Steven Herder

Rules I Follow – Steven Herder

Rules I Follow

– Steven Herder

After some brilliant blog posts on Breaking Rules recently, it is tantalizingly timely (and great fun) to now consider the “Rules We Keep”. I’m excited to spend time writing about this topic, but even more psyched to see what everyone else comes up with!

1. The Golden Rule – I simply try to follow the Golden Rule whenever I walk into the classroom: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Many years ago, I remember talking one day with my colleague, pumpkin bunny Chris Mori, about how we each had made a very clear but somewhat unconscious decision to treat our teacher’s room (office for 6-8 English teachers) as our own sanctuary from the outside world. Whatever difficulties we were facing in our daily lives, we left them outside. We were committed to keeping the classroom and our office free from all of the complications of our private lives. We knew that we had to spend 40 hours a week in that space and so we decided to keep it a kind and loving space. Of course it was difficult sometimes, but having the commitment to stay positive and keep things simple, completely affected our approach on a daily basis. As a bonus, I think students benefited a great deal because they knew what to expect from us, and our consistent, optimistic approach to their studies.


2. The Connections Rule – I continually try to connect with students because I believe it can have a positive influence on their learning:

  • They try harder when they feel a connection to the subject, the teacher or classmates.
  • The more I connect and get to know them, the better I can understand them and tailor my approach to their specific needs.
  • The more emotionally connected I feel to a class, the more satisfaction I get from teaching them.
  • When I open up and share parts of my daily challenges as a teacher, they gain trust and begin to share as well.

The power of emotional connections has clearly been documented in a great number of fields. Here, for example, is a great little graph showing the difference between satisfied shoppers and emotionally connected shoppers.


3. The Expectations Rule – I always try to be clear, realistic and positive about my expectations for any group of learners, while at the same time trying to develop individualized expectations for as many students as appear to need a special set of expectations.  For some students, targets well beyond the class goals are appropriately challenging, while for others, just getting to class on time and having their study tools ready (notebook, text and pencil case) is an excellent expectation to begin with.

Of course, the main point is for students to know that you expect them to improve, and that you will do your part to help them succeed; now – how that manifests itself can be in any number of different ways, but if learners feel pressure from the teacher to perform well, and the teacher helps the learners to reach some form of success, then it becomes a win-win situation. Both the learner and the teacher can leave the class feeling good about themselves at the end of the course


4. The Riffing Rule – I wrote a full post on the idea of SLOW Moments. Check out this excerpt and read more if you’re interested:

These “spontaneous learning opportunity windows (SLOW)” are moments that I have grown to love and cherish. I define them as those serendipitous moments when everyone is suddenly focused on exactly the same thing. It may be triggered by a student’s comment, a joke, a mistaken answer, something from the textbook, or something the teacher has just said. At that moment, everyone’s brain has stopped and a small window has opened. If the teacher is ready, it is very easy at that moment to slide something through the window and

Finally, a rule that I usually keep to myself is that,

If I continue to try my best, it’ll all work out in the end.

If a lesson or an idea doesn’t work, I now know that I can make it better next time.

If I define and maintain my own basic principles of teaching, I will succeed.

As for the daily challenges and curves that come my way, I will just work them out day by day.

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Published by

Steven Herder

Steven has been teaching within the Japanese EFL context since 1989. Having over 20 years teaching experience at the elementary and secondary school level, he is currently an associate professor in the International Studies department at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts. He is also extremely active in professional development within the ELT community. He co-founded MASH Collaboration in 2007, an online community devoted to professional development through collaboration. He is an avid user of Skype and can often be heard saying, “Collaboration creates just the right amount of tension to get lots done.” He also spends time editing numerous articles, academic volumes and proceedings, and leading teacher training seminars for various companies throughout Japan. Steven works from the perspective that, “being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to learning”.

3 thoughts on “Rules I Follow – Steven Herder”

  1. It’s so inspiring,as I sometimes feel that I don’t do enough to help my students get better. That even though I have tried so many things, my students still don’t get the idea. But then reading this post, I realize that all I have to do is keep doing my best and hopefully it’s enough to help my students get better skills in English. Thank you, Steven.

  2. Oh, Grace, thank you for your wonderful comment. Yes, keep doing your best, keep learning, and it’ll all work out in the end.

  3. This was a great time of reflection for me. I do all these rules but did not know about the riffing moment. I like this idea of SLOW. This post was refreshing for me. I am praying that I continue to remember these when I face my biggest challenge this fall….opposition. I am finding that I need help with two of my students. I am hesitant to involve my principal because I don’t want negative comments on my evaluations. No matter what I do, I find that I cannot inspire, move, or motivate these two students. But I realize that it is not me they seem to HATE but the subject matter. English is a school requirement so there’s no getting around it.:)

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