Whenever I’m in a professional development setting, I try to compare it to my classroom. Professional development seminars and college courses are practically the only times that teachers are in the position of captive learners. This kind of reflection happens more often with ineffective professional development meetings where I find myself thinking, “How many times in my classroom do my students feel like I do right now? How could I change that?” In meetings like that, even if the content of the meeting does not improve my instruction at all, the reflection about the meeting can help me see learning as a learner and make small adjustments in my own classroom.
This post, however, is about experiencing learning and professional meetings as an introvert. In many new situations and professional meetings where I know few people, I’m content to “sit and get,” absorbing the knowledge presented by the facilitators. Attempts at active learning, ice breakers, etc. make me very uncomfortable. If I’m at a conference and find that the session I’m headed towards is going to involve a lot of ice breaker activities or similar “get up, move, and work with people you don’t know” I have been known to select another “more intellectual” (i.e. less interactive) session.
However, I have noticed that there two professional sessions where I find it easy to contribute and share my thoughts. As I reflected on this, I gained some insight that might be useful for my classroom (and yours too). The first scenario where I’m more likely to share my thoughts and speak up is in a meeting where I’m comfortable. I’m not talking about the temperature of the room or the quality of the snacks provided, but my comfort level with the people around me. In meeting at my school, I don’t hesitate to speak up when I have something valuable to add. I’m comfortable around my colleagues because we have shared experiences that have bonded us together (a benefit of teaching at the same school for over 10 years). In my classroom, I assume that my students are comfortable with each other because they have “been together since kindergarten.” While this may be true for a small number of my students, many have moved into our district recently and lack those bond-creating elementary experiences. Even over the course of the school year, students move into our district and are added to my classes. If I want all of my students to feel comfortable speaking up (especially the introverted students), then I have to provide community building activities throughout the school year, not just during the first few days of the year. I don’t think that these activities have to be large, long projects, but we do need to provide students opportunities to learn about and become comfortable with each other.
The second setting in which I’m more likely to speak up is a setting where I feel like I have enough background to make me knowledgeable about the topic at hand. Whenever I’m at a meeting or professional development session about the Next Generation Science Standards, I’m not afraid to speak up because I feel like I have a fairly thorough grounding in the standards and the vision behind them. So, how do we create this kind of scenario in the classroom for our students? My thoughts are that we provide students with enough information and common background experiences so that they are confident enough to speak up. If you’ve been through the Great Books training, you know that they emphasize talking only about the text. At first, I thought this seemed arbitrary and contrived, but then I realized that it equalizes the playing field and allows all students to become experts regardless of their out-of-class backgrounds. We need to create similar situations before our class discussions.
As we move toward 2017, let’s think about ways to start the new year making our students feel connected and confident. When we do, they’ll be more likely to speak up and share their own thoughts.