Do you think employers who want to improve the job performance of each of their employees should communicate their thoughts about how to improve to the entire workforce at once or to each employee as an individual?
The answer to the above question might seem obvious, but innumerable employers don’t communicate properly to their employees. Consequently, many employers never get to know many of their employees. They never learn how to utilize their employees’ skills, what their employees’ short- and long-term work objectives are, and what will motivate them to perform better at work.
A failure to communicate, as the warden tells the inmates in the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” can cause problems among people who are being supervised. At the office, it can cause a morale problem among the staff as a whole and/or a morale problem among specific individuals.
Do you remember what it was like to be a student in school? Many teachers communicate with children when there is an obvious behavior or academic problem. That means teachers don’t communicate with many students at all. When I was a student, I knew many classmates who excelled academically. Teachers left them alone. That was a big mistake.
Teachers need to communicate with EVERY student. Students who get good grades can’t improve their academic skills merely by doing well on tests. Some of them need to write better if they are going to succeed in college. Others need to learn how to work better with classmates. Others need to be motivated to transform themselves from students who do well on tests to students who can start and finish independent projects — the kind of ability they will need to succeed in college and in the workplace.
And then there are the shy students. There were many of them in my grammar and high school classes. They lacked the confidence to speak in class so they didn’t. Their grades were fine to excellent, but they needed someone to spur them to volunteer their thoughts and insights. They needed to improve their oral communication skills.
Lisa Deserves As Much Attention As Bart
How can students improve their academic skills?
I don’t want to discount a teacher’s ability to inspire students via exciting classroom lessons, creative assignments, and an enthusiastic personality that challenges students to be superachievers, but the best way for students to improve their skills is to get specific feedback and advice from their teachers. This feedback and advice helps them focus on what they need to do to maximize their potential.
I remember vividly when someone walked into a class during my senior year in high school and told the teacher that the principal’s office wanted to speak to a student in the class. The student was shy and had good grades. As he walked out of class, several students mumbled in astonishment that this student was in “trouble.”
The student wasn’t in trouble. He had written to his congressman, seeking to interview him for a Journalism class assignment. The congressman’s office responded via the school rather than the student’s home address.
The assumption that teachers and administrators should focus their attention on problem students has to end. Teachers, in particular, should go out of their way to spend roughly the same time with each student. Lisa Simpson deserves as much attention as Bart Simpson.
A teacher’s advice to a student should be private. While the most important advice I can give to teachers is to stress the positive about a student’s performance — to tell her or him three things that she or he did right before getting into constructive criticism — it’s still important that other students not hear the critiques.
In short, it’s MORE important for teachers to communicate with students privately one on one than for employers to communicate with employees privately one on one. It’s important for students at all grade levels, but it’s more important for high school students than grammar school students. This article is for high school teachers talking to high school students.
Below are 25 tips for teachers on how they can improve each student’s academic performance via one-on-one private conversations.
1. Be Positive
Before getting into the step-by-step part of what a teacher has to do to formulate an effective strategy for communicating with students, I want to emphasize how important it is to have a positive frame of mind before getting started. As a teacher, you can be a disciplinarian when managing a classroom of 20 or 30 students, but you should not be a disciplinarian in one-on-one meetings. Emphasizing the positive is crucial.
2. Be Specific In Your Praise
I mentioned earlier that telling students three things they did right in their work BEFORE being critical is important, but the praise should be as specific as possible because students can detect BS. If you are analyzing a fictional writing assignment, you could praise the student’s imagination, dialogue, and characters. THEN, you can get into the flaws. Many people have told me they hate writing because a teacher emphasized their spelling and grammar mistakes. Stressing the negative can discourage students from improving an important skill.
3. Formulate An Organized Plan
You should have a plan for private one-on-one conversations with your students before the school year begins. That means mapping out how much time you intend to spend with students. I would suggest meeting with each student once a month for 10 minutes. Your classroom environment might dictate the logistics of the meeting. You want to be respectful of students’ time so private meetings during class while the rest of the students are working on an assignment is an option.
4. Tell Students Your Plans
Inform students on the first day of class about your plans to meet with them one on one. Remember, many students are conditioned that they only meet with a teacher when they’ve done something wrong. Put your plan in writing, on a separate sheet of paper from the course syllabus and your classroom’s rules (which students should help draft). Emphasize in your plan that your objective is to work with each student as an individual to improve their academic skills. The skills such as critical thinking, ability to question, writing, and speaking should be listed.
