Fostering an atmosphere of communication by providing opportunities for student voice, feedback, and reflection.

by Jessica Garner

All Grades


One of the things that I have found that is really powerful is communication and hearing student voice.

I’ve observed over and over again that the person doing the talking is doing the learning. So I’ve found that using the strategy of listening to students, hearing their voices, getting feedback from them, and then as the teacher, adjusting in the moment, is a really powerful way to engage and activate learners.

There are several pieces to this strategy. First you must:

-Intentionally design experiences for kids so that you are teaching for student understanding; then

-Be willing to adjust in the moment to what you are hearing from your students and allow them to forge their own path to understanding; and finally

-Slow down the experience for kids and prioritize student understanding, learning, and reflection over the goal of simply meeting standards at a specific time during the year.

Creating this atmosphere of communication in the classroom can seem like a daunting task and a lot of additional work. But being responsive to the needs of your students makes teaching more fun – you build relationships with your students and you become more nimble and flexible as a teacher.


What I did well…

In this session, I provided opportunities to think differently about the experiences we provide for students. I really like that teachers were pushed to consider the nuances between lesson planning and lesson design. Because teachers are asked to consider how their students react to the different phases of the lesson, they are required to reflect on their practice and make adjustments based on the students. While this seems like common sense, we all fall into the trap of  marching through the curriculum so that we can “cover” the standards. I was excited to hear from participants that their thinking had been challenged and that they are considering new ways to make their lessons meaningful for students.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

In my quest to introduce teachers to different tools and strategies, I think I overdid it. There are a lot of ways to share resources and I probably didn’t pick the best way. A different scenario is to share some of the conceptual information up front with an opportunity board toward the end. This would connect the tools to the strategy and give teachers a chance to play with the tools and see which one they like.  Having time to explore and investigate on your own during professional development is invaluable. 

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I would like to continue to encourage divergent thinking around lesson and activity design. Teachers need the space to think differently and dialogue with other practitioners about their craft. I want to continue to explore ways that we can provide a structure by which to use the principles of design thinking. I always run into the barrier of time. Most teachers don’t “write” lesson plans – they begin with the objectives they have to teach and think about activities they can do with students. I want to continue to challenge this process. I want to completely flip this process and think about designing the 90 minutes of my class starting with the needs of the students sitting in the room. How do I challenge those students who have already mastered the content to go deeper? How do I encourage my struggling students to keep working; let them know that they will get it if they keep going? How do I design engaging activities that meet the needs of all learners where they are and continually push them forward? How do I find time to do all of this within the confines of my day and my life outside of being a teacher? These are all questions that I will continually struggle with and push others to consider so that I can strive to be a little bit better today than I was yesterday.


About Jessica Garner

Jessica Garner is in her eighteenth year as an educator. She works in Cabarrus County, NC as the PK-12 Curriculum Coordinator. She has previously s...

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