Friday, May 11, 2012

Best Practices? Ask the Customers!

Student Achievement Best Practices

By Teresa Bunner, Teacher

student achievement best practices greeting students at the door

A while back, Domino’s Pizza ran a series of ads in which they presented clips of focus groups giving honest opinions about how to improve their product. Anyone familiar with the customer service world recognizes this is a standard practice.
So, I am always amazed that when we talk about student achievement best practices, there is very often a key contingent of voices missing from the conversation- students. Our students, each unique individual who enters our room, tell us what our best practices are, if we are willing to listen.

For twenty years I have had the privilege of working with students in elementary, middle and high school. I avidly pursue professional development and belong to many professional organizations. But the most successful changes made in my classroom have been informed and guided by listening to my students. And while ages and locations have changed, their list of best practices echoes some of the same ideas over and over. Their list is extensive, but I have found three that seem to be simple yet often are dismissed because they don’t appear to be “instructional” practices. However, my kids tell me time and time again that it is these basics that make a difference for them. Here are their top three:

1. Greeting Students- As a student teacher, my master teacher encouraged me to greet my 9th graders at the door. Being the master teacher, I followed her advice. The following year in my own classroom, I continued this habit, never fully understanding the effect until the last day of school when sweet Ana handed me a folded note. “You will never know how much it meant to me to see your smiling face greet me at the door each day,” she wrote. She went on to talk about how some days she was stressed or afraid she would be late to class, but she knew it would be all right when she rounded the corner and saw me. From that moment, I knew this would always be a part of my teaching.

Over the years, my students have come to expect this from me. I can remember one day a young man raced into the room to find me on the phone. He loudly exclaimed, “Man! I thought we had a sub ‘cuz you weren’t at the door. Don’t scare me like that, Ms. B!” I love, too, when my students take it upon themselves to help me with or assume this duty and greet their peers at the door. Just that few minutes before class sets the tone for our learning community.

2. Names- “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…” sings Gary Portnoy. And the voices from my students over the years echo this sentiment. Names hold such power. Recently I had a conversation with a young man who was frustrated with a classroom teacher. His whole life he has been called by his middle name, but, despite repeated requests, this teacher continued to call him by his first name. He felt disrespected and had begun to pretend he did not hear the teacher call him. For him, this became a classroom where he felt unvalued and “invisible”. Over and over I have had students share frustrations with teachers who don’t know their names or mispronounce names. A seemingly simple strategy, yet one that holds such power.

3. Inviting Student Voices- I am reminded time and time again when I talk to students how vital this is. In a strategic reading class I taught to 9th graders, part of the final was a letter to me in which they evaluated how they had grown as a reader. One question asked students to suggest changes to the course. One student responded, ”Why haven’t we been writing letters like this all semester?” And thus, our class Lit Letters were born. Strategies like class meetings and lit circles are other examples of ways to build student voice into classrooms.

Often the very answers we seek to improve our practice are right there before us. How will you invite your students’ voices into your learning community?

Teresa Bunner currently works as the Academic Support Specialist for the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. She spent the previous twenty years as a classroom teacher and reading specialist at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She loves working with young people on their learning journey.


  1. Teresa nails three simple practices that can truly make a difference in student engagement and ultimately in student achievement. We have an action research project from our state funded professional development project that proves exactly what Teresa is suggesting. Thank you, Teresa! Bonnie Davis

  2. Though many people will think that funny voicemail messages are unprofessional, it is a great way to help people cheer up and forget about the stress that they have been going through. Here are a few suggestions to think about when trying to think of funny voicemail greetings. See more voicemail message sample personal