5. Tell Parents Your Plans
Informing administrators about your plans is probably mandatory, but informing your students’ parents is also crucial. Urge students to show their parents all the written material you gave them on the first day of class. Post your plans on your class website and/or class Facebook page if you have one and/or figure out a way to communicate with parents. Keeping parents informed about their children’s progress is crucial. Emphasize that you are meeting with EVERY student.
6. Be As Private As Possible
Communicating with parents might help you avoid the problem of one-on-one meetings with students in classes when their classmates can hear the conversation. Privacy is essential for effective meetings. Ask parents whether post-school meetings are permissible if you can’t meet with students privately in your classroom or an adjacent room and simultaneously monitor the other students. Post-school meetings without the consent of parents and students is disrespectful. Meetings in your office during study halls are also possible.
7. Treat Every Student Equally Timewise
Don’t spend more time with some students in your formal one-on-one meetings than others — and remind students that is your decision. Students can be quick to conclude that you have favorites if you spend more time with some of them. You can still make yourself available to students who seek your help outside the format of the one-on-one meetings, but make it 100 percent clear that you encourage all your students to seek this kind of help.
8. Don’t Treat Every Student Equally Advicewise
Some students respond exceptionally well to constructive criticism, but others don’t. During the school year, you will learn which students need to be treated with kid gloves. Seeking the advice of these students’ parents is an excellent way to learn how to convey advice and feedback to them. Watch the students’ expressions as you talk to them so you know when to praise them to boost their morale.
9. LISTEN Before Talking
Let your students talk before you do. This is particularly important in your first meeting. Let the students tell you who they are. You want to know each student well before giving them advice. Ask open-ended questions if they’re reluctant to talk. Take notes so you can remember details about the students. Make it clear in future meetings that you remember specific facts about your students. “Hearing without listening” is not a good thing, as the Simon & Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence” implied. Students will feel more respected if you know and understand them.
10. Set High Expectations
Emphasize in your first meeting that you have high expectations for EVERY student. Students with mediocre or worse grades might have low expectations because they’ve struggled in school for years. It’s YOUR job to boost their confidence and tell them that every student has skills that will help them succeed in life even if the student is unaware of those skills or their skills haven’t helped their grades. Tell students that you will work with them to find and/or improve those skills. Be clear that you will insist on high expectations throughout the school year.
11. Urge Note-Taking
For some inexplicable reason, many students — and adults — consider taking notes a sign that your memory is deficient. The students already know you are taking notes. Tell them why and urge them to also take notes. Emphasize that your advice and feedback to them will be very specific so they should write down the highlights and consult their notes as they seek to improve their skills.
12. Don’t Grade
These meetings are about helping each student. During the school year, some students will improve more than others. Assessing each individual’s progress is important, but be specific without making a judgment. Hopefully, your advice and feedback will improve the students’ performance on tests and class assignments, but they’re a separate issue from your one-on-one discussions.
13. Be Friendly, Not A Friend
Although you want your students to reveal who they are so you can help them learn, it does NOT work both ways. They can tell you about their personal lives, but you should not reciprocate. Relating anecdotes from your life as a teacher and student that could help them learn is appropriate. For example, you can tell them that writing to public figures as a child sparked your interest in Social Studies. However, telling them about personal matters unrelated to their learning and getting together as friends outside class is not appropriate.
14. Maintain Your Composure
This tip seems obvious, but it needs to be mentioned. Some students will disagree with your analysis of their work as well as your advice and feedback. Arguing with them is counterproductive at best, rude and unprofessional at worst. Working on what to say to students who disagree with you is crucial. You can say something like “I respect your opinion. You could be right. However, my opinion is based on 10 years of teaching and working with hundreds of students. That doesn’t mean I’m right, but I believe my opinion has validity.”
15. Admit Mistakes
Students, and adults, don’t like someone who acts like a know-it-all. Teachers who are critiquing others are particularly susceptible to being disliked if they act like they never make mistakes. If you made a mistake such as give advice that doesn’t work, admit it. The students will like you more and trust you more. Trust is important if they are going to listen to you in the future. Besides, students often know when the teacher has made a mistake.
16. Simplify The Skill Categories
Giving students detailed advice is crucial, but you should simplify your overall analysis of their work. You should summarize their performance once each session. Don’t list more than five or six skills. Which skills you list depends on what subject you are teaching, but examples of skills are working with classmates, writing, speaking, problem solving, creative thinking, analytical thinking, research, reading comprehension, and completing assignments effectively. Using the same categories throughout the school year makes it easier for students to follow their progress.
