I recently read Cornelius Minor’s new book, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be, and it’s stuck with me for several reasons. For one, it’s a beautifully written and illustrated book, drawing on comic book art to add visual impact to Cornelius’s lyrical words. For another, it’s a powerful blend of the visionary and inspirational teacher book that makes me a) want to do better and b) feel like it’s possible; the concrete and practical resource with guided questions to help readers think through dilemmas and situations in their own classrooms, in addition to strategies and advice; and the deeply personal and vulnerable memoir of moments from his teaching experience where he didn’t do everything right, or where a student gave some very honest, very difficult feedback.
It’s sitting in my mind as I visit classrooms this week and talk to teachers who know—like Cornelius—that they’re not going to single-handedly end racism or fix inequity, and who walk into their work every morning facing problems that cannot be solved by balancing both sides of the equation. Nonetheless, I feel like their classrooms are characterized by a lovely interaction of warmth, caring, and thoughtful mathematical instruction, and I’m curious how their students experience these classrooms. One thing these teachers and I have been talking about together has been giving a survey before winter break.
In my experience, students are both astute observers and also very generous with their feedback, and creating the opportunity for students to share their perspective both honors their voice and invites them to practice reflection and metacognition—but only if what they say will be taken seriously (in the past, I have also seen teachers dismiss student feedback as biased or motivated by a grudge, in which case, why waste everyone’s time?). This makes me think that surveys should be accessible (will students know how to answer the types of questions you’re asking?), concrete (questions that are too open-ended—”what do you think about this class?”—tend to lead to vague answers—”it’s great”), and focused only on what the teacher cares most about (if there’s no intention of actually changing a particular practice, why ask how they feel about it?). I happen to like questions like “tell me about a time when…” or “describe what it’s like to…” or “how does it make you feel when…” Maybe that’s self-evident, but I always find it easier said than done.
Are you giving a student survey before winter break? What kinds of questions are you asking?
Written by Grace Chen (@graceachen)