This week a lot of my time was spent listening to my students. I handed out a mid-semester evaluation form in one class and spent a whole class period gathering feedback on a brand new series of assignments in another. I also had several one on one conversations with students and participated in a career journey conversation with a group of amazing young women. I heard (and read in the case of the forms) some great ideas, new ways of thinking about the world and my teaching, and some hard things too. It was amazing.
A few years ago, I was speaking at conference and one of the attendees in my session, a person who works in K-12, brought up the idea of the wisdom of various ages. That really spoke to me. Our students have the wisdom of higher ed learners. They are the ones experiencing the learning in our classes. Why wouldn’t we ask for and seriously regard their input on their experience?
Now, I know what you experienced teachers are thinking as you read this, because I’ve heard you say it and I’ve said some of these things myself on occasion. Some students don’t put in the work to learn and “take it out on us” when it comes time for evaluation. (One of my own children has admitted to doing this, by the way.) Standard evaluation forms don’t ask the right questions. Students don’t like classes that are “hard,” and they want us to lighten their load. And you are overworked already, so how could you possibly find time to even ask the questions, let alone make changes or do more?
So let me tell you why I love gathering and using student feedback, and why I love talking with and listening to students. First of all, often it actually makes my job easier! Yes, you read that right. My students often give me ideas that streamline or improve the learning experience in interesting ways. The best example is sharing learning resources. Students suggest websites and videos that provide additional learning support. I make them available to their classmates. Suddenly, I get fewer emails and learning improves. Or students suggest additional information that they need to complete assignments. Again, I provide it, and the questions decrease and the homework quality increases. Why wouldn’t I want this information? Win-win! (Office hours sometimes get a little lonelier, but I’m coping with that.)
And that leads to an even more important point, student learning increases. Listening to feedback from my students helps them achieve the learning goals in two ways. I’m a better teacher, and they know that I care. I think that the second thing is the most important, to be honest. When students know I care about their learning, they generally get more enthusiastic about it themselves. Why am I in the classroom every day, doing the work that I do, if I don’t care about whether or not students learn?
Finally, although there are LOTS more reasons that I value feedback, listening to students shows them that I value them as human beings. Students are not assessment objects, nameless faces in the classroom, or problems to be solved. Students are people. I’ve learned so much from my students’ suggestions, personal stories, and perspectives. We need more of that in this world, this listening to and learning from one another. You all know that one person that really listens to you and how that makes you feel and how that builds relationships. This week, I was in meeting with an amazing group of educator colleagues and everyone was listening to me so intently that it sort of freaked me out. I suddenly thought, “Whoa, they maybe shouldn’t take me so seriously!” (Squirrel brain moment, for sure.) But they were showing me that they valued me as a participant in the meeting by listening to what I had to say like that, even if I wasn’t being particularly brilliant at that moment. Students have shared with me that they have similar experiences when I request their feedback. They feel valued as a person AND as a participant in their own learning experience. Another win-win.
So, that’s been my week. I’m still not sure why several students chose to draw sloths on the “We need less” side of the feedback sheets, and I’m still processing their input. But I finally feel like I’ve had a week of forward progress!