Empathy is something we aim to develop in the field of education, and many school administrators are leading the way by not only observing teachers but also teaching classes themselves. In this way, they can connect to the challenges that their staff face on a daily basis and better support them.
As teachers looking to empathize with our students, we can easily do the same and put ourselves in our learners’ shoes by following the simple steps below:
Pair up with a colleague at your school and find the times when one of you is teaching and the other is on a prep. so that you will be able to teach one another’s classes. The goal will be to have your colleague teach your class while you sit in as a student and vice versa.
Plan a lesson with varied activities and groupings (individual task, group task, etc.) for 2 to 3 weeks from now, and give it to your partner. This will be the lesson your partner will teach your class while you sit in as a student. It is important that you plan the lesson ahead of time is so that it won’t be fresh in your mind on the day of the lesson, allowing you to form a more objective opinion of how the lesson went.
On one of the chosen days, teach your partner’s lesson while they follow along as a student in their class. Have a debriefing session afterwards to discuss how the lesson went from both your perspective and your colleague’s.
Have your partner teach your planned lesson while you participate as a student in your class. During the lesson, take note of the following:
Planning engaging and purposeful lessons for your learners begins by being able to empathize with their needs, and taking the time to reverse roles is a great starting point. And as a bonus, your students will enjoy having you join them in their learning!
Have you taken on the challenge of switching roles? What insights have you learned? We’d love to hear!
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Cohesion, collaboration and transparency are words we hear all the time in education. It’s what we strive for, what we aim to achieve at a school; however, for teachers, it’s very easy to get caught up in our personal little bubble worlds. We tend to limit our thinking to that of students in our classroom setting only because they are with us on a daily basis for a year; we forget that their learning journey started prior to their arrival in our classrooms, that it extends beyond our classroom walls to specialist subject areas, and that it will continue once they leave our bubble. But it does, which is why cohesion, collaboration and transparency at a school are stressed so often. It isn’t about us as individual educators, it is about the students and each one being viewed as part of “our” school and not “my class.”
What would it look like if cohesion, collaboration and transparency did exist at your school? Teachers would be aware of the curriculum across the entire school and not be limited solely to their grade level or subject area. Teachers would communicate with those outside their grade levels and subject areas to see where the connections exist. A consistent philosophy and clear method of teaching would be in place. Specialist subject areas would relate to what was happening in the mainstream classrooms so that, for example, a child sitting in their Modern Foreign Language class would be able to make the links between what they were being taught and what they were learning in their mainstream subjects. A learner’s transition from grade to grade, subject to subject, class to class would be as fluid and continuous as the waves in an ocean.
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If we are expecting educators to be able to create links between subject areas and to be flexible in their thinking, then perhaps we need to rethink the way universities are currently preparing new teachers – the approach being used and the manner in which the courses are offered. Perhaps one of the reasons teachers are reluctant to collaborate and adapt to meet school and student needs is simply that they haven’t been taught the necessary skills.
As I can recall, and it still seems to be the case, each subject area in an undergraduate program is a stand-alone course, both at the elementary and the secondary levels – how to teach math, how to teach science, etc. And so, new teachers are being trained to see each subject area as a stand-alone – they aren’t being pushed to find the links and make the connections between each of the courses they are taking. What if universities could offer the courses in a manner in which their students would be asked to find the links as they are planning? In a way that required students to plan with others, not only in the classes they are taking, but to make connections with those students attending classes for training in specialty areas, such as music and P.E., etc. How would that change the way graduating teachers arrived at their new schools? What difference would it make if new educators were aware of the necessity to collaborate with others and to link subject areas together, and were taught the skills enabling them to do so?
As for flexibility in thinking and the ability to change with the times, it comes down to the planning tools that universities have been and are currently providing to their students. A single unit planner and a single lesson planner … the same ones are used for all courses … they don’t change. Students are taught there is one way, and one way only. But what if the various styles of unit planners and lessons planners presented were dependent on the course? What if students were encouraged and taught how to develop their own unit planners and modify existing planners based on both subject area and potential school scenarios, such as split-classes, multi-level classes, team planning, etc.? What if students were taught that planners are fluid, that they do change over time, and that they change in order to meet different teaching philosophies and teaching methods? Would graduating teachers be more flexible in their thinking? Would they, over the course of their careers, be able to adapt to change more easily, knowing that they have the ability to modify and create new planning tools to assist them in doing so?
Flexibility, adaptability, collaborating and making connections are all valuable skills for a teacher to have throughout their career. What if instead of schools having to encourage staff to be open to change, teachers already came prepared with the mentality, the tools, and the ability to adjust? What if, instead of schools needing to teach their staff to find the links and make the connections, teachers already knew how because it was the way they were taught to look at things. Isn’t it time we rethink the undergraduate university programs in the field of education … you be the judge.
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