6 Questions to Tackle When Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness in the Classroom

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

A teaching lesson bombs...in fact, about 15 minutes into the lesson you realize the students are not engaged or even looking your direction. What do you do? Some teachers may plow through the lesson and have the attitude, "I taught it, so they should know it!" Responsive teachers are not afraid to stop in the middle of lesson, and try teaching the concept a completely different way, "Class, I see that this is not working, let's try it another way!" How can two teachers be so different in their instructional approaches?

Flexibility and responsiveness are qualities that most teachers exude every day in the classroom. The multitude of things that occur without warning effect the way we teach every day. Walking in your classroom could be an abused student from a bad home situation, or an absent teacher requesting you to supervise their classroom, to an unannounced fire drill, educators must respond to situations that interrupt the well-planned instruction. Educators must ask themselves, "Am I being flexible in this situation and how can I be even more flexible?" Likewise, these teachers also know the fine balance of being too flexible when instructional effectiveness can be lost.

The ability for educators to be responsive to individual student needs is an art, as well as a science. While teachers are required to make sure they teach a set of standards for a given grade level, they also must understand each student's ability level, as well as the socio- and emotional challenges each of them possess. This responsiveness to student needs is visible in every day instruction. An observer should be able to find evidence that the teacher incorporates students' interests, adjusts instruction in response to student feedback, and that the teacher is not afraid to alter instruction and go deeper during a "teachable moment."

The following six questions will support your transition from being classified as "proficient," moving up to "exemplary" level according to Charlotte Danielson's Evaluation Model. These six questions pertain to Domain 3 (Instruction), and Component E (Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness).

1 - How Do You Know When to Make Minor and Major Lesson Adjustments Before, During, and After Instruction?

A grant introduced during the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era, called Reading First, had teachers use prescriptive language required when teaching reading lessons to students. This direct instruction technique was meant for all learners in the classroom. It did not adjust to students unique learning needs. Students with learning needs were taught outside of these lessons requiring additional time for reading support. Many of these students were pulled out of other areas of instruction: science, social studies, or specials that were being taught. Reading took precedent over any other subject area. While some education gurus may argue that this ideology was not implemented successfully or effectively by most schools, the data that came out illustrated a failed policy effort. Reading First did not raise student achievement levels. In fact, it had some reprehensible aftereffects: a generation of readers that could read, but hated to do so…alliterate readers. Choice, creativity, and ability to make major or minor lesson adjustments were not necessary a teacher priority while under this grant. Principals could go from room to room and knew exactly what was happening, what page they were on, and what the teacher should be saying and doing.

What we have come to know after NCLB ended is that teachers need to personalize education. Through differentiation, a teacher needs to be able to adjust curriculum, instruction, and assessment accordingly with the students seated in every classroom. Teachers must do their research even before students step foot in their classrooms in the fall. After reviewing and collecting as much data as possible, adjustments can be made prior to instruction. Here are some questions teachers should tackle before day one of instruction:

  • What prior data do I have on the students in my classroom?
  • What patterns do I see in the data?
  • What socio-emotional situations should I be cognizant about before day one?
  • What subjects, topics, and other content areas are the students' strengths, who needs more support, or what are the content holes after looking at prior assessment data?
  • What subjects, topics, and other content areas can I spend less time on due to prior assessment data?
  • What do my colleagues say about the students in my classroom?
  • What support do students in my class already receive?

Master teachers understand that their planning for the school year starts before the first day of school. They use all the collected data to make adjustments to content, materials, and instructional time on specific learning goals. After the school year begins, the data collection prior to instruction does not stop. These teachers collect more information to use in order to adjust and differentiate instruction. Here is a list of data that can be collected after the school year begins:

  • Student Interests - Teacher Created Survey
  • Student Strengths - Multiple Intelligence Survey
  • Pre-Assessment Data - Teacher Created Short Assessment
  • Formative Data - Teacher Created During Lesson
  • Socio-Emotional, Bullying, or Discipline Referral Data - Last Year and Current Year's Data

While teachers are starting a lesson, the first 5-10 minutes of instruction should give teachers enough information to determine a plan. The teacher then decides if the preplanned lesson will be successful to continue as planned. Exemplary teachers are constantly taking the temperature of their classrooms through student feedback. Feedback such as pre-assessments, active participation, and observation of students can give teachers information to adjust instruction for the remainder of the lesson. Here are some approaches a teacher can use to adjust instruction during a lesson:

