As I have mentioned several times in the last few months, this blog is receiving an innovation award at the American Accounting Association annual meeting that will be held next month in Anaheim. As part of that program, on Wednesday, August 7, I will make a 90 minute presentation (2:00 until 3:30 p.m.). Because this blog is about improving teaching, I assume the presentation should be about improving teaching. There will be hundreds of research presentations in Anaheim; however, at least this one will be a teaching presentation.
I realize that 99 percent of the people (maybe 100 percent) who read this blog will not be able to attend my session in Anaheim. So, today, I want to talk with you about how I plan to start that program and why. You can pretend you are in Anaheim in August (at a hotel next to Disneyland).
If I want to have any real impact during my 90 minutes, I need to get the attendees mentally involved as quickly as possible. I want them to seriously consider the importance of good teaching and how they can become better teachers. That’s my basic goal. However, from past experience, I know that whenever I give talks about teaching, the conversation can quickly fall into a litany of complaints about students: Why are they lazy? Why do they never seem to be able to think? Why are they reticent to participate?
Those are legitimate questions but I want the program to have positive energy and not negative. I am not looking to become “Dear Abby” – out to solve everyone’s problems with their students.
What I plan to do is have a quick warm up exercise to get people in the right mood. To begin, I will ask all of the attendees to close their eyes. I will then ask them to think back through all of the teachers they have ever had – from kindergarten through grad school. I will ask them to consider them all but eventually pick the one teacher who was the very best. I am not asking them to select their favorite teacher of all time or the most popular teacher. I want them to pick the teacher from their experience who was the very best.
From past presentations, I have found that almost every person in the audience is able to quickly select his or her choice. I don’t provide any criteria but people just seem to know who was best. Usually one person stands out above all the rest. It might possibly be a 9th grade biology teacher or a 4th grade English teacher or maybe a math teacher in college. Virtually every person has at least one teacher who has really made a difference.
I will then ask every person present to consider that selection very carefully and come up with three characteristics that describe why that person was their very best teacher. I want them to choose three words that capture the teacher’s essence. What made that person so very good? It wasn’t luck. What was it?
I will next ask each person to think of what they would tell that best teacher if he or she walked into the room at that very moment. Some are probably dead and many have been out of contact for years. But if their best teacher was to appear, what would they want to say? What message would they convey? How important has that person been?
Finally, I ask all of the attendees to turn to the person on their left or right and describe their best teacher by talking about those three words they chose as descriptors, and also what they would like to say to that person. I want to create a personal conversation about great teaching.
Okay, I do not know how this will work in Anaheim (all of the people might fall asleep) but when I have asked these questions in previous presentations, everyone has gotten seriously involved. Why? That is easy. I have changed the perspective. The people in the audience walked in as teachers (probably annoyed with student behavior). Like most groups, they often feel dissatisfied by what they have been able to accomplish. But then, suddenly, each person has been returned to the role of student, a student who has been influenced by a great teacher. It is the proper perspective for a teaching presentation. I want every person to consider how important a teacher can be. I want every person to think about how lives are affected by great teachers. Most of all, I hope each attendee will want to become some other student’s “best teacher.” That is really a goal worth having.
Okay, if you are going to be in Anaheim, I hope to see you there. But if you are not, why not try this warmup exercise by yourself? You don’t need me there. Sit in a chair in a quiet room. Close your eyes. Think of all your teachers, probably since you were 4 or 5 years old. Pick the one who was the best teacher. Think about why that teacher was so good. Select three words to describe that teacher. Imagine that teacher suddenly walks into your room. What would you want to say?
You are not going to be in a room with other people so, instead of discussing your best teacher with the person to your left or right, I will give you an alternative assignment. For those three characteristics that made this person so wonderful, what grade would you give yourself and your own teaching? For example, if your best teacher was “caring,” that was clearly an important characteristic to you. So, what grade would you give yourself on being a caring teacher? If it is not an A, then you know you have some work to get done.