One of the pitfalls of teaching is that teachers unintentionally start doing everything for or even instead of their students sooner or later in their career. This is very easy to observe in a typical classroom: the teacher usually prepares, hands out, and collects materials, answers all questions, decides what to hang on the walls, designs the interior of the room, decides on the optimal classroom arrangement – the teacher is single-handedly responsible for the entire learning process.
This trend can also be noticed on a school level as well. The decors for school plays and celebrations are typically created by the art teacher. The scripts are written by the Bulgarian language and literature teacher. It is usually the school counselor, principal, or some of the head teachers who reads the important announcements on the radio. Sports events are planned and organized by the PE teacher, etc.
This isn’t just an additional burden for the teachers. It deprives children from a variety of valuable opportunities for personal and academic growth. In this article we’ll share the benefits of delegating responsibilities to students and we’ll give you a few specific examples from classrooms in Teach For Bulgaria’s community.
The benefits of delegating leadership roles
Leadership roles help teachers build a positive classroom culture and are a great instrument for the development of different skills. Leadership roles are delegated based on students’ competences, the specific needs in the classroom. They also depend on the age of your students.
If you want to have your students work in groups, for example, you can assign a moderator, a timekeeper, and someone who takes notes to each group. If you know that you are about to practice some challenging tasks, you can split the class into pairs and make sure to pair less confident students with a partner who has mastered this knowledge or skill, so that they could help each other during practice. You’re not sure what the topic for your next extracurricular club meeting should be? Ask a student to do some research and give you three suggestions which you can then present to the club members and have them vote. Every decision about the classroom interior, the posters you hang on the walls, even the potted plants you have in the room can be taken with the help of your students.
You can also have your students help with some of the classroom procedures you have established. Your students can help you hand out materials, rearrange the desks for group work, prepare your classroom for the beginning of a new class, or clean up after school.
When I taught English as a second language to 8th-grade students I had 7 or 8 interns. They were responsible for grading our weekly unit tests, editing, selecting, and publishing essays written in class on our creative writing blog, and finding online grammar and vocabulary exercises which their classmates could do on their smartphones at home.
Every intern had a special red pen and at the end of the school year they all received a certificate for completing my internship program. To keep them motivated throughout the school year I also organized an intern-of-the-month competition. They could track their progress on a special board which we put by the whiteboard in their classroom. The intern who had the highest number of points for the month could pick a prize – an A, a chocolate bar, or something else.
This gives students ownership of their own learning, gives them agency and allows them to see the impact of their own actions and choices. The more responsibilities you delegate, the more their engagement and motivation will grow.
Examples from Teach For Bulgaria’s community
Stanislava Stefanova, “A New Way to Teaching” alumna and science teacher at Private Secondary School “Tsar Simeon the Great”
There are four leadership roles in Stanislava’s classroom: an assistant teacher, a tracker keeper, a timekeeper, and a “clean room” manager. You can see the activities which fall under each role in the picture from her classroom. Every student has the role for one week and must execute it diligently. Stanislava says that her students take turns, but if a student has a penalty red point in the behavior tracker, they skip a turn.
Valeria Simeonova, “A New Way to Teaching” alumna and teacher trainer in Teach For Bulgaria’s “Model Schools” program
Valeria and her second-graders are another wonderful example of delegating leadership roles to primary school students. Her students turn into managers, hosts, and trainers. This allows Valeria to accomplish three goals: she helps her students learn the material fast, teaches them to work independently, and builds their success skills.
Watch this interview with Valeria and her second-graders who will tell you more about their leadership roles:
Mirena Petrova, “A New Way to Teaching” alumna and selection and qualifications specialist at Teach For Bulgaria
“My most creative discovery when it came to leadership roles was ‘a new vocabulary inspector’. Because when you read an author of the magnitude of Vazov, for example, you’ll have many unfamiliar words. So the inspector had to signal every time there was an unfamiliar word in the texts we were reading in class together. This also helped all students focus on their reading.”
You can find out more about Mirena’s experience as a teacher in the village of Chavdar here:
Tsvetomira Yotova, “A New Way to Teaching” alumna and currently a PhD student at Goldsmith University where she researches why bilingual students drop out of school in Bulgaria and what strategies could be implemented to reverse this trend
“Besides all basic leadership roles, I’ve also instructed my students to try and catch me when I break the rules or make mistakes. I got a yellow or a red point for each mistake. I noticed that when they knew they had to pay attention to everything I did or said, they were very focused in class.”
You can find out more about Tsvetomira’s experience in this video:
Denitsa Angelova, primary school teacher at Primary School “Hristo Botev” in the village of Glozhene and “A New Way to Teaching” participant
Denitsa has also created four main leadership roles for her students:
Assistant teacher – helps the teacher throughout the day. Writes things down on the whiteboard, explains some concepts to the rest of the class in their own words, if possible. Denitsa says that this is the most popular leadership role in her classroom.
Handouts keeper – helps with the distribution of handouts throughout the day and is responsible for their storage and safety. The rest of the class helps the handouts keeper to collect and organize the materials after class.
“We have a special corner in our classroom for all handouts and additional materials that we use – pencils, scissors, pencil sharpeners, folders with white paper, books, etc.”
Order keeper – observes whether everyone keeps the rules of our classroom and documents everything on the tracker. The order keeper reminds everyone about the rules at the beginning of our classes.
Photographer – takes pictures of memorable moments throughout the day or of products that we make – projects, drawings, etc.
“I delegate these roles at random by drawing colorful sticks out of a jar with the names of every student on them. Each leadership role goes with a badge which makes students even prouder and more motivated. However, if a student has received a rep penalty point for breaking the classroom rules and has not made up for it by getting three green points afterwards, they cannot have a leadership role.”
Simeona Marinova, Senior Teacher Training Specialist at Teach For Bulgaria
Simeona is currently responsible for the training of all “Model Schools” participants, but she also has prior experience as a school counselor at a children’s center in Sofia. She shared that as a counselor she used to give children all kinds of responsibilities – to water the plants, to make sure that everyone was on time, etc.
She’d like to remind all teachers that given the current pandemic, they can have their students make sure that everyone has washed or disinfected their hands.