17. Give Advice On HOW To Improve
You just told a student that she did three things right in her essay — it was well-organized, was presented in a reader-friendly way, and had conclusions that were bolstered by evidence cited in the essay. Now, you’re giving her the constructive criticism — her spelling and grammar needs improvement. Don’t circle every error. That saps a student’s morale. Instead, give her advice on HOW to improve. You could give her a “Guide To Grammar” book. Or you might tell her to read a certain amount of books or periodicals or a certain kind of book or periodical. Be specific.
18. Encourage Questions
Do NOT lecture when you get to the constructive criticism. In fact, you should treat this meeting as a dialogue rather than the equivalent of an employer grading the performance of an employee. Encourage students to ask questions about your evaluation. You want to convey a few crucial points in a one-on-one meeting, but don’t seek to control the meeting. Remember how important listening is!!
19. Don’t Be A Conformist
And don’t expect your students to be conformists either. Your students should be improving academically because of their individual qualities. They shouldn’t all be striving for the same goal. Be open to students learning in an unconventional way. A few of the tips below this one provide examples of unconventional advice you can give to students. More importantly, be open to students taking the initiative and suggesting ways they think will improve their academic skills. An example is volunteering to make a speech on a topic that interests them.
20. Utilize Students’ Interests
By letting students tell you who they are, you can improve your chances of formulating a strategy to help them improve their academic skills. If you’re a Math teacher, you might be frustrated that so many students hate Math. Perhaps, though, a few students love basketball. Instead of giving them a Math problem out of a textbook you can ask them to figure out LeBron James’ scoring average by having them add how many points he scored in each game and then dividing that total by the number of games. Yes, that approach worked for me with one student.
21. Encourage Independent Reading
Just like some students hate Math, others despise reading the books required in an English class. If you’re an English teacher, you can help students improve their ability to analyze a book by letting them read a book of their choice, a sports book for example. In class, this could be a substitute assignment. You can then go over the students’ book reports and present your analysis of their work in your one-on-one meetings. Hopefully, the students’ writing skills will improve when they’re writing about something they’re interested in.
22. Encourage Watching Movies
Social Studies teachers also often find that students are uninterested in their classroom lessons. Remember, your objective as a teacher is not to have students memorize facts, but to have them improve their academic skills. Can they write and speak about historic events like the American Revolution intelligently? Perhaps, they can show their skills after watching a popular movie or documentary about a historic event. Deducing which students learn better via an alternative type of learning like videos can help you help students when you go over their work in a one-on-one meeting.
23. Be Very Specific About Non-Graded Work
Giving detailed feedback about graded papers and essays is important, but assessing students’ participation in class discussions and group projects is important too. These activities often aren’t part of a student’s grade. That’s up to you. Take detailed notes during class so your feedback in the one-on-one meetings can be specific. Your feedback might include whether the students are making good points concisely or talking too much and whether they’re excelling in group projects or being too dominant or too passive
24. Help Students With Oral Communication
Many students, including a surprising amount of students who have very good grades, lack the confidence to talk in class. Use the meetings as an opportunity to help them practice talking. Ask them the kinds of questions you ask in class. Let them respond. Don’t judge them. Keep asking different questions. You could tell them the question you will ask in tomorrow’s class so they have a day to prepare an answer. Asking them the same question you have already asked them sounds amateurish, but this strategy has helped bring students out of their shell.
25. Discuss Students’ Future
Many students won’t understand this zealous effort to improve their skills. They think their skills are fine, particularly if they get good grades. It’s YOUR job to emphasize that they might need to improve many of their skills if they want to excel in college, graduate school, and the workplace. Telling them about your experiences or the experiences of others as you or they struggled to make the transition from high school to the next level is beneficial. Besides, you want to tell students that they should WANT to maximize their potential. Praise them as they improve.
Now that I have given you 25 tips for how you can improve each student’s performance via one-on-one private conversations, I have a tip for how you can improve your own performance — don’t overwork.
Yes, I have just advised you to spend who knows how many more hours meeting with individual students than you were previously. However, that doesn’t mean you should be working more hours. Work smarter and harder, but you don’t necessarily have to spend more time working.
Working smarter might mean fewer classroom lectures and replacing them with interesting assignments for students as you talk to one of their classmates. Working harder might mean improving your time management skills.
Or you can tell your principal that you want to be paid more because of your remarkable dedication to the academic success of your students. That’s a joke. Good luck!!