I have a new puppy. I put it off as long as I could, but the pleadings of my daughter convinced me to follow my heart. I haven’t owned a dog since I was in Second Grade so I am certainly not an expert on any part of dog ownership. The books, blogs, and advice of others did not prepare me for the feelings of inadequacy as the adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel entered our home.
I was assured that I would figure out all I needed to know about having a new puppy. “You just need to get to know her,” some said. “Dogs are all different. Wish I could just tell you!” they said. And so I began observing her, looking for signs to help me know if she needed to go outside, which toys she liked, and why she might not be eating. My initial observations led to little more than confusion. She had accidents in the house. What sign did I miss? How will I know the next time?
I realized that teaching students is a lot like this. We see that children are struggling in a subject, but we need to observe more carefully to determine what is going on. It would be easy to make a quick decision about what it is, but we might be wrong and the problem would persist. We won’t figure out the difficulties for our student in one setting. We look for signs or hints to help us shape the next bit of instruction for our students. And then it happens. Our intentional observations and trials of instruction to test our hunches leads us to some breakthroughs. Patience is critical as it may take more than a few observations and experimentations to see what works. But when it does, both student and teacher celebrates the growth.
The other day, Chelsea was running around playing and then all of a sudden, I realized it wasn’t the same kind of running. It seemed a bit more frantic. I quickly scooped her up and took her outside, to which she rewarded me with quickly going to the bathroom. I did it. My observations of her led me to understand nuances of her behavior better. It was at this moment when this metaphor took shape.
Our keen observations with new students, in a new lesson, or in a new situation with our students helps us gauge the next steps. Want to know what is going on with one of your students? Watch closely. Lean in and listen. Watch some more. Our patience and reflections will be worth it as our students respond.