Teachers considered content experts don’t get a free pass to student engagement or to being an excellent teacher. On the other hand, I know great teachers who are far from content experts, but they have some serious learning going on in their classrooms. The difference is they are using what I call the “project approach” to teaching. Anyone can easily use this method. There isn’t another class or certification to obtain.

1. Understand and be clear about the learning concepts you will present each day. When I teach I know what I want to cover each day, sometimes I get there and sometimes I don’t. You cannot ram content into the minds of students. Lessons must be designed so that students have time to think and apply what is being discussed. One good teacher tool is knowing your applications examples. Before class starts you need to have three or four clear, concise examples of how concepts you are teaching apply to the neighborhood, community, or campus.

2. Know the strengths and weaknesses of student knowledge. Using bell work and other informal assessments will put you in tune with student comprehension. You have to understand where they are in concept retention and application so you can use it to your advantage. For example, call on Susie when you need to drive a point home because you know she’ll have the best answer. Or, when you want to draw out some conflicting ideas in order to get students thinking, call on Barry or Jack because you know they aren’t on solid ground with the concepts yet. Encourage educated guesses and put the kibosh on “I don’t know” responses.

3. Weave fun into your instruction and steer it with student participation. Who said learning has to be boring? Getting students to participate is an art. If that is lacking in your class then you must examine your classroom management techniques. What about the atmosphere of respect in your classroom? If that’s lacking then you are going to have to build it. After all, respect is earned not given – especially with teenagers. I always have a couple of parody’s prepared before class, which means I write ’em down so I don’t forget ’em. Your lesson design must have a minimum of one student collaboration activity; otherwise you are fighting upstream to keep student energy focused.

4. Use student energy to learn don’t fight it. I see so many teachers trying to get Jose and Johnny to be good students instead of giving them work to perform that uses their energy. When you are creating your lesson, write down ideas for what you’re going to be doing with disruptive students. If they keep acting up, maybe they need extra helping understanding the work? Put students into an activity – reading in small groups- and during that time visit with your rowdy students – one on one time at their desk. This is demonstrating your commitment to them. This kinda attention can be helpful to illustrate your respect – when you interact with each student thoughtfully and with the sincere goal of helping them.

5. If your teaching skill of “being prepared” isn’t enriched by your success and mistakes then you’re not paying attention. You don’t need a PhD to figure this out. There is a zone where project approach teaching exists; it’s between being a new teacher and roaming on automatic pilot. In this zone you are doing new activities or tweaking old ones. Your lessons are full of your attention and not just filling time. As you teach your classes your confidence builds. Hey all teachers, even you and I, make mistakes. The effective teachers acknowledge them; perhaps even use them as an example (in front of class) of being a lifelong learner.

Teachers using the project approach are themselves engaged in teaching. This sets the foundation where learning can take place. When engaged teachers are using effective classroom management a dynamic learning environment is present. In that place, equipped with a matrixed lesson plan, teachers disappear and facilitators emerge where students are helping students learn. And, you don’t need to be a content expert to produce this education setting class after class.