Sooner or later, every educator has to come to terms with this truth: that each triumph is the result of a one-on-one encounter.
Maybe you are a classroom teacher who has a conversation with a student that straightens out a student’s crippling misconception or reignites a student’s interest in a topic.
Perhaps you have talked with a colleague who then sees something in your practice that would improve the learning of her or his own students. Or maybe you’ve learned something important from a colleague the same way.
Or maybe you are an educator in a leadership position who has led another educator in your unit to discover a new way of reaching students.
But in each one of those scenarios, an improvement in understanding or a change in beliefs resulted from a challenging conversation that required great concentration on the part of both participants.
It’s helpful if your physical classroom is designed to facilitate those one-on-one conversations. That’s the idea behind the SCALE-UP classroom design. But the room design itself can’t guarantee that those personal interactions will take place. The educators in the room have to believe in the instructional model and be looking for opportunities to talk with students. If they don’t, the learning gains in the SCALE-UP room can be as dismal as they are in a traditional lecture class.
And even a class held in a lecture hall can harbor the personal discussions that foster better understanding and stronger learning gains. Just consider the work the Peer Instruction folks at the Harvard Physics Department (although their neighbors in the MIT Physics Department prefer the SCALE-UP classroom design).
If you are a Dean, the money that supports your college can come and go. But if you change the beliefs of your faculty about how students learn, that improvement will endure. And those changes come from intense personal conversations.
If you’re chairing a committee planning a new teaching facility and fill the facility with SCALE-UP rooms, it doesn’t do any good if your colleagues continue to be addicted to the traditional lecture method. So part of that job has to be encouraging your colleagues to look at teaching in new ways – during one-on-one conversations.
But for those of us who have dreamed about triumphs on the macro level, and maybe even experienced failure in such an effort, it’s important to keep this in mind – our genuine and enduring triumphs have resulted from one-on-one conversations.