Most teachers feel they are lifelong learners. They love learning, which is part of why they have embraced teaching as a career. So if teachers are to be learners, who are their teachers?
Their teachers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are in college classrooms, some are on Twitter chats, some are fellow teachers down the hall, and some are nationally known speakers who share their expertise.
Personally, I believe that all administrators must often wear the “teacher” hat in order to get the most out of the teachers they work with. When administrators model great instructional practices, it sends a message to teachers about the importance of their role. For principals, curriculum directors, and superintendents, we should find ourselves using our teaching strategies with our teachers often—even during short faculty meetings. We know that just talking at students is largely an ineffective way to teach them things, so we shouldn’t do this with our own staff either.
Considering the Similarities Between Adults and Kids
Let’s stop for a second and think about the “adult learner.” This article will focus on the ways that we should use our classroom experience with adults. There are also ways that we should treat adults that are different from the way that we treat our students, which we will cover in the second part of this special blog series.
Here are some ways in which teaching adult learners is like teaching students:
Clear expectations: We must have a clear learning goal with adults—this may be more important for adults than it is with students. Many adults are instantly skeptical when formally learning something. They may think that their time will be wasted, or they may think they have better things to do. By having a clearly articulated learning goal from the start, the adult will know what the objective is for the time they are spending learning.
Differentiation for all kinds of learners: Too often, we assume that all adults are the same sort of learner—and just because they're adults, they are highly motivated to inherently learn the material. Just as we do with our kids, we have to differentiate for adults. When teaching adult learners, we should always remember to use different learning style tactics. Adults need to hear it, see it, and do it just like our kids do. The “doing it” part is one during which some adults drag their feet, but if it is practical and relevant, they will be more willing to jump in and take part. And speaking of relevant...
It has to be relevant: This is a huge challenge with adults. In some ways, they are probably more individualized than our students are. We often have a first-year teacher and a 25-year veteran in the same room who teach completely different subjects, which makes it hard to keep information and learning relevant for both of them. It helps to keep ideas focused on universal strategies that apply to all content areas. It also helps to have time for the adults to share their expertise and experience with the rest of the group.
Planning is critical: Planning is even more important with adults than it is with students. In the school classroom, there is often downtime for students to finish projects. Teachers will often have side projects or independent work for their students to do. Few adults want this kind of downtime in their life—they understand how important time is and are probably very busy, so it's essential to plan every moment and not waste any time. We also want to always model bell-to-bell teaching, so this means that planning should be very organized and well thought out.
Classroom management matters: This one sounds funny, but is really true. This doesn’t mean that we regularly have to send our adult learners to the office or give them a detention for how they are acting, but the way in which we manage the classroom does impact the learning. Having clear rules and procedures in a classroom is important—we do the same thing with adults, we just call them “norms” instead. We have to maintain a focus on the norms of behavior, and sometimes need to address individuals if they are violating them.
Adults and students are very different, but there are some universal truths to teaching both groups. We should keep these ideas in mind as we work with our students in our schools, as well as when we work with adult learners.
Be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog so you don’t miss out on the second part of this series, where we’ll cover the ways in which teaching adults differs from teaching kids.