Nov 01
Is it Worth the Effort?

Question Mark.pngAbout a month ago, Amanda and I received an interesting question from a Faculty Fridays reader.

Our colleague asked, “Does reaching one student make it all worth it? For example, if you try something new in class and it really resonates with one student, and you're not sure whether it impacted anyone else, is that a “win"?

Amanda and I each have a slightly different take on this.

Janine: I'm a yes… but! I think the broader range of teaching tools we use to facilitate learning the more likely we are to support more students. We may not be able to meet each students' learning preferences every day, but we should strive to support each student's success on balance. And remember, what is best for students is not necessarily what is most convenient for Instructors. That may feel a bit uncomfortable, but good teaching definitely takes effort. I'm certainly not suggesting I get it right every day, but student learning is worth the effort to try. Having said that, as part of a continually reflective practice, we should ask our students how activities support their learning. Then we can make informed decisions. 

Amanda: I'm a yes… but! Trying new things in the classroom keeps me interested in my work and inspires me to continually up my teaching game. I think about the individual students and their individual needs within the larger group, but I want my effort to meet the needs of more students rather than fewer. If I try something new and it doesn't work for most of the students in the class, I don't think I could call that a win. There's always risk involved in trying something new and, if it doesn't work out superbly, it can feel pretty crummy. That said, the beauty of teaching is that one “bad" class isn't the end of the story for us as instructors – the next class with those same students is a second chance to start fresh!    

What do you think? Asking for a friend!?!

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Comments

I have tried many new thing...

I have tried many new things in the classroom in the last couple of years, because I think the needs of learners are changing. Their needs have forced me to change my practice, but I agree with Amanda, changing things up keeps me interested in my work as an Instructor. If things don't work, I reflect on what might have gone wrong and consider something else. Often I speak to my colleagues to get their perspectives. But, when things go "wrong", it doesn't make me stop trying something new, because I think we learn from our mistakes and that just makes for a richer education opportunity for both the learners and myself. What I'm working on is trying not to take it personally, asking the students for their feedback helps them to feel included in the organization of their learning, and I'm usually surprised at their responses, what I thought bombed, was actually a success in their eyes, so I also have to say we need to not be so hard on ourselves!
Picture Placeholder: Ruth Lindsey-Armstrong
  • Ruth Lindsey-Armstrong
 on 11/1/2019 8:46 AM

It depends on how you defin...

It depends on how you define "reaching" a student. If you're talking about choosing a teaching method or course materials, I tend to agree with Amanda - I can't please every student, so I pick what seems to work for the majority while still giving students as much choice and flexibility as possible. However, if you define "reach" as connecting with every student so they feel safe with me and know that I care about their learning and well-being, it is worth the effort! As we've discussed in previous Faculty Friday blogs, this connection might start with learning each student's name and building a relationship from there. This effort makes it much more likely that students will reach out when they need us, and then reaching one student makes all it all worthwhile.
Picture Placeholder: Gail Horvath
  • Gail Horvath
 on 11/1/2019 8:51 AM

Great subject! With the inf...

Great subject! With the information given, I'm going to assume that the "new" that was tried is indicative of an instructor continually trying to add more tools to the toolbelt. The student that was reached for sure and responded well likely represents at least a few others that were also helped, but didn't mention anything this time. I guess a feedback tool could make the effectiveness of the lesson less ambiguous. Generally though, even if it was just one person that was particularly impacted by a class or method, I would take that as a win and try to mix things up the following week (or day) to reach other students in a different way.
Picture Placeholder: Ron Rogge
  • Ron Rogge
 on 11/1/2019 8:59 AM

Oh, wow: Goosebumps on the ...

Oh, wow: Goosebumps on the morning after Halloween reading Gail's comment: Thank you. Making a difference in students' lives grows out of trust -- and that trust has to start with us trusting ourselves and the classroom context enough to take a risk. Regardless of the reach of the outcome.
Picture Placeholder: Amanda  Le Rougetel
  • Amanda Le Rougetel
 on 11/1/2019 9:00 AM

I'm going to go with "Yes,....

I'm going to go with "Yes,...and." Trying new things inspires and requires me to up my game. When I find that I've reached a student, it is my reward. Like Gail mentioned, it means that classroom culture that we've created is safe, supportive, and students feel that they can give us that feedback, even when it's them communicating to me that whichever approach or method that I used wasn't as effective as I'd hoped.

If I've reached more than one, like when I see them as a group engaging with the material and enjoying the process, I call it a success. To me, it means that the approach or method that I used, made the content, learning and application available and usable in more than one way. Students were able to meet me in the middle.

If I keep myself in the mindset that I'm a part of the team, and it is both my responsibility as well as my student's responsibility to find a way to engage with the information and task in a way that draws out meaning, transfers and applies it, I can deal with the crummy days when I didn't "win".
Picture Placeholder: Patricia K Culleton-Koebel
  • Patricia K Culleton-Koebel
 on 11/1/2019 9:51 AM

I am getting so many benefi...

I am getting so many benefits from the multi-faceted wisdom in this discussion.

The posts shared by you all convey an experiential knowing of the processing required to try something different, implement, evaluate and adapt.  Thank you for acknowledging the "crummy days" Patricia, as well as how fulfilling the drive for refinement can be.

Ron, your post was a nice dose of perspective.  Capturing the fact that if one student demonstrates improvement, there may have been other positive impacts in the class that went unspoken / unseen.  Ruth also delivered a strong dose of perspective by highlighting that our perception may not align with that of the student.

Thank you for the reminder Gail, that "reaching" can take many different forms, all of which can be beneficial.

Janine and Amanda, thank you providing the forum where topics such as this can be discussed.

As an instructor, I find it easy to shrink my focus to one day, or one assignment.  Thank you for the reminder / tip, to take a step back and look at the big picture of a 16-week course offering.

Thank you all.
Picture Placeholder: Lindsay Mulholland
  • Lindsay Mulholland
 on 11/1/2019 1:22 PM

Enjoyed reading everyone's ...

Enjoyed reading everyone's comment and, of course, the question is an interesting one. Here's my two cents. In general my approach to teaching is 'one student at a time' so if an effort positively impacts only one student, it is still worth it. But as most of the comments mentioned, the deciding factor would be its practicality. If I suspect that something I do is relevant to only one or two students I would try to do it in one-on-one settings (such as in the lab or during group work in classroom) not when I am supposed to be engaging the whole class. When reaching one student is not a distraction to others and the teaching process, it is generally very rewarding because the feedback and the effect of your actions is usually immediate and palpable. I am adding this comment a bit too late so might just be for the records :-)
Picture Placeholder: Said Hassan
  • Said Hassan
 on 11/5/2019 11:52 AM