Student-centered learning is now a common phrase in education, but what does it look like? How can teachers who are accustomed to being in charge start to share power with students? These were some of the questions that led Miriam Plotinsky to write her book, Teach More, Hover Less: How to Stop Micromanaging Your Secondary Classroom.
Plotinsky is an instructional specialist in Montgomery County, Maryland, and a former language arts teacher. She said Teach More, Hover Less was born from conversations with colleagues about how they appreciated the theories in many education books but needed more advice on application. She wanted to create a resource with practical strategies for breaking the habits of what she calls “helicopter teaching.” She describes this phenomenon as micromanaging students “by controlling every single aspect of instruction.”
Helicopter teaching is usually driven by fear that without the teacher’s control, curriculum will fall apart, pacing will be off and students will be less focused. Plotinsky believes that this approach signals to students that teachers don’t trust them. She said she taught this way for almost a decade before students in a creative writing elective showed her other possibilities. Initially, she planned a variety of writing assignments, such as character sketches, children’s books and scary stories for Halloween. But then students asked if they could submit alternative pieces — stories and essays they were working on that didn’t match the boundaries of her assignments.
Plotinsky’s gut reaction was an emphatic “no.” She wanted students to try what she’d planned. “But then after a while, I thought, why not? They’re writing. And they’re passionate,” she recalled.
The difference was obvious. “As I released more and more of that ‘it has to be this way’ mentality, they were so excited to come to class. So incredibly excited,” she said. That led her to make other changes, such as inviting students to create their own writing prompts for classmates. In the ensuing years, she applied this new hover-free approach to other courses she taught.