Sometimes as teachers, with all that we have to juggle, it’s easy to close off our classroom in order to maintain maximum “control.” We are jam-packed with expectations that we have to squeeze into tiny timeframes with a million variables. To best run this three-ring circus, we often close off our classrooms and try to be the one and only ringmaster. This is a huge task, involving every subject area and learning style imaginable. Over the years, I’ve learned to let go a bit and invite field experts and people with first-hand personal experience to be instructional guests in our classroom. The results have been amazing! Make it one of your teaching New Year’s resolutions to incorporate parents and community members to share knowledge and experience with your class in 2015!
Over the years, in many different schools with varied demographics, I have been pleasantly pleased with the overwhelming response of parents and community members wanting and willing to visit our class for an “in-house field trip” where they share their expertise or experience(s) with certain topics we might be studying at that given time. Not only is this a great way to build partnerships with parents and community stakeholders, but it also means so much more to students when a “special guest” is presenting information to them from first-hand experience. They are engaged, enthralled, and excited to learn from someone other than me — and I’m not offended by that AT ALL!
WHY This Is Important:
First-hand perspective: No matter how great of a teacher one might be, nothing can compare to having someone with first-hand experience telling about and teaching various topics.
Generational variety: One aspect that has been particularly interesting with our guests has been the age spans. From younger than me to much older, inviting others into the room to provide varied experience perspectives often also involves various age points. It’s great for students to learn from our older generations!
Artifacts and primary sources: Despite the best textbooks, resources, and tech tools in the world, someone who is able to bring in real artifacts or primary sources directly linked to whatever you are studying is priceless.
Comprehension based on variety of sources: Using these artifacts and primary sources, as well as auditory processing, students are exposed to a variety of nonfiction sources. This gives them great practice in comprehending text types and resources, as well as auditory comprehension.
Student engagement: Students are naturally excited and engaged when guests are presenting new information to them (or at least this has consistently been the case with my students).
Student pride: If your guest(s) happen to be relatives, friends, or acquaintances of one or more of your students, watch how their faces light up and chests puff out with pride as they introduce your speakers. It’s great to see them proud of their friends and family, and respecting their expertise.
Practice as audience: Students get in a groove within their own class of peers and with you as their teacher leader. That’s great, but it’s also valuable for them to have things shaken up every so often. Bringing in guests gives them practice listening to and being a respectful audience for presenters/teachers other than you.
After seeing the positive impact of guest instructors, I have branched out and tried many different topics/purposes for inviting people into my classroom. The best events have actually been suggestions or inquiries from students, parents, and/or community members. Below are a few of my favorite past guest instructors that might hopefully spawn great ideas for topics and visitors in your own classrooms:
Gulf Coast Oil Spill: Last year we had the most wonderfully geeky experience when a parent came in to share her first-hand knowledge about the BP Gulf Coast oil spill. Living in Chicago, none of my students could personally relate to such an event and its impact. Not only did she share facts from multiple perspectives, but she also provided photos and interesting personal connection stories. To further this experience, she and other parents with interests or careers in science then joined us for an oil spill simulation experiment series. Read my previous blog post for all of the details and fun photos of the experiments in action!
New York City Freedom Tower: In my classroom, we kick off our year studying the Northeast region, and it's easy to get swept away in the history and tourist attractions of the one and only Big Apple. This exploration of NYC coincides with 9/11, and so we take time to honor the fallen and discuss the events of that historic day and its impact on our country. This year we had a special treat when a parent brought it to my attention that his father (my student’s grandfather) was part of the process of building the Freedom Tower and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum! This was truly an unforgettable experience, not focusing so much on the events of 9/11, but on our guest’s first-hand involvement with the rebuilding process and what that means to us and says about our country. The class was absolutely enamored. We will never forget 9/11, nor this presentation! See my class blog post for full details, photos, and more!
Lamorinda Idol: Studying light and sound waves may often be a confusing, ambiguous, abstract, and even boring topic for students. It needn’t be, though, since most young people love music, movies, and live performances! One of our student’s grandparents helps run a local version of the ever popular, American Idol. Using that hot topic as a hook, our special guest presented the concepts of sound waves in a way that captured students' interests. He brought stereo equipment that actually showed sound waves and how they work, and then let us listen to live recorded examples of performances in order to spark discussion regarding the importance and impact of sound, as well as frequency of higher/lower notes. Never would I have been able to give such a presentation, and my kiddos certainly don’t want to have to hear me sing! Read my class blog post for full details and photos!
Don’t feel limited by my favorite guest instructor experiences listed above. Below are just a few ideas to get you started on inviting community members into your classroom:
food services/grocery stores
Openly express to parents and community stakeholders your willingness to welcome visitors as “guest instructors” in the classroom.
Keep all stakeholders constantly aware of your current and upcoming topics of study across all subject areas.
Using an auto-sign-up service like SignUpGenius or Volunteer Spot, send out notifications of opportunities to present to your class. This tech tool truly provides a first-come-first-serve sign up method that takes the burden and confusion of juggling volunteers off of your hands.
Prep your class with background knowledge and inquiry stem questions, and get them excited for your guest. If there is anything else you need to prepare them for (vocabulary, questioning, etc.) be sure to frontload that information so that students get the most out of the guest instructor session.
Touch base with your volunteer(s) prior to the presentation. Discuss what your/their expectations are, questions they may have, and itinerary for the visit. This could be as casual as a general class discussion, or might include visuals, artifacts, and/or digital presentation. That’s up to you and your guest. Just be sure to discuss things ahead of time so that you are both prepared (especially if technology is involved and needed for setup).
Don’t forget to follow up with a token of your appreciation. Aside from it being proper manners, guests love to hear/see how much their presentation made an impact on your students. My favorite ways to thank our guest instructors are to: 1) Send them a RedStamp digital thank you note, including photo of them in action. 2) Create a collage of all of the photos taken that day and have it printed (for under $2.00) at any quick-print service. 3) Blog about the event on your class or professional blog and include lots of photos.
It’s a new year, and a great time to try new things in your classroom. If you don’t already bring guest instructors from the community into your classroom, I hope this inspired you. If you DO already invite guest speakers to teach your students, perhaps this gave you some new ideas for the new year! Please share your own ideas in the comments below so that we might build a cache of great uses for our volunteers. For more ideas on how to maximize parent/community involvement, see some of my previous blog posts pictured below.