Friday, July 11, 2014

Leading by Taking A Step Back

Sometimes you have to take a step back to be a leader in your own classroom.

One of my "to-do's" this summer was to take a 2-day class on student engagement. I wanted to review and learn more ways to create a student-centered classroom, one where I lead and facilitate but don't take center stage. I learn the most from my students (including their learning styles & approaches to problem solving) when I take the "guide on the side" role. Here are a few thoughts from this class I took last month.

The 2-day class, taught & attended by teachers within the district, was a chance to learn & process different student activities while also getting the chance to connect with teachers in other buildings of every grade level. I love professional development that is practical, meaningful, and related to student learning, so I was excited to soak in as many new good ideas as I could.

I was reminded of many great techniques that I already use as well as some new ones as well. Here is a combined list of some of my favorites:

1) Graffiti Walls
          Give groups a large piece of chart paper & pens/markers of different colors. Students generate ideas or respond to a discussion topic in the form of graffiti. Groups can move to other papers and discuss and add to the ideas.

2) Four Corners
          The teacher poses a question and gives four potential responses with each response assigned to a different corner. Students decide which response they agree with and move to that corner to discuss. A discussion or debate between corners can also occur. Students can also write down their thoughts or evidence before moving to the corner so they have ideas already in place.

3) Numbered Heads Together
          Students sit in groups with each group member assigned a number. The teacher poses a problem or topic and all group members discuss. The teacher calls a number or rolls a dice and the corresponding student shares the group's ideas. Can also be done where each group also has a number and the teacher calls/rolls a group number and a student number and that student shares out with the whole class.

4) Inside/Outside Rotating Circles
          The class is divided in half. Each half forms a circle (can also be done in a line) and faces outward to stand opposite of a student in the other circle. Questions can be asked/discussed, information can be reviewed, or ideas can be shared. One circle (or line) moves so that a new discussion can take place between two more students.

5) Three Stay, One Stray
          In a group of four or more, students solve a problem. While they work, they can send one group member to "stray" to another group to compare the team's solution.

6) Pass a Problem
          The teacher creates problems for teams to solve and attaches them to envelopes. Teams read and work on the problems, placing their solution in the envelope. Then, the envelope is exchanged with another group. The other group can check their solution and determine if the problem can be solved in another way.

The great thing about these (and many other) activities is that they can be used across many grade levels and content areas. More importantly, they give students a chance to share their learning with others and give the teacher a chance to lead by taking a step back and having the students take center stage.


  1. Great engagement ideas. I used many of these when I was still in the classroom with good results. Glad to hear that the training was done by teachers within the district instead of outside consultants. The experts "in the house" tend to be better received and are also easily accessible for follow-up questions.

  2. Thanks for sharing these engagement strategies! I'd never heard of "Three stay, one strays" before. I think it could be a very powerful strategy when solving open-ended problems.

  3. Great ideas! I have used several of them, and I love the strong conversations that ensues after a little movement. As adults we understand that we're stronger working together - kids need to learn those skills as well. :) I look forward to following your students' responses.

  4. Wow, I love these! Thank you for sharing. Your professional development day sounds like it was very worthwhile.