The routines and seeming predictability of this time of the year can lead us to ignore the power and opportunities we have each day to shape the experiences of our students. The decisions we make, the lessons we design, the strategies we employ, and even the assessments we administer determine how our students will experience their day, how they’ll engage in learning, and what they’ll do with the learning they gain.
We can either create an exciting learning challenge and opportunity or assign students to an experience of repetition, compliance, and boredom. Here are at least five superpowers we can access every day in our work with learners. How we choose to use our superpowers determines not only what students experience, but also shapes how students view the learning we offer and shapes their value of it. Let’s explore these five superpowers and how we can leverage them to open possibilities and shift the learning trajectories of our students.
Our first superpower is choosing the tempo, mood, and expectations for learning. Our attitude, energy, and excitement aren’t just one of the influences on the temperament of the class, it’s the driving force establishing the daily climate. When we expect an energetic, exciting, uplifting day, chances are high our students will respond in kind. The opposite also is true. When we project low energy, frustration, or boredom, students pick up our signals and respond accordingly. In fact, students typically spend the first minutes of class tuning in to the mood and energy of the teacher to determine what lies ahead.
A second daily superpower is the design and structure we create to support the intended learning. If our design is an interactive investigation of an important learning concept, the exploration of an empowering skill, or expansion of an emerging area of competence and we invite students to be partners in their learning, we create spaces for inquiry, ownership, and sense-making. If the day features information sharing, students listening, and notetaking, we create conditions more likely to generate quiet compliance and fought-for attention. The structure we establish and the design we create drive how students engage in and respond to the learning we present.
A third superpower resides in how we choose to listen and respond to our students’ interests, questions, and confusion. When we treat questions as interruptions and distractions to be handled quickly and efficiently, we signal to students that they should confine their questions to cleaning up confusion and clarifying expectations. On the other hand, if we use our attention and responsiveness superpower to invite inquiry, explore implications and possibilities of questions, and even open new paths for learning, students are more likely to think, reflect, and imagine in response to what they’re learning. Of course, when questions are honored, respected, and explored they invite additional questions and even more learning.
Still another superpower available to us daily is the focus, depth, and purpose we bring to the learning we plan. When we choose to treat learning as information to be absorbed and skills to be practiced and demonstrated, our students are likely to respond by focusing on what they’ll be responsible for and how to meet our expectations. Conversely, we can use our superpower to inquire and examine, press for deeper learning and application, and support students to generate their own insights and generate new learning. When we do, we open the door to an unlimited quest for learning that’s not fully dependent on our knowledge and interpretation of what’s significant.
Our fifth superpower is how we choose to approach assessment of learning. If our focus is on determining whether students can repeat what they’ve been told and demonstrate that they can do what they have been shown, we can expect students to give their attention to what’ll be on the test, what type of questions they’ll be asked, and what sort of problems they’ll have to solve. Alternatively, we can treat assessment as an opportunity for students to integrate what they’ve learned, demonstrate their understanding and capacity to use new skills, and even push beyond what we taught to gain new insights and make additional observations. When we do, students shift from being consumers of information to appliers of skills and from repositories of adult knowledge to generators of new ideas and possibilities.
An additional observation about these superpowers: The more we use them to open learning doors, inspire inquiry, build confidence, and learning ownership, the more power they possess. Of course, they also enrich and expand our influence on our students and our relationships with them.