Six Ways Teachers Can Improve Education This Year

This post is about six things teachers can do in their own schools and classrooms to improve the entire field of education in the 2010-2011 school year.

1.  Say hello at the door.

I used to think this was silly until I read that the few words exchanged at the door may be a students’ only positive interaction with an adult all day (maybe even their only personal interaction with a teacher all day).  It gives students a chance to know I care about them as individuals and lets students who may have misbehaved the day before know that they have a blank slate this morning.  It also means students can’t escape in my classroom.  Right away students are accountable to me in a nonthreatening way.  They’re not going to coast in this classroom.  Think of all the students coasting through school who we might be able to reach if we all just said hello.

In order for your classroom not to fall apart while doing this, you must have an activity for students to start on as soon as they get to their desks.  I’ve used Daily Language Review as my morning warmup.  The morning warmup routine has to be established so I wouldn’t send students into the room on the very first day without me.

So that I don’t get bored, I even say hello in different languages.  Aloha, buenos dias, shalom, etc. mix it up a little so it keeps it interesting and quickly a rapport develops between teacher and student.  Sometimes students have something to tell me and it gives me an opportunity to get to know them.  Over time, I teach students to stop in the doorway, look me in the eye, and say good morning back as if they are going on a job interview.  These are skills students need but I only teach them once students feel comfortable.

2.  Eat in the teacher cafeteria.

Shocking advice?  If you find your teacher cafeteria to be a hotbed of negativity there’s only one way to change that.  You need to go in there and be an engine of positivity.  Brainstorm instructional strategies instead of complaining about students or change the subject entirely and talk about your trip to Hawaii or the latest episode of Glee.  Families eat together and if your school faculty is to be a family then they need to share a meal and learn to get along.  When a school “family” is a happy one then individual members of that family are happy.  When teachers are happy, students are happy, and it makes a school a better, safer, more productive place.

3.  Teach authentic writing.

Stop having students simply write for their teachers.  Stop correcting everything for students.  Stop telling students what the purpose for their writing is and start asking them to decide on a purpose for their own writing.  I strongly recommend Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning which talks about teaching Reader’s Workshop in Middle School.  Nevertheless, I’ve found it to be invaluable advice for teaching writing in elementary school in the way it gives students responsibility for making their own decisions and includes extensive use of mini-lessons and modeling to teach missing skills.

The weakest area in California student test data seems to be “Writing Strategies.”  It’s no surprise since this part of the test measures students’ ability to analyze and revise text and I doubt they are learning this in their classroom.  In order to teach writing, you will need to be a writer yourself.

I’ve written about teaching writing before.  I also recommend Dean Shareski’s recent post, Writing, Are We Teaching it Wrong? which excellently points out many of the problems with our current teaching of writing.

4.  Incorporate Multi-Media Into Every Lesson

In my last post, I wrote about The Right Way to Show a Movie in Class.  Teachers can also use realia to bring subjects to life.  Make it a point to include relevant manipulatives, photos, videos, realia, audio CDs, iPods, or web sites even just a little bit in every lesson.

While I’d like to think that my personality is charming and my stage presence dynamic, there is a limit to how much engagement I can garner with just my voice, my face, and and my unending wit.  If everyone used something besides themselves and a piece of chalk to teach lessons, learners of different modalities would be engaged and school would be all around better.

5.  Teach Art as a Discipline

You may have heard about it but the L.A. Times recently published a database of teacher effectiveness (more on that some other time).  In examining several schools I’ve worked at, I’ve found that consistently the most effective teachers teach art and teach it well in addition to all academic subjects.  If done right, art can lead to higher level thinking and problem solving.  If you’re going to have students draw, teach them to make straight lines, curved lined, dotted lines.  If you’re going to teach students to drum, teach them rhythm and how to count.  If you’re going to teach students to dance, teach them how to use different parts of their bodies.  And most importantly teach them to analyze artwork. How to Talk to Children About Art is an excellent book that helps teachers who feel ill-equipped to talk about art how to do so.

Use art, not as a Friday fun day activity, but as a discipline and it can lead to higher level thinking.

6.  Teach Test Prep Two Minutes Every Day

If you haven’t noticed, the public wants greater accountability for teachers.  I would agree that standardized testing is not the best way to measure student achievement but it’s the measure that the public wants to use.  While we’re busy coming up with better measures, let’s play the game.  If your students are higher level thinkers, critical problem solvers, and sufficient readers, why shouldn’t they be able to do well on a test…unless, they’re not familiar with the format of tests.  Teach students to eliminate obviously wrong answers, teach students, to read questions before reading passages, teach students how to use the process of elimination.  If test taking is a game, let’s teach our students how to play.