  • Increase or Decrease Active Engagement
  • Increase or Decrease Learning Structures
  • Increase or Decrease The Time For Specific Content
  • Increase or Decrease The Time For Specific Instructional Strategy
  • Change or Modify Content and Curriculum
  • Change or Modify Instructional Strategy
  • Change or Modify Materials

After instruction, exemplary teachers use the collected data to make immediate adjustments for the next lessons or they can decide to continue with the pre-planned instruction. The data can consist of formative and summative data, observational data, and any other extraneous data to create the best learning experiences tailored to the students seated in the classroom. The same adjustments as previously stated can be used post instruction.

2 - How Big Is Your Proverbial Toolbox of Alternate Instructional Strategies?

When a teacher makes a choice to veer away from the original instructional plan, due to seeing a student or classroom need, an alternate instructional strategy might be a solution. Exemplary teachers know when to change their instructional plans, and they have other strategies that fit the given situation. Through experience and student feedback, a teacher builds their toolbox of strategies.

Experienced teachers understand that students come into the classroom in various moods. For example, if a class arrives chatty with high energy, the teacher needs to add some learning structures that involve talking and movement. This may not be in the lesson plans for the day. Quickly, the teacher decides that the learning structure titled, "Inside-Outside Circle" would best get students up and talking. Using the same content, the teacher can now harness the energy and chatty nature of the students…thus, using their powers for good!

Exemplary teachers also understand that when a group of students is have difficulties understanding the content, they must be responsive. For example, if a teacher finds that four students need the content retaught in a different fashion, the teacher pulls them into a small group and begins. The teacher may use manipulatives to make the concept more concrete so students can connect to prior learning.

Another example is the ability for a teacher to use the interests and strengths of the students to connect and teach a new concept. For example, if a student likes basketball, but is having a difficult time understanding the mathematical concept of "average" or "mean." The teacher can pull statistics from a current basketball player to teach this concept.

The more years of experience, added with research and communication with colleagues, support a teacher's transition from proficient to the exemplary level. Exemplary teachers can match current struggling students with successful student scenarios from the past.

Sponsored Content

3 - How Do You Take Advantage of "Teaching Moments?"

A "teaching moment" can be defined as an instructional segment where there is complete student engagement. What sets it apart from other instructional segments are the questions that students continue to ask, as well as a sense of intrigue that is peaked by students' interest. Developing teachers may not understand when this moment is occurring, and thus do not capitalize on the benefits of this special learning experience.

Beth Lewis from ThoughtCo.com, further defines a teachable moment as,

"…an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her students. A teachable moment is not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized by the teacher."

Exemplary teachers understand that these moments are rare. Though they would like to have them occur daily, teachers need to be willing to adjust the lesson immediately when a "teachable moment" happens. A teacher can go deeper into a specific area, or maintain a high engagement level in which students do not want to stop learning about a topic. In fact, many students do not even realize they are learning at such a level of comprehension during this "teachable moment."

Exemplary teachers may adjust the time, content, resources and more in order to utilize this complete engagement time. Teachable moments are special learning experiences that students remember for year to year and beyond. We must celebrate them and encourage this to transpire more often during instruction. Being reflective is an exemplary teacher's primary strategy in duplicating these moments. The more they can replicate the prior learning experiences leading up the teachable moment, the more they can predict when they may occur.

4 - How Do Grit, Perseverance, and Commitment Play a Role in Teacher Efforts for All Students to Be Successful?

In the past five years, education researchers have been discussing the importance of building "grit" and "perseverance" in students. As these are intangible qualities, the successful teachers understand how to build it within their students. Exemplary teachers understand that these qualities start with them. They, themselves, exude grit, perseverance, and commitment in making sure all students are learning to their potential. Many educators goal for a minimum of "one year's growth in one year's time." Many school districts surpass this goal (Read the article titled, How Effective Is Your School District? A New Measure Shows Where Students Learn the Most, to learn more about what is happening in Chicago, you can even research your school district).

What does teacher "grit" look like at school? This can be answered in much the same fashion as what we want to see in our students. Teachers should have an unrelenting character trait that does not take failure as an option, only as a learning experience. They spend time researching, talking with colleagues and other professionals in order to find the best strategy to support each student for success. They do not give up. It may take more time, effort, and energy, but the exemplary teacher does not give up.

