User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

An Educator’s Gift to Their Learners: Seeing Each One of Them

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One of the greatest gifts an educator can give to their learners is to see each one; really seeing each and every one of them. . . . seeing each student’s uniqueness and interacting with each one based on that uniqueness. Some strategies to do this include:

Listen More Than Talk

If educators talk to their learners more than listen to them, then this is a problem.  Traditional education models have focused on the teacher being the content area expert – disseminator of information. But we are living in an age where traditional education should no longer be the norm; where the educator should be doing a lot more listening to their learners.

In an interview of Lady Gaga by Soledad O’ Brien at the Born This Way Emotion Revolution Summit where Gaga stated, “It’s time to stop telling learners what to do and start listening for we can do for them.” One of those accepted practices, sadly, in most educational settings is that the teacher is the authority to be respected and listened to without question. Listening to students is not a practice that is often taught in teacher education programs. (Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners)

One of the first skills counselors are taught is how to listen. This should be the same for teachers. All pre-service teachers should be taught effective listening skills. Strategies for developing listening skills as an educator can be found in Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners.

Set Up the Conditions to Give Learners Voice

A corollary to listening to learners is giving them voice.

In essence, giving students voice in their own learning is allowing them to express their views, opinions, and thoughts on how they feel they should be taught. If we truly believe in making our classrooms student-centered, led and directed by students, then we need to give them that voice. (Giving Students a Voice Models High-Quality Learning Processes)

Students want to achieve in school. They want to find purpose being in school. They want to discover their talents. Without students having a voice, we cannot collectively ensure that this will all happen for every student. (How Can Students Have More Say in School Decisions?)

This is further discussed in my post, Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice. Some ways educators can give students voice is by:

  • Giving learners an opportunity to use their unique voices to show what they know-what they learned (see UDL’s multiple means of action and expression).
  • Giving learners options to use their voice in a way that works best for them. Some may want to write, some may want to use art, photos, videos, and others may want to talk.
  • Helping learners find authentic audiences with whom they can share their voice.
  • Giving learners a say in how their school and classroom operate – being part of a democratic process.

Act Upon What Learners Say

The ultimate way to show learners that you’ve heard them is to act upon what they’ve said. For example, some learners might mention an interest in Minecraft. The educator can offer those learners an opportunity to use Minecraft to demonstrate their learning in one of the content areas. It is pretty magical watching a learner’s reaction when an educator implements a practice based on a learner’s comment. In such cases, learners often seem say with their nonverbal behaviors, “Wow, you really heard what I said!”

Give Learners Choice

Giving learners choice gives them an opportunity to self-differentiate and to be responsible for their own learning while giving them the message that the educator respects who they are as unique individuals. Giving learners choice also respects their need for freedom as discussed by John Dewey:

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.

– John Dewey
Democracy and Education

This is further discussed in my post, Today’s Education Should Be About Giving Learners Voice and Choice. Some ways educators can give students voice is by:

Personalize Learning

Personalized learning is yet another way to see each learner – it honors their individual needs, interests, penchants. Personalized learning, as described in, is all about the learner and starts with the learner. It is about the learner self-directing and driving their own learning. Personalized learning means learners…

  • know how they learn best.
  • self-direct and self-regulate their learning.
  • design their own learning path.
  • have a voice in and choice about their learning.
  • are co-designers of the curriculum and the learning environment.
  • have flexible learning anytime and anywhere.
  • are motivated and engaged in the learning process.

Personalizing learning gives learners the message that they are valued for who they are not who others want them to be.

Be Present

In order to be aware of and make the most of the interactions you have with your students, you have to be able to be to be “in the moment” with them in the classroom. In order for teachers to extend student’s learning, we must first “be present” with them. This means being aware enough of our own thoughts and emotions that we are able to adjust them and tune into the student’s immediate thoughts, needs, and emotions. This is no easy task, especially during busy classroom activities. In order to stay in the moment, teachers have to purposefully set aside thoughts about a) what just happened; b) what happened yesterday or this morning; c) what we have to do next; d) how we need to prepare for later; and e) we they feel about XYZ. Specific suggestions for staying present in the classroom can be found at Teacher Tips: Being “In the Moment” with Children.

Put the Learners at the Center

In these days of accountability and high stakes testing, too often the lessons, the curriculum, the standards, and the tests are put at the center of teaching rather than the learners.

The term student-centered learning refers to a wide variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students.  The term student-centered learning most likely arose in response to educational decisions that did not fully consider what students needed to know or what methods would be most effective in facilitating learning for individual students or groups of students. (Student-Centered Learning)

Putting learners at the center of learning translates into in honoring and leveraging their strengths and interests, grasping onto those teachable moments based on learner inquiry, and having the learners develop and explore explore their own essential questions. Most of all, putting the students at the center of learning translates into assisting them in internalizing that their own unique selves are of utmost importance in the learning setting.

Acknowledge  “Blend in the Woodwork” and Disengaged Learners

The idiom “to blend into the woodwork” means “to behave in a way that does not attract any attention; to disappear or hide.” These are the learners who aren’t the best students nor are they the worse. They do what is told without making any noise or a big deal about it. They are the learners who when asked years later about them, the educator has trouble remembering them.

Seeing each and every learner means that the educator also looks for and acknowledges the achievements of “blend in the woodwork” and disengaged learners. This acknowledgement comes in the form that works best for these learners – a note or quiet comment showing that the educator sees them; that s/he recognizes that they are an important part of the learning environment.

Develop Strategies for Dealing With Annoying Learners

Educators are humans first and there are going to be learners who get on an educator’s nerves. An effective educator acknowledges that s/he might not like all students the same but works hard to treat them all fairly. To do so, though, educators need to first identify when a student is touching upon a nerve, and second, to develop strategies for dealing with that student.

By developing some personal intervention strategies, the educator is actually owning the problem with a self-acknowledgement that: “This is my problem not that student’s problem. I need to develop strategies to help me cope with his or her annoying behaviors.” Although, that student doesn’t know it, the educator, in this case, is showing the utmost respect as s/he attempts to develop effective and unique ways of building an authentic relationship with that student.

Overtly Show Learners That You Care

Many, too many in my opinion, teacher education programs instruct teachers to not get emotionally involved with their students. I believe the opposite. Effective and caring teachers do get emotionally involved with their students to the point that they actually love them. This is actually congruent with research that indicates that relationships are key to student achievement. The teacher-student relationship needs to remain at a professional level but teachers can use their own individual style and techniques to show that they care for each and every learner. It can be as simple as giving a handshake or high five with eye contact and a smile to each learner as she or he enters and leaves the classroom.

Perhaps you’ve heard the statement, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When students are asked about the qualities of good teachers, they confirm the truth of that statement—caring is always at or near the top of the list. Caring is evident when you recognize students as unique human beings with different learning needs and preferences, and when you “check in” with students through actions such as walking around the classroom, talking to everybody to see how they are doing, answering their questions, and expressing confidence in their ability to improve. (6 Ways to Let Students Know You Care)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 2, 2016 at 11:48 pm

One Response

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  1. With you here Jackie. We may be both holding the same stick. I think my graphic at the bottom of this article sums up your points as it does mine.


    January 4, 2016 at 9:37 am

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