What are you going to do this year to make education better?

20 thoughts on “Six Ways Teachers Can Improve Education This Year”

  1. 1. i’m glad i’m not the only teacher greeting students at the door. everytime we find ourselves at the door, students know they will receive an assignment to complete as soon as they sit down. no learning time lost.

    2. we host monthly teacher potlucks at my school. yes, it’s a pain in the butt. every staff person eats together on those days. we talk, we laugh, we share stories. best days are potluck days.

    on non-potluck days you can find my grade level sitting with the one below. the one above meets to plan together in one of their rooms. not many people eat alone at our school.

    3. writing – a work in progress. we’re starting a student blog this year. we’ll see how it goes.

    4. i will try to add more.

    5. i agree art enhances all other academic learning. i’ll be honest, i don’t know how to do it. it scares me.

    6. word.

    i’m working with teachers to get them to take better care of themselves so they can take better care of their students.

  2. Great post! I like #5 a lot. Teachers don’t realise what a rich resource art can be in teaching and learning. Not just for history. Search for mathematical paintings or biblical art or whatever. I suggest using Project Zero from Harvard for thinking routines to analyse art.
    Also #3. The days of writing for the teacher are over. The web gives so many possibilities for writing for (and receiving feedback from!) an authentic worldwide audience. Much more meaningful and motivating.
    #6 is clever. Play the sytem 🙂

  3. I’ve been greeting my students at the door for years now (as do at least 90% of the teachers at my school) and it is a great way to start our day together. I forget how important it is to pass that idea on.

    Have you read Test Talk? It was written by two teachers from my school about teaching students to prepare for a test just as you mention here. They address the idea that a test is another type of text students need to be able to read and analyze. Even with my clear bias, I do believe it is a fabulous book.

  4. I think greeting students at the door gives you opportunity to ask the more troubled, troubling or troublesome students if they are going to have a good day. That question plants a little positive seed in the students’ mind as they enter the classroom that can grow into a good day in your class. It does work. I invite you to try it.

  5. I like and appreciate the list; however, if I ate in the faculty lounge I would have left teaching a long time ago. Don’t feel bad if you eat alone, it is often the only quiet time we get to recharge for an afternoon where we can do our best with the kids.

  6. Hello Mr. Needleman, My name is Cody Coleman and i am in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class. I think this post is one that all teachers should take to heart and use these guidelines for making them a better teacher. I think that teacher-student interaction is very important and #1 is just that. I am not yet a teacher but (Lord Willing) when i become one i plan on everyday being outside my classroom just to say hi and joke around with my students in hopes that i can brighten their day! That also ties into eating in the cafeteria as well. I also agree strongly with #6 because i am one of those students who can do well in class but when it comes to stanardized tests im not as great as i should be. I think teachers should teach their students ways of making the test work in their favor such as the examples you have given in your post.

  7. Hi Mr. Needleman, I am from Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I am so glad that I was assigned to read your post because it was great advice! I agree so much with the theory of saying hello to all your students because we don’t know what home they come from and it is important for them to know that we are on their team. Since I’m not yet a teacher I can’t really relate to #2 but I like the idea of becoming a positive influence instead of avoiding the negativity. I think that teaching authentic writing and teaching test prep a few minutes a day will help the students to succeed in there education. Thanks for posting this great advice!

  8. Mr. Needleman,
    My name is Samantha and I’m also from Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at South Alabama. I really enjoyed reading this post. I believe that all of the six points that you made will be beneficial to me when I become a teacher and can be beneficial to current teachers. I especially agreed with the one about greeting your students. I always had teachers who did this for me and it really made me feel special to the teacher. It made me feel as if they cared for how I was feeling that day. Thank you for your wisdom and advice!

  9. I think it is a wonderful idea to meet the children at the door in the morning. You can always tell how they are feeling. I also agree eating with your colleagues is good. However, there are times when you need to catch up in your classroom. We have a weekly assessment for Language Arts. I walk them through it. I ask them about the question and teach them how to take the test. Some of my students cannot read the passage. I am hoping by teaching them to follow along while the questions are read, they will be able to find the information they need in the passage. I have also been teaching them how to cross out the wrong answers to find the correct answers. I think this is working and they are taking their time doing it now! Teaching them how to take the test is very important. Most of my students still do much better on tests when I let them take it using the interactive response system. I also love using the interactive board. The students are engaged for longer periods of time. I enjoyed reading your list of ways teachers can improve education. Have a good year!

