10 Simple Ideas for Transforming Your Teaching This School Year

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”~ William Butler Yeats

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Many of us will face many new learners as a new semester of classes begin. For many of us this can be a frightening and stressful experience. It should be. We have an enormous responsibility as educators to inspire our students to be continuous learners, explore their curiosities, and search for possibilities to problems that need to be solved. We have the responsibility to inspire our learners to immerse themselves in the beauty of learning whether it is for their own passions, curiosities, or self-discovery.

Unfortunately, the system isn’t exactly cut out to support students in exploration. Students are taught that only one answer is correct and if that one answer isn’t given then the road stops there for learning. The reality is our learners have to take standardized assessments, curriculums will focus on them passing these assessments, colleges will admit those who make high enough scores on these assessments, and education policy will continue to focus on outcomes based on these assessments. As educators we often see these realities as shackles. We think we do not have the freedom to truly inspire great learning in our classes. We feel we do not have permission to teach in the way we know promotes effective learning.

I have often been a new teacher in my career. I have often been placed in new systems and in various institutions where I felt powerless. I was so afraid that if I did not teach according to their standards I would be fired, although, in my over 15 years of teaching I have never seen any teacher fired because an administrator did not like the way they taught. I was so mobilized by my fear I hid away from administrators and other teachers. Then I began to grow some confidence and maybe I was a little fed up. I began to start teaching the way I knew was effective and began to take back control of my classes and curriculum. I began to be of the mindset that I’d ask for forgiveness later. I gave myself permission to be the kind of teacher I always wanted to be if I thought I had the support and freedom to be. Years later I have never regretted that decision and now I am the kind of teacher I want to be and I have never met with any negative consequences. Instead, I have a string of learners worldwide who have thanked me for helping them along their learning journeys.

I want to give you permission. I want to tell you that yes, you have the freedom and power to inspire incredible learning this year. You are the instrument in your classroom that determines whether your students will love learning or hate learning. So how do you begin to implement that power and ensure your students learn effectively? Try a few of these ideas in your class this year. They are meant to be accomplished in one class period. It is only one class period in one semester. This way you can take baby steps. Reflect on the outcomes in the next coming months. If these ideas don’t work then you can always go back to your regular way of teaching.

  • Ask a question with many answers or no answer at all.
  • Give your students reign for one class period. Give them the topic or learning objective, then ask them how they would like to learn about that topic. They might suggest a game, project, or exploration with technology.
  • Allow your students to choose how they will be assessed for one topic. They might suggest through a project, game, or other method.
  • Ask your students what they really are interested in learning and for the day allow them to interview an expert in that field online. Your students can always search for the e-mail address, blog address, Facebook account, or Twitter handle of that person. For example, your student might be interested in skateboarding. Have that student ask Tony Hawk on Twitter or another famous skateboarder.
  • Tell your students everyday for a week that you are glad to be their teacher. Do this by greeting them at the door with a smile, handshake, or high five!
  • Conduct a class in a different environment either by hosting the class outdoors or in another part of the building.
  • Stand for an entire classroom period. Break students into groups or pairs and move around constantly asking them questions or taking notes about the way they learn.
  • Play a fun game in your classroom. Find a way to incorporate games and play to teach your subject matter. Scavenger hunts, board games, and video games have all been used to teach various subject matters.
  • Contact each parent and share with them specific ways their children made you proud of them.
  • Have your students work together in performing an act of kindness for either a charity, organization, or other students. This could be as simple as creating books and reading them to younger kids or volunteering to clean-up the campus.

Many of these ideas can be found in The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. Join nearly 10,000 educators online who are using various free social networks to support each other in accomplishing 30 short-term goals related to education. We support each other through various social networks, Facebook, Youtube, GooglePlus, Twitter, and blogs.

This post was originally posted on the SmartBlog for Education, another great place I blog!

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell), Facebook.com/ShellyTerrell, and on her blog, TeacherRebootCamp.com, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at https://www.slideshare.net/ShellTerrell/presentations


  1. I like your ten ideas. It reminds me of some of the resolves that i made last summer to allow more autonomy for my fourth graders. I haven’t been great about following through but I’m inspired now.

    It seems to me that most of your ideas would fit well into any type of curriculum even if you were required to “teach to the test” or had similar restrictions on your teaching style. At my school we do common planning which drove some teachers crazy and they refused to change but any of your suggestions would be welcomed in my PLC as new ways to do things. And they would be shared 4 times over. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I really like the end ideas you’ve inlcuded in your post. Teachers need to make a connection with thier students and many of the ideas you inlcuded support this idea. I want to learn more about The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators referenced. I hope this inspires teachers to make positive changes in thier classrooms.

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