Classroom Strategies

Refocusing on Your Learners

5 ideas to create a student-centered classroom

Teaching and learning are active sports. In all of the rushing, how often do you slow down, take a step back, regain focus on learning, and become better at engaging your learners? We also need to regain focus on our own behaviors and thinking. When we are rushing around blindly covering content and rushing to supervision duties, it can be easy to lose sight of our students and only keep adherence to compliances in view. When this happens, students miss out–some more than others–and instruction becomes less inclusive, less rich, and less accessible. And thus, academically, our students are less successful.

So let’s walk through a list of ideas that can help us refocus on the learners in the room, so we can reach all students and create a classroom culture that is student-centered rather than teacher- or compliance-driven.

  1. Let your guard down. Part of building authentic relationships with others is to become more vulnerable. It’s a way to build trust between you and your students.How do I become more vulnerable with my students? Share some of your own personal “eccentricities,” your mistakes, and the things you find challenging so your students understand your humanness and aren’t afraid to take risks in the classroom themselves. Find those connection points.Why should I become more vulnerable? Because you are human and you need to connect to your students to build your relationship. You are not becoming friends; you are opening your door as a professional to allow the connection so students trust you and you trust them. Trust is a huge determinant of how engaged your students will be when faced with challenging academic content. Without trust, students may shut down, but with it, they’ll be open to the productive struggle that will ultimately make them successful.
  2. Slow down. Now think about how the fast activity-based you and the slower-paced reflective you change the feel and capability of you and your students in your class.How do I slow down? Open your plan book or your document and look at what you have planned for the week. Highlight your big idea or main learning objective from your standards or curriculum for the week. How can you take your big idea and allow for greater student engagement and access for all students to your whole-class instruction, rather than simply adding more activities?Why should I slow down? This will allow you to focus on students rather than activity-planning. It will also reduce your own burnout rate.
  3. Be open-minded. Sounds easy but we all have a set of preconceived ideas about people and our expectations of them.How do I become more open-minded? It’s not easy but it really begins with identifying the predetermined ideas we have about our students, and why we have them. It may take some time, but think about your students and the preconceived ideas you have about them, and identify why you place this idea on them. How can you think more openly about your expectations of them?Why should I spend time intentionally working on becoming more open-minded? No one wants to be judged, and taking time to dig into your own thinking about your students will deepen your appreciation for those you serve. This process allows you to see the strengths in your students, which in turn can help you see how students can have a greater voice in their learning processes and environment.
  4. Step into facilitation mode. As teachers, it can be hard to step back from being in the role of “director” and into the role of “facilitator,” but becomes easier as the strength of your relationship with students increases.How do I become more of a facilitator? You can take on more of a facilitator role when you start stepping back in class discussions, letting students take the lead. You can allow students to lead discussions or offer ideas for further learning engagements. If this is a challenge, schedule it in your planner when you will offer these openings or set a timer for it during class. Explain to the students your intentions in this shift.Why should I take more of a facilitator role? When you step back from being in the director role, you will see more students stepping up, gaining confidence, and becoming more engaged in class experiences.
  5. Reflect and revamp. One of the most important parts of making improvements in your practice will always be building in time for reflection, for yourself and with your students.How do I build in reflection? Make it part of your plan. Invite students into the reflective process while making these shifts. Ask them how they feel about having more voice in decision-making. Ask if they have more motivation, feel more appreciated, or feel more excited about learning. Ask, ask, ask. Then adapt and keep the cycles going.Why should I reflect and revamp? Reflection is a powerful tool to step back and evaluate shifts in practice. When you do so, you enable openings in your time to get deeper into content because you have invested time in building relationships with students. As a result, students will be more invested in their own learning because they have the autonomy to do so.

Shifting our own behaviors will allow for greater student engagement because students then see that we are no longer just deliverers of content, but facilitators of meaningful learning who are truly committed to them as people and their journeys as learners.

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About the Author: Tamera Musiowsky-Borneman is an international educator, advisor, and coach who has taught and has held educational leadership roles in Singapore, New York City, and Edmonton, Canada. She is the creator of EdCoach Coffee Break, co-host of Ed-Talk Live, an active member of ASCD, President of ASCD Emerging Leaders Alumni Affiliate (ELASCD), and KDSL Global Advisory Member.