You have 50 or 80 minutes at a time and a room full of students. (If you're a speaker/trainer/sales or marketing pro, you have a room full of professionals. Read on, and get the bonus messages.) You do your best to reach them with active learning techniques, the effective use of technology, and/or meaningful assessments and questions. You almost feel like you have to be a superhero to ensure everyone gets it ... to ensure everyone is engaged ... to ensure everyone is positioned to see utility in the information you provide. Put some of the responsibility on your students' shoulders, and have them do this one thing - regardless of their major and regardless of what you teach - to positively influence the trajectory of their academic success. That one thing is ...
The first three secrets simply were not enough, right? I am sharing with you some of my "hindsight is 20/20" educator revelations after reading Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do. Reading this book evoked "ah-ha!" moments one after another after another; I realized how I could have been far, far more effective in the classroom many moons ago if only I had known then what I know now.
Read on, and see what ah-ha! moments you have!
Secret #4: It does not have to be a lightning round of Jeopardy!, but demonstrate for students it is expected and acceptable to ask questions. And they may (and should!) do so without fear. And this fear is dissipated by you inviting their voices. Start each class in a way that signals to students your voice will not be the only one that is heard in the classroom.
These are three of six secrets I learned many years after entering the classroom as an educator and after getting my hands on a copy of Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do. (And, yes, I wish I had this book before I started teaching!)
I have found the time has now come to no longer keep the secrets to myself or within the four virtual corners of my online classrooms; here are quotes from Bain's book that led me to those secrets, and I trust they will lead you to discover/uncover some teaching secrets of your own!
Bain writes "We cannot take single pieces … and simply combine them with other, less effective or even destructive habits and expect them to transform … teaching …" (p. 20).
He goes on to suggest instead we should "… make a systematic and reflective appraisal of … teaching approaches and strategies, [and ask 'Why do you do] certain kinds of things and not others[?]'" (p. 21)
So here's secret #1: Just as adding fresh herbs to a piece of burnt fish does not make it better neither does adding effective teaching practices to a collection of less than effective approaches improve the classroom experience. Make a conscious effort to review, reflect, and revamp.
Why wait until the student opinion surveys are tallied or until your dean, department head, or program manager evaluates you to find out how well you perform as an educator? And better yet why let someone else tell you whether you are doing a good job?! Harness the power of self-evaluation to assess your superstar status at the front of that room! (And if you conduct meetings, this is just as relevant! Simply exchange "students," "class," and "lesson" for "meeting attendees, "meeting," and "content/agenda.")
How exactly is this done? Simple! Ask and answer these questions at the conclusion of class (or a meeting!):
One of three situations is before you.
You have been assigned a course that is unequivocally one of your least favorite to teach.
You are teaching the same course for the umpteenth time.
It is your first time teaching. First. Time. Ever.
And believe it or not, all three of these educators are similarly positioned because you consciously think to yourself “I have to find a way to make it through this term and appear to effortlessly make it through without faltering or running out of steam for both my and the students’ sake. How is THAT possible?!”
Think back to the last time you were an audience member. What made you want to listen? What enticed you to tune-in and stay connected? Or, conversely, what made you shift your thoughts to elsewhere, check your watch, and wonder “When will this end?”
If you are a presenter, a teacher, or a facilitator of any type, you do not have to change your content, create new homework assignments, add an activity, or infuse technology for this to work. You can make a statement that goes beyond anything your shoes or clothes might communicate. No longer do you have to straddle the line of being compelling and interesting or serious and informative. You can accomplish both. All you have to do is watch what your voice does, and listen to what your body language says.
"Turn that up!" That's what you exclaim when your favorite track comes on, and that's what you want your audience to say ... in a way ....
You want everyone to fall in love with what you have to share and "turn up the volume" on your message, but you do not want anyone to have to put forth extra effort to actually hear what you say because your voice is not loud enough.
A speaker should always use a microphone. Many will share the sentiment that their voices carry, and that's a great asset for cheering at a football game or the like, but it is not most effective for the public speaking environment. Others have something of a fear of a mic, cringing at the sound of their voice being broadcast through speakers and wanting to stay as far away from a mic as possible. When you take to the stage, you should assume you have an important message because ... well ... you do. You've spent time researching it, crafting it, refining it, and you should want everyone to clearly hear you and your message because it's an important one.
For a speaking engagement, so that everyone hears your voice at the same volume no matter where he/she is seated in the room, a mic should be used if one is made available. I recommend you always ask well in advance of your event that one be provided for your use.
You should use a mic not only for the benefit of the audience but also for the purpose of ...
In short, no, it's not okay.
Remember to never read your slides to your audience. For starters, the audience can read a slide much faster than you can read it aloud. And more importantly, you want the audience to pay attention to the words you speak, which should be far more interesting, eloquent, delicious, thoughtful, and red-hot! than what you place on any slide. Each slide should contain just enough information to highlight the major points and support what you say.
I recall a workshop I once attended where the facilitator stood at the front of the room and read material verbatim from the handout she had provided. I wanted to scream. I walked away having learned nothing I could not have read on my own.
When a presenter looks up at the projection screen to reference the material or to read it to the audience as opposed to looking at his/her laptop or computer, it's akin to ...
"Find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower." --Shigenori Kameoka
How often do you think about what you have to offer? What you have to share with others, especially that which is powerful, helpful, thoughtful, needed?
Every chance you get to appear before an audience - virtually, physically, or otherwise …. on paper, for instance - it is your chance to find a seed. And do not try to convince yourself you have no seed, that you have no flower. Self-talk will scream this at you; others may even try to say the same, but know better.
You have seeds upon seeds and flowers upon flowers … rows and rows of them as far as the eye can see.
"So why do I have so much doubt?" you ask.
It's because …
Can real discussions ... real, thoughtful, meaningful, interesting, thought-provoking discussions authentically and realistically happen in the online classroom?! Naturally, you expect me to indicate the response is "yes."
However, let's face it. For those who teach online courses, the discussions can oftentimes seem like anything but. You post discussion questions. Students post responses. And a few classmates comment with the good old “I agree!” You all keep rolling on down the train track and never take a diversion from the straight and narrow.
Frankly, for this reason, you can sometimes dread going into the online classroom - even during the weeks when the topic is one of your favorites because ... well ... you know what you'll likely find. It does not feel like much of a discussion, and you sure wish you could change that without having to put in a lot of work and time.
I have just the remedy, and here's a technique you can try today even if you have discussion questions (DQs) that you are not at liberty to change!