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Set a Wayside Teaching Goal for Next School Year

Are you required to create formal growth objectives for next year?  Or are you simply interested in finding new ways to grow professionally regardless of whether or not you are required to have formal objectives?  Would you like to reach more effectively your most needy students?  Do you hope to have a lasting impact in the lives of the young people you encounter?


If your answer to any of those questions was "Yes", then I would strongly encourage you to consider creating for yourself a Wayside Teaching Goal.


Professor and author, John H. Lounsbury, coined what I consider to be a very useful phrase, Wayside Teaching.  Everyone knows what Wayside Teaching is, and all great - even good - teachers practice it.  But putting a name or label on it allows us to talk about it.  So what is Wayside Teaching?  John Lounsbury says, 

The more influential aspect of … education is often what might be called wayside teaching. By wayside teaching I mean the teaching that is done between classes, when walking in the halls, after school, and in dozens and dozens of one-on-one encounters, however brief.


So Wayside Teaching is essentially the act of building relationships with students outside of the regular class time.  Each of you reading this blog could name dozens - if not hundreds - of examples of Wayside Teaching and the positive impact it has had, both on you and on students.  It's hard to argue against Wayside Teaching, but I'd like for you to consider Wayside Teaching in what might be a new way for you.


Now that we have a label for that very common relational practice, let's examine our Wayside Teaching habits.  First of all, are you active or accidental with your Wayside Teaching?  In other words, do you intentionally set out to connect with kids, or does it just happen when it happens?  There's nothing wrong with seizing the moment when it occurs, but there is also something to be said for causing the moment to occur.  Would you teach your content by waiting for teachable moments?  Of course not.  You spend countless hours making plans that will allow you to create teachable moments.  The same could - and I believe should - hold true for our Wayside Teaching practices.  We must actively create Wayside Teaching moments just as we create content teaching moments.


Next, analyze who you end up Wayside Teaching.  Who are the students with whom you end up building the best relationships?  Is there any chance that they are the same students who build relationships with other teachers as well?  I bet you there are some students in your school who, as a result of their personalities and talents, end up being Wayside Taught by almost every teacher they have.  At the same time, I bet there are some students in your school who build meaningful connections with almost no one.  These tend to be the lower achieving students, or the disciplinary problems, or even the shy students who slip through the social cracks.  Who will Wayside Teaching them?


I would challenge you to create a very intentional goal for actively Wayside Teaching during this next school year.  Here's what I would propose.  Create a goal for yourself that is something like the following:

By the end of the second week of school I will have developed a Wayside Teaching list of between 5-10 students.  These will be students who I have identified as either potential low achievers, potential disciplinary problems, or students whose personalities might make them more difficult to get to know during the course of a school year.  I will make a point to have at least one Wayside Teaching moment weekly with each student on my list as evidenced by a list of students and an example of a Wayside Teaching moment for each student to be shared with my evaluator.


Of course, you could definitely have a much less formal goal.  This example, though, was written in the official style often preferred by school systems should you choose to make this an official growth objective.  At first glance this might not seem like the type of thing that would normally be included in professional growth objectives.  However, I bet it actually fits into your school's plan for teachers better than you would think.  Take my school system, for example.  2 of the official criteria by which our teachers in the City of Salem Schools are evaluated are whether or not:

  1. The teacher establishes and maintains rapport with students, and
  2. The teacher creates a supportive learning environment.


It wouldn't surprise me if your school system had similar evaluation criteria.  A Wayside Teaching Goal would be a great way to satisfy those areas of your evaluation system.


So whether you make this an official and formal goal or whether you simply decide that this is something you would like to do, imagine for a moment the power of a faculty that decides to Wayside Teach in the way described in the goal.  What would it be like if all faculty members made an active and intentional point to build relationships with the students who are potential low achievers, potential disciplinary problems, or whose personalities make them more difficult to get to know?  

  • Could the shy students begin to feel like your classroom is a safe haven?  
  • Could you build a relationship with the "trouble-maker" and turn him or her into a positive part of your classroom?
  • Could the student who struggles with your content end up working harder than ever before and succeeding like never before?
  • Could students be impacted for a lifetime knowing that someone truly cared for them and pursued a relationship with them? 


As I said previously, teachers already do this.  However, let's consider being as purposeful at making these relationships occur as we are at making sure students learn our content.  And let's very intentionally seek out the students with whom we do not typically build strong relationships.  Let's, out of love, pursue kids and impact their lives.  Let's Wayside Teach!

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Comment by Chris Williams on February 22, 2014 at 10:38pm

We did this in our Freshman Transition at Gretna High. We took some of the real at-risk students and mentored them. Our biggest success was that about 90% of the students we developed this relationship with ended up graduating on time and only a couple ended up not graduating. One of the students had a GPA of 0.5 at the beginning and graduated with a 2.25. While this may not seem like much, it was huge. He became a certified electrician and now works in Maryland making more than a couple of the teachers combined. He was on the wrong path and we helped him get his life straightened out. Giving it a name like Wayside Teaching is a great idea.

Comment by Scott Habeeb on February 22, 2014 at 9:59pm
Thanks for the feedback, Sandra. You're right - Wayside Teaching could revolutionize schools!
Comment by Sandra Cantwell on February 22, 2014 at 9:48pm

I love love love this article. We could revolutionize our schools if we did more Wayside teaching. Great read!!!

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