We were visiting Dave’s parents this last weekend, and mooching their nice fat weekend newspaper. While Dave honed in on the comics page, Anghelika announced her find: a couple articles on what makes a great teacher. Before she got a chance to read them, Dave’s father asked her what she thought the secret was. The answer: “Engagement”. A great teacher is one that engages kids’ interest. We believe you can teach kids simple, mundane, even dull things in an interesting way. That’s the magic behind the best lessons. Indeed this was the essence of one of the articles, but it went on to highlight several key skills of a great teacher. (adapted from Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green, out this month.)
We’re going to focus on one of the key skills – the one that caught us. (To read the whole article go to http://parade.condenast.com)
The rule: a great teacher should never say, “Shhh!”
According to the article, when a teacher says, “Shhh!” it could mean a number of things. It might mean “Don’t talk now”. Or, it might mean that the teacher simply wants the student to talk quieter.
But what does it do when a teacher says, “Shhh”?
According to the article, shushing is ambiguous. Is it meant to be instruction or a correction? Is it about setting a mood, or is it about one child’s interruption or misbehavior?. One thing is certain: it’s rarely clear what positive behavior a shushing adult is expecting. Imagine a child excitedly blurting out an answer only to be corrected for their disruption with nothing but a “Shhh!” Will that child be excited to try again? … be motivated to continue to participate? … be encouraged?
How can a teacher keep an excited student engaged?
Both parents and teachers in training learn that encouraging and guiding children towards positive behavior is more effective than highlighting bad behavior. So when a child has an enthusiastic, noisy eruption, what is an adult to do? Avoid the ambiguity of the “Shhh!”, and go for specific, positive, and direct. Encourage a child to share their enthusiasm in a way that helps you hear them. Think through the environment that you want, the environment that provides the best chance for the most success for the greatest number and then describe that environment positively as often as possible. How loud or quiet will work? How wild or mellow? Describe, model and reinforce successes with your attention.
And if you are ever tempted to let loose a great “Shhh!”, we think it’s ok to say it, once … to yourself!
[This post originally appeared on Parenting on The Peninsula’s blog]