  10. The points in this post are very beneficial. I also greet students at the door, not only is it inviting for your students but you also get a sense of any issues students may be having. Many beautiful arcitechural designs are based on geometric shapes. The arts have a great connection to mathematics. I fully agree with incorporating multi-media. I have found several ways to use flip camaras and student cell phones to take ‘snapshots’ of things that relate to current lessons in math. This appeals to them because they get to use their phones in class to share their pictures. Test-taking strategies should be part of the curriculum. Equally important to elimination is just asking yourself if your answer makes sense.

  11. I love these six. I would only change number 2 to eating with the students, if that isn’t an issue at your school. I eat with my students and ask them to join me in class or in the cafeteria or outside to eat lunch together.

  12. I try to stand at my door every single morning and greet my students. They love this practice and come in smiling with a positive attitude as a result. That sense of trust and compassion has been created and my students are more willing to give their best in return.

  13. Greeting students at the door first thing in the morning has many benefits. I smile, say hello, and ask my students how they are doing today. This sets the tone for the whole day and allows me to get an idea of students’ mindset. It also shows the students I care and want to form a supportive relationship with each one of them.
    I usually eat in the lunchroom with the kids; this way I get to have conversations with them that we would not normally have in class. I sometimes hear discussions among children that are quite informative and allow me to get to know the children better; this allows me to individualize instruction even further because I understand my students on a deeper level, their needs, their wants, and their interests.

  14. Love that you teach students to look you in the eye and say “Good morning!” It’s so important to that students learn life skills, character, social/emotional learning and more as they soak up academics.

  15. I completely agree with these 6 great ways teachers can improve education. Number 1 is fantastic. All teachers should greet their students at the door with a face-to-face good morning or hello. It allows the students to see that the teacher acknowledges their presence. It makes them feel special. I also completely agree with the fact that we should not be correcting the students writing all the time. Have the students self or peer edit. It will teach them good habits for grammar and puncuation.

  16. Mr. Needleman,

    I am in Dr. Strange’s class and I was assigned to read your blog. I just have to tell you first off that I love this post and it caught my attention right away. I think that every teacher should read this because I feel it has a lot of insight that especially new teachers, like myself, need to hear because these are some marvelous ideas. I hadn’t thought about having work for the children to do while I greet them at the door, but when I read this I do remember one of my teachers doing this while I was in middle school. I also think that it is a great idea to keep a positive attitude all the time because no matter how bad a person’s day is going i know a smile will always turn it around. Another thing I loved about your post is that it is centered around the learning of the students like teaching them to write for themselves and not us, using media so that they can learn it earlier and become familiar with it, and also using art as a great way to teach other subjects as well and some great tips on how to teach it the right way. Lastly I love the idea of playing the “Test Prep Game”, because as teachers we are required to get our students ready for these standardized test and these are some great ideas on how to do that. Thank you for this post and I will be sharing this with my fellow teacher friends.

  17. Hi Dr. Needleman,
    I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I can not tell you how much I enjoyed reading this post. I think that all teachers should not only read this post but they should also try and use these tips in their own classroom. I love art and agree with you 100% about teaching it more as a discipline and not just as a fun activity. Art allows all of us to use our imagination and be creative and this can lead to better learning. I also love what you said about writing. I feel like so often we are just told what to write and expected to do it, but it would be nice if the students got to have a say in what was being written. I also think that using multi media in all lessons is a must because we have to grab all of our student’s attentions and sometimes we can not accomplish this just by lecturing (as entertaining as we may be!) Thank you so much for sharing your tips and I will definitely try to use them in my classroom!

  18. I am the guidance counselor at my school and I feel it is very important to offer the students smiles and greetings as I walk down the hall. It lets them know that I acknowledge them and feel they are important enough to say hello to. Also, I teach each grade level once a week and every day that they come into to my room the first thing I say is hello and ask how is everyone’s day going.

  19. I would always greet my students, with good morning or good afternoon. I would ask how they were and some would actually tell me. Did this for years and thought little of it until two years ago when one of my students nominated me for an award and in her essay about me she wrote about how happy I always seemed to be and how kind I was to the students. She had never had a teacher like me before. (She was a senior in high school.) I was shocked. I thought every teacher did these things. It turned out I was the first teacher who had told her she was smart and could accomplish good work.

    But eat in the teacher’s lunchroom? Nah, sorry, didn’t do that.

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