Rushton Hurley, author of Making Your Teaching Something Special: 50 Ways to Become a Better Teacher, gives us ideas to build rapport, review for tests, and improve our teaching that will help us be better teachers.
Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
Making Your Teaching Something Special
Monday, October 9, 2017
So, Rushton, how can we make our teaching something special? Because you know, it’s Monday morning, and a lot of us – we’re just tired. We’re not really thinking about being special, but kind of deep down, I think we want to be.
Rushton: Ahhh, well, I think a lot of it comes down to that tension between how we use time, and the wild coolness that is our jobs that we don’t always focus on because of how we spend our time. (laughs)
Rushton: So I think that there are certain things we can focus on that can save us time, that can allow us to make connections that we haven’t made before, those kinds of things get us more excited about what we do. Once we’re more excited about who we are personally and professionally in the classroom, then you know suddenly we’re in a very different space as teachers.
And I believe that that’s not rocket science. It’s not like, “Go and spend six months on the top of a mountain with a guru…”
Rushton: “… you know, figuring out how to cross the river just in your mind.” Whatever.
You know, it’s much more about, “What are the little things?” Right? And so the book that I wrote earlier this year called , Making Your Teaching Something Special, is really about that.
There are five areas, and within those five areas a total of fifty pieces of advice in very short chapters. So that’s kind of my hope is that this would be something that allows a lot of teachers to reconnect with the most interesting and the most fun pieces of what they do personally and professionally.
Vicki: OK, so since it’s Monday Motivation, give us some things we should be doing. Just give us a little taste of it.
Tips to Build Rapport with Students
Rushton: Ahhh, sure! So the very first area in the book is about rapport with students. Right? It includes things like “Build a Sense of Community.” Now how do you do that?
So we go into a lot of detail on, “How do you connect with kids, such that they identify themselves as a group and with you in that room in a really powerful way?” And there are lots of little ways.
Tip #1:Take and use pictures of the class and activities
I mean, like I used to take pictures of the entire class, have them blown up like a 11″x17″, print it out on physical paper. It was amazing. And then to laminate those things so that they just went on the wall. Over time, kids would come into the class and they would say, “Oh yeah, I remember that guy,” and, “Oh, that’s my sister,” and that kind of thing. There are lots of little things like that.
Tip #2: Don’t use sarcasm
Some of it is much more focused on how we work with students, so things like, “Use little to no sarcasm.” Because for every one student that understands the sophisticated humor that is sarcasm, there are any number who don’t quite get it. You’ve confused them, or you’ve created a barrier with them that you weren’t intending, of course, to do. There are lots of potholes that we can avoid stepping in when we really kind of look at them more clearly.
Vicki: So, you’ve given us something not to do. No sarcasm. And I’ll tell you, when I’ve had the problems with kids, it’s when I made a sarcastic remark. You learn to kind of steer away from that, don’t you?
Rushton: You do. It’s certainly important for kids to learn about sarcasm, but that can happen within the study of literature. There’s lots of ways to do that without that being a part of what happens in the classroom. Just understanding that you have some number of kids in that room who are in so many different places in terms of their use of language, their understanding of nuance. There are easy ways to avoid potholes that are kind of in that realm.
Vicki: So you said something at the beginning – that how we use time can help us connect with the “wild coolness” of who we are. OK, please give me something… (laughs) … because sometimes I don’t feel wild and cool! (laughs)
Rushton: Well, I will say that having talked with you any number of times, you have loads of wild coolness, so…
Vicki: (laughs) Sometimes… (laughs)… lots of coffee!
Rushton: Caffeine helps.
Making review of class material more interesting
So, the third area in the book is about delivery. One of those chapters is titled, “Review Well By Not Saying Too Much.”
Tip #3: Don’t start class like this
So, you know, saving time… One of the things that a lot of teachers do is start class with, “Alright everybody. Settle down. Alright, you know, we have a lot of important things to cover.”
Rushton: “I will now review the key pieces from yesterday’s class.”
And here’s the thing. You say that, “I will now review the key pieces from yesterday’s class,” and you’ve given two messages.
1) “You don’t need to do any heavy lifting. I’ll do it for you.”
2) “You really don’t need to listen that hard today, because I’ll just tell you again tomorrow what it is we’re about to cover.”
