Last week, Dan and I had the pleasure of hosting a break-out session at REAP’s (Reaching and Empowering All People) Academy of Leadership Innovations.
The academy is an opportunity for 8th through 12th graders to practice their leadership skills and engage with community members around important issues facing the greater community.
We spent our session hearing from the students about great teaching. We started by asking the students to describe their best teachers. Over and over again we heard praise for teachers who care about their students, who know their subject matter, and who are willing to individualize their support.
We then had the students get into small groups and discuss questions related to assessing and supporting great teaching and student learning. There were engaged and animated conversations throughout the room, and when we had every group share out at the end of the session, thoughtful ideas were plentiful. Here are some of the highlights:
1) How do we determine the best teachers?
- If good teaching is happening, students are motivated to learn
- The best teachers are on top of the material they are teaching and have high expectations for students
- They are engaged with the community, families and students
- They are responsible, organized and punctual
- Ask students and parents for feedback
- The best teachers are creative thinkers and flexible in their teaching style
- The best teachers can assess students’ strengths and weaknesses
2) How do we know students are learning?
- If students can teach what they have learned
- If students show improvement from the beginning of the year to the end
- Teachers should check in with students after each set of lessons to see if they understand the material
- Use alternatives to testing—games and activities to check for understanding
- Students should present their learning to parents and teachers
- All students should show improvement in academics as well as confidence and social skills
3) How do we build a system that supports great teaching in every classroom?
- Regularly gather student feedback
- Better communication between teachers, parents and students
- Mentors for all teachers
- Teachers should have regular check-ins with other teachers
- Job retention should be based on performance, not just time on the job (not student test results, but teacher efforts and attitude)
It was very clear that the students believed their voices should be considered in assessing teachers. As school districts begin to implement new evaluation systems that take student learning growth into account, should they also be exploring the inclusion of student voice? What would you tell the REAP students about why their voices should or should not count when it comes to assessing teaching?