Updated: Jan 31, 2022
If you are a person who can constantly work on their self-development and stay on track without external control or motivation, then I truly admire you. Most of us, humble mortals, unfortunately, do need certain leverags. Open lessons provide such self-imposed control, but they are much more than that.
What are Open Lessons? At the end of each month, we have special days when students' parents, grandparents, nannies, siblings, classmates and friends can observe our lesson. For me, it is the last Friday or Saturday in a month, depending on the group schedule. Our parents know that irrelevant of whether I remind them or not, every and each last Friday and Saturday our doors are open for them. Why have them? There are a number of reasons:
Accountability. You know that at the end of the month you should show some result, say what you have been doing to achieve certain goals and solve issues.
Feedback. This goes both ways. First, you receive feedback for your work. In addition to some criticism, you will, hopefully, receive a lot of praise. Either way, it will motivate you to move forward. Moreover, you might be surprised at how insightful the parents can be. They often do offer valuable advice. At the same time, open lessons are a form of a progress report. Before an open lesson, think of the whole group and each student individually. These are the questions you should try to answer:
What have you been doing this month?
What's coming next?
What are each student's strengths and weaknessesin terms of grammar, vocabulary, language skills, performance, behaviour and motivation? What is your plan for fixing the issues they might have?
Use these questions to help you structure the feedback you give at the end.
Building Trust. Putting yourself out there and showing vulnerability often helps you build rapport. When you tell your students' parents in not so many words: "I open myself up for criticism and judgement. You are welcome to see what I'm doing and say what you think of it", they can't help but sympathise with you. Guess what happens after you've been doing this for a while? They simply stop coming to your lessons? Why? Because they trust you (at least, this is what I've been telling myself).
Publicity. For decades, if not ages, educational institutions and companies have been using open days to attract new students and customers. Imagine all those parents talking to their friends and family about you and your lesson, posting photos and videos on social media... Do you feel like a celebrity, yet? No? Well, you should!
Building Confidence. Last but not least, a lot of people are petrified of delivering public speeches and talking in front of the audience. Well, know what? After teaching in front of parents for months you gain such confidence that delivering a speech is a child's play for you. A useful tip: as you teach, ignore the parents. Pretend the parents are not there, train your eyes not to go to the part of the classroom they are sitting in. Your students are great at reading your body language and subconscious signals. Once you act like it's no big deal, they follow the lead.
How to organise? There are three main ways in which open lessons can be organised: 1. Treat it as a monthly report. Have a revision lesson during which you show what you have learnt since the previous open lesson: grammar, vocabulary, songs, new information about the world around us. 2. Show what a typical lesson is like, how things are done: how you make a movie, how you teach grammar, how you learn songs, how you work with a text, etc. 3. Mix the two. Start with a revision, then proceed with a regular lesson structure. How to talk to parents? At the end of the lesson allocate 10 minutes for talking to your "audience". First, ask your students to leave the room. Then, break the distance/chair/desk barrier (remember what I said about being vulnerable?). Take a chair and sit right in front of them. Thank them for honouring you with their presence and say that it is very important for you. Then ask them for feedback. I normally start with: "Opinion, suggestions, criticism?". Do not be surprised if they keep silence. Initiate the talk by outlining briefly what you have been doing with the group, where you are going, what you are happy with, what difficulties you see and how you think of overcoming them. Do not be afraid of asking for their opinion and advice on how this can be done. After that, you can provide feedback on separate students. Always start with the positive feedback, and only then move on to discussing the challenges. Don't just complain. Say what you think might be causing the issue and how you think to fix it. Set a clear deadline, e.g. "For one month I am going to give Poghos some extra homework. The next time we have our open lesson we can return to this topic and see whether it helps him to make some progress. If it doesn't, we'll have to take individual classes/move him to a weaker group". Always ask if your plan is OK. You will normally use the students' native language (if you speak it). Make an effort to speak like an educated person and a professional. Keep your vocabulary and style semi-formal.