Teaching is a complex job. Luckily, it’s far from being a new occupation; there have been countless teachers before us who have encountered (and solved!) the same problems we face today.
Certain teaching practices have withstood the test of time as the best of the best. And, through research and new insights, these practices have actually evolved and improved over time. Here’s a look at five of the most effective teaching practices out there.
5 teaching best practices that you can use right now
Teaching and planning are inseparable friends, and for good reason. With a solid plan in place, you’ll be able to teach your class more smoothly. Planning also allows for logical progression in teaching and learning, backup activities for unpredictable events, and fewer chances for behavioral issues to pop up among students.
Flexibility is important in teaching, but planning is the basic foundation for everything you do. Day plans, weekly plans, monthly plans, and big-picture yearly plans are all part of smart teaching. Students need structure to succeed in your class; a well-thought-out plan will provide just that! For these reasons, planning takes the first spot in the list of best teaching practices.
Goals are another driving force in teaching. Both teachers and students alike should have clear goals in the classroom. As teachers, we have learning and behavioral goals for students and, hopefully, some aspirational goals for ourselves, too — after all, we can always improve our own teaching, even if we’re seasoned veterans. Students need to be taught how to set goals for themselves and how to work toward achieving them.
A good strategy here is setting an endgame goal and working backward from there. For example, as a teacher, you may set a goal to have all your students reading at or beyond grade level by the end of the school year. This is by no means something accomplished in a short period of time, but it gives you something to work toward throughout the year. Thus, it’s a good place to begin planning your lessons. Set your sights on that end goal and then chart the path to get there!
Communication — you know, that thing we do all the time — cannot be overlooked when it comes to teaching best practices. It’s important in any relationship, and you most definitely (hopefully?) have a relationship with your students and their families. The need for good communication also extends to interactions with your colleagues — establishing and maintaining communication with your teacher pals will allow for collaboration, fresh ideas, and a little help here and there!
In your classroom, students should feel comfortable coming to you with stories, problems, and triumphs. Reaching out to quieter students may take a bit of extra effort, but it’s well worth the investment.
So what does communication look like in the classroom, beyond traditional lecturing? You could set aside some time for class discussions. These don’t need to be academic — you could allow your class to chat about how everyone’s weekend went. Alternatively, consider holding five-minute “free write” journal times where students can jot down a few sentences about whatever they’re feeling or thinking that day. As a bonus, they’ll be practicing writing skills and their brief spiels will be easy enough to read through later in the day, giving you major insight into what’s going on with your students!
Parent-teacher communication is also key. Create open lines of communication early on to make sure parents know how their kids are doing in your class. Get in the habit of reaching out with a quick phone call or a note to parents. You can even schedule them in a rotation so that everyone gets an equal opportunity to chat with you. But don’t limit these conversations to the negatives — you should absolutely reach out with positive info, too! In fact, if you’re lucky, that will comprise the bulk of your parent-teacher communication.
4. Model teacher = model students
The next cornerstone of A+ teaching practices is modeling behavior. Talk the talk and walk the walk consistently, and your students will be far more likely to follow suit.
Some areas to focus on when modeling behavior include showing respect for others, reading more often, and being a good audience member and listener. If students see you being respectful to them and to your colleagues, they will understand the value that you put on respect and will see firsthand what respect looks like in practice. Good manners are contagious, so spread them around!
Do you wish that your students would be a little more engaged during quiet reading time, rather than staring at the ceiling or maybe even at their phones? If it’s reading time, you should be reading, too. It can be a novel you’re into at the moment or teaching materials you’ve been meaning to get through. Either way, show your students that reading time is important not just for students but also for adults. Make a point of mentioning how relaxing this time can be and how healthy it is for everyone’s mind — including your own!
Another example is being a good listener. During an assembly, announcements coming through the PA system, or a presentation or performance, you should demonstrate proper listening skills to encourage that sort of behavior in your students. If you’re distracted during these times, your kiddos are more likely to be, too. Why should they care if you don’t? Lean forward, really listen, and show behavioral cues that signal your understanding, like nodding your head if a student makes eye contact with you during a presentation. Imagine precisely how you want your students to listen to you, and model that behavior!
Last — but certainly not least — is the art of checking for understanding. How should you go about doing this? There are about as many options available for checking understanding as there is variety in the types of learners in your classroom.
There are the classic regular standbys that check for understanding, such as tests and quizzes, but you should always be sprinkling in alternative methods for checking knowledge. For example, consider working in some observation times (particularly during group work) so you can walk around the classroom and check in on everyone’s progress. You could also have your students do oral presentations and assessments, reflections, summaries, and think-pair-shares, to name a few.
In any case, give students a range of ways to demonstrate their understanding. This can even give you insight into the different learning styles present in your classroom environment.
What are your best practices?
So, these are my picks for the top five best practices in teaching. How many of these are already a big part of what you do? Would you add anything different, or even have a totally unique list that’s different from mine? Share your ideas with other teachers so everyone can grow and develop together!