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If You Want Students to Hear You, Communicate One to One

Who hasn't been guilty of having an issue with one or a small group of people and rather than addressing the issue directly with the few, you turn it into a full class diatribe?

I admit I've done it (maybe more times than I'd like to share out of sheer frustration). But I also understand that this isn't the best way to communicate with people.

No person wants to be lumped together with a larger group that they don't even identify with or worse, you get the students/teachers (like myself) who hear these full group discussions and automatically assume it's them, even though there is no evidence to suggest it.

As a matter of fact, those full group discussions almost never reach the people we want them to and therefore are largely ineffective as a communication tool to enact meaningful change.

So how can we reach those people who aren't achieving to their highest level? We need to make it personal.

Here are some tips for addressing students who aren't keeping up or working to their potential:

  • Make an effort to reach out to the student personally, either in class first or via email, and set up an appointment to speak to them. Make sure they understand before you meet that they aren't in trouble, but that you feel it's important that you talk.

  • In order to keep the stakes low, keep it informal. Ask them what's going on. Engage in a dialogue that allows them to lead off the conversation about how they feel they are doing.

  • Try to get to the bottom of whether or not something is going on out of the ordinary. These situations should be handled delicately and appropriately based on the particulars of the situation.

  • Second-semester students often hit a motivational void toward the end of the year and sometimes just having a teacher notice the slip is enough to get them back on track, so make sure you notice and say something. The MTA got this one right, "If you see something, say something." It keeps everyone honest.

  • We always want to make sure that we are best meeting student needs and that they are not self-destructing. Try to work together to set up a short-term plan that is easy to follow. In this way, students will know you are there to help them and they will be accountable for something specific in the short term until he/she is back on track.

  • Have a backup plan. Some students can be evasive, so make sure you have a secondary plan in place. You don't want to call him/her out in front of other students as that can be embarrassing and counter-productive, so maybe pull them aside in class and quickly chat then to make an appointment if he/she isn't answering emails or other attempts at contact.

  • Act quickly. The faster you recognize the challenge and address it, the more likely you are to achieve optimal outcomes. Students can become defeatists if too much time passes.

We all want to see our students succeed, but sometimes, students forget we're in it together. It's always good to have a refresher with particular students who can easily slip. Seniors at the end of the year who have already been accepted to college are in particular danger of this. Be their advocate and help them succeed.

How do you break the cycle of apathy during the latter part of the year? Please share.

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in April 2016


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