As an educator, every action taken, every decision made, every choice being weighed should be in a student’s best interest. By always keeping students at the center, an educator is most likely to create a purposeful, meaningful, and authentic learning environment that serves all students — not just a handful. Over the years, I have noticed a variety of practices that clearly indicate an educator is making decisions to promote student centered teaching and learning. Here are a few of my anecdotal observations of student centered practices:
1. Teacher is never behind a desk. A student centered teacher is actively engaged with his/her classroom. This means being up, moving, checking in, asking about new learnings, dialoguing, providing new strategies. Sitting at a desk when students are in class only benefits the teacher — not students.
2. Planning is done in advance with learning goals, objectives, and assessments in mind. The plan is differentiated and based on learning styles and learning needs. “Planning” that occurs day of and is done via Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers is a clear indicator that a student’s needs are not at the center. A one-size-fits-some worksheet is easy for the teacher but not necessarily best for promoting purposeful learning among students.
3. Educators develop themselves professionally on their own time, on their own accord, often on their own expense. Student centered educators are always seeking to better their practice knowing that keeping current on essential practices, new innovations, and changes in pedagogical thinking ultimately impacts and benefits their students. Student learners are always the focus when new educator learning is taking place. A non-student centered teacher’s PD occurs one hour a week at school mandated staff meetings.
4. Classroom doors are kept wide open. Student centered educators welcome other educators in — at any time — to be observed by peers who can then provide feedback, reflections, and suggestions around teaching practice and methods. This open door policy keeps teachers always growing, developing, and reflecting, which hopefully can stop stagnation of practice. This always benefits students.
5. Reflection is part of the daily teaching practice. A relevant, student centered educator is reflective in nature so as to always question what went well and what needs to look different in the future. Student feedback is used as part of the reflection process so that the student’s voice is a driving force of tweaking or adjusting current practices. Anytime a student voice is considered for future development of self, this is a clear indicator that the educator is student centered. By skipping reflection, an educator most likely assumes that what he/she is currently doing is working just fine. In all actuality it may be working at the benefit of one or two students but most likely not the entire learning community.
6. More time is spent listening than talking. A student centered educator recognizes that the model of a teacher talking to students is antiquated and not student centered. Listening — really listening — to students helps educators tap into what students are saying but more importantly, what they are not saying. This creates a space for student centered educators to assess needs and support thinking and learning. Listening to student voice is a great tool to drive one’s work.
7. Students are approached holistically — not just assessed academically. Student centered teachers are constantly looking to serve the academic, social-emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs of their students. They seek to understand the big picture of each individual student and meet the student where they are across all facets of learning. A student centered educator knows that you cannot separate academic success from other life circumstances. Each child is a system and you have to make little tweaks along the way in order for systemic change to fully occur.
8. Students are empowered to do their own thinking. Rather than tell students what and how to think or what to memorize, student centered educators provide opportunities for students to explore, inquire, and make meaning. Students are encouraged to think and think deeply. A student possibly learning something new or innovating on their own (without the teacher telling them the information), is invigorating and exciting to a student centered educator — not intimidating. The educator will support the learning process, necessary skills, and provide encouragement. They will not be providing prescribed thinking for the students.
9. Play is recognized as a learning tool — not a waste of time. No matter the age or grade, student centered educators engage students in play so as to learn and construct meaning. Student centered educators recognize the power of play to inquire, connect, and unpack learning opportunities for students. Even though play can be messy, unstructured, and chaotic (read: more challenging to monitor, facilitate, and assess on the teacher’s part), it is a powerful tool for growth and critical thinking. So, though it might be stressful, a good educator recognizes that play is healthy for student development and learning (= student centered).
10. Mistakes are acknowledged and admitted to students. Recognizing and naming when you make a mistake or an error is a huge trait of being student centered. Removing the misperception that you have to be perfect is a gift that a student centered educator can give students. Help students view mistakes as learning opportunities instead of opportunites for shame and embarrassment. Model the practice of admitting when you erred and see the students follow suit.
These are just a handful of indicators that an educator is always thinking of students first. By no means is this a complete list. It is just a starting point to question if — at the end of the day — am I working to put students first? What other traits are indicators of a student centered educator? What else would you add to the list?