Vicki: (disbelief, shock)
Tip #4: Start with a picture and have students recall what you did in class yesterday
Rushton: And neither of those are intended messages, of course, right? But imagine starting class where you’ve put some picture up on the screen that has nothing to do with anything. At least it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. And you say, “Hi Everybody. Take a quick look. Alright. With your partner, I want you to connect this picture to what we talked about yesterday. GO!”
Rushton: They start looking at each other, and they’re like, “What did we talk about yesterday?” And then they have to talk through that, and “Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah…”
And then once they start making these connections – for which, by the way, there is no correct answer since there’s not obvious connection – they lose that sense of, “I don’t want to say what might be wrong.” Because there’s nothing that’s wrong.
I mean, you know, it’s more about can we pull out of ourselves those really important pieces so that the teacher can only jump in with anything missed.
If it’s coming from other voices, that’s just more powerful for what’s happening in the classroom.
Vicki: What a creative, novel idea! So how do you come up with these ideas, Rushton?
Where Rushton finds ideas (and why we should be sharing our successes)
There’s a lot of reasons I’m a lucky guy. I married way up, for example.
But also, I get to go to places around the world and talk to teachers about cool things that they’ve got going. I talk to school leaders about better ways to bring the staff into a professional place where they’re much more excited about the work they do together. I get to do that.
In doing that, I get to hear a lot of cool stuff. In any given school, there’s all kinds of cool stuff going on, but it may not be part of the culture. This is unfortunately true for lots and lots of schools – that not everybody talks about these kinds of successes, because they seem like bragging, and people are now upset about someone bragging, and blah-blah-blah.
Tip #5: Sharing success isn’t bragging!
What we need to do is say, “Hey, this amazing thing happened in class today, and I’m really excited about what this kid seemed to connect with.”
“Oh, that kid… I had no idea that that kid was interested in that. Tell me more.”
“Oh, you know, I tried that thing you mentioned last week? And it went really well, but we changed it in this way.”
Those kinds of conversations make for a far better environment for teachers. And once you’re in that space where teachers really feel comfortable getting excited talking about ideas together? Then everybody starts thinking not just, “My classroom’s getting better,” but we start thinking about the school becoming a better place.
We all want to work in a place where at the end of the day we go home and we go, “That’s a cool place where I work.”
Vicki: Yeah. You also have another book, Making Your School Something Special. I think as teachers, we want to work somewhere special, where we really get along with those colleagues.
So, Rushton, as we finish up, could you give us a 30-second pep talk as teachers to get us motivated to go in there and really do something special in our classrooms today?
Pep Talk to Make our School and Classroom Something Special
Rushton: So, the first thing you need to know is that this thing that you’ve been wanting to try? If it doesn’t work out, nobody really cares.
Rushton: So give it a shot. This is just like, give it a shot, and see where it goes. And if it doesn’t go as cool as you had hoped it would go, turn to the kids and say, “Hey guys, we just tried this. It wasn’t quite as cool as I’d imagined, but do any of you guys have ideas on how we could make it cooler or make it better for your learning?”
They’ll come up with ideas, and in the process they’re learning that you’re someone who listens to them. There are so many cool opportunities when we communicate with kids about possibilities in class. We just need to open those doors.
Vicki: Love that. So let’s get out there. Let’s be remarkable. We’ve gotten some fantastic ideas to build rapport with students, to really connect with kids.
- Blow up those pictures and put them on the wall. I love that one.
- Review well by not saying too much, which is really cool.
- But also, I think this whole challenge of “Let’s start celebrating each other’s success more, and start competing with each other as teachers less,” so that we can not only have remarkable classrooms, but have remarkable schools.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Rushton Hurley has worked and studied on three continents as a high school Japanese language teacher, principal of an online high school, a teacher trainer, and a speaker. He founded and is executive director of the educational nonprofit Next Vista for Learning, which houses a free library of videos by and for teachers and students at NextVista.org. He is heavily involved in service efforts in his community and holds masters degrees in Education and East Asian Studies from Stanford University.
Rushton regularly keynotes at conferences and has trained and worked with teachers and school leaders around the world His fun and thoughtful talks center on inspiration and creativity; the connection between engaging learning and useful, affordable technology; the power of digital media; and the professional perspectives and experiences of teachers at all levels. His first book, Making Your School Something Special, was released by EdTechTeam Press in January of 2017. His second book, Making Your Teaching Something Special, was released in June, 2017.
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