better means to do what is right because it is right
and not because you have put me there.

To be better is to act;
to be better than is to react.

A choice?

Not really.

A statement, always.
To me, a statement.

No one else is listening.