Messaging

Messaging is so important.  It’s far more impactful than we want it to be.  We want to be understood for what we mean.  But sometimes words are inadequate for expressing our ideas.  Or if the right words exist, we may not find them and use them effectively.  Or we think and many may agree that we chose our words perfectly, only to find that misunderstanding ensues anyway.  Colleagues get offended.  “Camps” develop.  We take what we hear and impose a story or a meaning that comes more from our own experiences than from the speaker.  Take a modern catch-phrase, “meet students where they are.”  Some teachers are threatened by this phrase, interpreting it to mean that they have to systematically assess every student and then teach every students in their class differently, depending on their assessment.  Faced with what seems to be an impossible task, they condemn the notion as crazy, unrealistic, and unreasonable.  These feelings may drive a wedge between an excellent teacher and their profession and colleagues.

As ideas about teaching evolve, we want some gems to take back to the class.  Sometimes, an idea resonates and we can see its place within the framework of our own understanding.  Sometimes, we can’t see another person’s success within our framework of understanding.  This can become a problem when we feel like we are being told what to do.

A friend shared an article recently on the importance of creating an environment where everyone is free to create their unique magic in the classroom (as opposed to a system that requires everyone to follow a prescribed plan).  I think that such an environment at least partially addresses the messaging problem.  When it is expected that every individual is at their best when they’re being creative and creating their own unique magic, then successes shared in articles or in the lunchroom may feel more like points of interest and less like suggestions for improvement.

Take our course outlines for example.  They are supposed to guide us in our teaching and provide students and institutions with information about what students learn in a class.   I think that f they are well written, they should leave plenty of room for individual creativity on the part of the teacher.  If they are overly prescriptive, they may have the unintended consequence of stifling what could be a very good class.  I wonder, have you ever felt like a course outline got in the way of you doing your best work with students?

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3 thoughts on “Messaging

  1. A very thoughtful and interesting piece Jennifer. Yes, although I have personally not been held back by a course outline. I have seen many that are too prescriptive to the point where both students and teachers feel they aren’t learning or teaching what would actually help.

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  2. How we wish in ESL that instructors actually looked at the course outlines! However, be that as it may, we have just revised a number of our outlines, and we kept emphasizing the fact that new instructors would need these rewritten outlines, and would they be able to understand what the goals of the courses were? I think instructors have a lot of leeway in presenting material, creating class and individual activities, and testing students. The course content is clearly laid out. I have often thought that along with the COR, instructors should also be given a handbook on how the class has been taught in the past. This would give more of the nitty-gritty on how to teach the class, and an instructor would be able to look through a whole array of approaches on how to teach the class. When I first started teaching, that would have been very helpful for me.

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    1. Yes. Historical perspectives and approaches of faculty could be helpful information, as could be the fresh perspective of a new hire. I suspect that sometimes it’s the choice of textbook that has the greater influence–over both the teacher and the students.

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