Knowing Students: Knowing Teachers

In my work with advisories and student effort, I am continuously identifying the need to KNOW students: from students needs for survival, belonging, power, freedom and fun to students’ learning styles to students’ five year plans.

I am currently reading Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principals of Great Teaching by Robyn R. Jackson. (ASCD 2009) and found another way to look at “knowing students.”

Jackson uses the term capital (knowledge and skills) to define what we are trying to get our students to acquire and currencies (knowledge and behavior) as what they bring with them to acquire the classroom capital.

“Often however, there is a disconnection between the currency we (teachers) value and the currency they (students) are spending. Or our students do carry the currency recognized in the classroom but refuse to spend it because they do not find the classroom capital particularly valuable.” (pg 32)

This book introduced me to the work of William Sedlackek, of the University of Maryland, the author of Beyond the Big Test.

Sedlacek’s research identified eight noncognitive characteristics that are predictive of academic success in college. Jackson sees these as strengths students bring to the classroom that you can use to help students acquire classroom capital (school success).

*Positive Self -Concept– the confidence that leads to the determination to succeed

* Realistic Self-Appraisal- the ability to accurately assess your own strengths and weaknesses and to use this assessment to further your own development

*Successful Navigation of the System—knowing how to access resources and how to use the system to help you achieve your goals.

* Preference for Long Term Goals—knowing how to set and achieve long term goals, delay gratification, and persevere in spite of obstacles.

*Availability of a Strong Support Person– finding someone to confer advise, particularly in times of crisis.

* Leadership Experience– having the ability to organize and influence others

* Community Involvement– being involved in the community

*Knowledge Acquired in and about a Field– having the explicit and implicit knowledge of a particular field of study

This is a great list of things to KNOW about your students. Jackson goes further:
“…I decided that if these skills were crucial , and if my students didn’t come to me with them already, it was my job to help them develop these skills during the semester they were with me.” (pg37-38) She focused on creating a classroom where students could develop these skills while mastering her course content. Note: this connects with my earlier postings about the power of Live Event Learning (1/11), (11/23), (3/30).

I’m thinking that Sedlacek’s list is great for school leaders and coaches. They need to KNOW the teachers they serve. These same characteristics can be a starting point for building additional teaching capital that will build the teacher’s and his/her students’ success. Building teachers’ skills and experiences in these same areas can be an added goal of professional development and coaching. Note how Sedlacek’s list connects with Learning Oriented Leadership (Jan 25).

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