Angela Duckworth describes "grit" in her recent TED Talk titled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Peservance, as being the number one indicator of student success. If this is true, then it must be stated for teachers as well. The ability to dig deep, have patience and perseverance, can lead to classroom success with the most difficult of students. Angela devised a "Grit Scale" where you can find out your personal "grit" score based on a 5-point scale.

A teacher that can persevere is able to tackle student problems, as well as other situational problems thrown at them. They understand in order to be successful it takes time, problem solving, resources, and communication.

Master teachers are not necessarily in teaching "for the money and prestige;" they are in it because they are committed to supporting students. The level of commitment of these teachers to help students learn is evident in their words and actions. They do not give up easy and they follow through to the end.

5 - How Is the Differentiation of Instruction Integral in Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness?

Differentiation has long been a best practice in education. The ability to differentiate instruction starts small…from the first day of instruction, even for new and inexperienced teachers. With added years of experience, as well as research and collaboration with colleagues, it can be a powerful tool for meeting the needs of all students. In Carol Ann Tomlinson's article on the Reading Rockets web site titled, What is Differentiated Instruction?, she defines differentiation.

"Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction."

Exemplary teachers have a growth mindset and are continually adding to their tools and strategies. They use these tools to support effective differentiation that is responsive and flexible to student needs. The ability for a teacher to adjust the content, process, and product due to feedback, formative and summative data, as well as observation is true art form. New teachers may find this time-consuming at first, but as they learn how to differentiate more effectively, the time they put into making lesson adjustments is worth it. When the efficiency increases as teachers plan instruction, it becomes easier to meet the needs of individual, groups, and classes of specific students.

The best advice for new or inexperienced teachers is to start small. Allowing students to choose the modality for learning a topic can be an easy first step in differentiating. A more difficult approach is creating a lesson that has scaffolds. The teacher chooses a topic, theme, or standard to address. Then the teacher decides how many different levels of learning abilities they should address. Most teachers start with the following groups: below grade level, on grade level, and above grade level. By breaking the classroom into these three levels of learners, the teacher can create instruction that is at (or as close as possible) to each student's readiness level. All the students are working on the same topic or standard, but at a different level. This allows all students to access the required state standard or district curriculum.

6 - How Can Teachers Seek Support and Resources from Colleagues, Community, and Other Research?

Exemplary teachers have growth mindsets and they are continually seeking information from anyone who can support their educational endeavors. Colleagues may have vital information about the students in their class, as well as possible research, strategies, and ideas that they can use with students. Community members can also play an integral role in supporting teachers. Gone are the days of teachers closing their doors and teaching. We must model how to communicate, collaborate, and use multiple resources to teach students successfully.

Working with a team of teachers that encourage each other and share ideas can be one of the most powerful educational endeavors. Research states that the culture of a school is the number one indicator of a successful school. Dr. Bill Daggett states, "Culture trumps strategy." How well does your school communicate and "team" together? To determine how well your team works together, read this blog, score your team on the rubric, and set goals for your team. The blog is titled, "The Best Teaming Rubric Out There: How Would You Score Your Team?"

The ability to devise your our own PLN, or Personal Learning Network, is becoming more popular in education. These are the go-to people and resources that are used to make themselves better. All of the people and resources are selected with a purpose in mind. Research at the fingertips of social media has never been faster. Exemplary teachers create a PLN to support their growth as a teacher. Their PLN is always changing to meet student needs, as well as the needs of the teacher.

Exemplary teachers go outside of the school to find resources and support from community members. Whether the teacher is bringing in an animal expert from the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, or bringing a financial advisor from a brokerage into the classroom to discuss how interest accrues over time, exemplary teachers find community members that can further support student learning. Teachers also team with organizations to support student's needs in a number of ways in which a school cannot. For example, a teacher may support a family in finding medical, mental, or dental health providers. The exemplary teacher knows how to connect families with community services, or knows how to connect the families with people who do.

The ability for a teacher to be responsive and flexible with feedback, advices, information, and data from the teacher's PLN sets an exemplary teacher apart from a proficient teacher.

(Charlotte Danielson Model: Domain 3 Component e)

Sponsored Content


Jon Konen