Sometimes to take a single word back you would need pages, I remember one Estonian actress say when talking about the power of words. Silence surely can be golden and a virtue and a sign of intelligence. However, there are just as many occasions when talking things through would ease the pressure and set things straight. Talking about problems, voicing your fears and doubts, expressing your expectations means putting your cards on the table and being honest. It makes you human, it makes you a partner, it means holding out your hand for the others to grab.
It doesn’t only work in couples ;-) It is also an incredibly powerful tool in a classroom! And though it sounds simple and pretty basic I guess many teachers need to be reminded of the magic a dialogue can create.
During the last two years I have experienced two very powerful moments of the benefits of dialogue. In both cases I found myself in a situation where I felt utterly lost and totally frustrated. I started to dread going into the classroom. I felt the ever widening gap between me, the teacher and them, the students. The classroom was slowly transforming into the creature I have always dreaded. It was a battlefield of conflicting interests and misunderstanding. I wasn’t enjoying myself at all. In fact, I hated the kind of teacher I was gradually becoming. I heard myself nag and threaten and moan. I had become a team of one against them. And boy, how I hate that! It’s the complete contrary of what I hold dear and cherish in teaching – teamwork and sailing the stormy seas in the same boat with my students.
So I began thinking of the options available. What are my strengths and weaknesses? Which moments make me happy? Which groups do I feel completely at ease in and why? The answers flooded in. Be yourself! Be the cheerful person you are! Stop acting like a policewoman! And most of all, put your cards on the table. Untie the knots with your students.
I remember walking into the classroom, looking at my students and saying, “You know what, I really need to talk to you … “
I loved each one of them at the end of that lesson!
This year I had a similar apprehension with the first year students. It wasn’t anything personal, but the incredibly mixed levels in the group started poisoning the atmosphere from day one. Students felt that something was amiss. Certain students felt bored to death, others struggled. So I reminded myself of the wonders talking things through can make. I decided to devote as much time as needed to explaining the peculiar situation we found ourselves in. I drew lines, I pointed out different levels, I illustrated what was happening. You might think that the students had understood it all by themselves, that they knew they were part of a mixed-level class. Not necessarily! The visual explanation, the fact I was putting the mess into words cleared everything up. They had a powerful heureka moment. And suddenly we were all in the same boat. I told them what I was going to do about it, what tools and techniques I was going to use to make the most of it. And they knew what I hoped their contribution would be. And what’s more, they knew we were a team working towards a goal TOGETHER.
Now, when I go to this class, I feel stronger and more confident. I try different things, I feel bold enough to experiment. And I feel free to discuss things over with them, to ask for their feedback, to TALK!
Any you? What wonders has talk made in your teaching? Would love to hear about your experience!