Why Expert Teachers Rely on Great Guest Speakers

Effective classrooms thrive on routine and regularity. Savvy teachers embrace the benefits of a set schedule, but they also know the risk of steadiness breeding boredom.

That’s why bringing a fresh face into the classroom in the form of an interesting, engaging guest speaker is such a time-honored practice.

Here’s why it’s worth the time and effort required to arrange a guest speaker for your classroom:

Children need an outlet for their curiosity

Our students are in a perpetual state of discovery and curiosity about the world. We feed that with our lessons, lectures and class experiences — but nothing beats a real-life example of what they’re studying.

Consider all the people you know and ask yourself who would be a good candidate for bringing one of your classroom topics to life. The pool of possible speakers is pretty large when you consider all of your students, their families, relatives and your personal contacts. Speaking to students is a feel-good activity, so most people will jump at the opportunity.

Guests put a human face on class topics

A guest speaker offers an excellent way to either introduce or conclude a class unit. The words and experience of someone deeply familiar with the topic offer a break from day-to-day classwork while putting a personal face on potentially broad and hard-to-understand concepts.

A well-timed visit, whether it’s a surprise or not, adds excitement to the class, engages students who otherwise may not be interested in the topic, and provides a quality way to vary class activities.

Students can develop social skills

Students have to abide by certain pro-social behaviors when listening to a guest speaker. Maintaining eye contact, appearing interested, asking good questions, avoiding distracting behaviors and knowing when to ask questions are soft social skills that will help your students long after your speaker’s visit.

Before the speaker arrives for the talk, show your students how to take notes, formulate interesting questions and anticipate when to ask them. Teach them explicitly to avoid talking, as that might appear disrespectful, and show how to craft appropriate comments.

Knowing how to ask good questions is a crucial skill in today’s increasingly curiosity-driven world. Follow up with a class thank-you note: Sending a personal letter of gratitude will set a nice example for your students and encourage the speaker to eventually return.

Guests are good for community relations

There is a strong public benefit to hosting a guest speaker. Aside from your class’s enjoyment of an interesting guest, the speaker will leave your classroom impressed with your students, their questions and how they approached the topic. This creates a ripple effect that burnishes your school’s reputation.

As a matter of courtesy, ask permission from your principal or direct supervisor before hosting a speaker. It’s good to tell people to expect a school visitor and it’s extremely rare that your request would be denied.

After the talk, send a picture and a short press release to your local newspaper. These kinds of visits are very popular with the community and parents, and that popularity is helpful to your school.

Students get a glimpse of career options

A series of classroom speakers, across multiple disciplines and areas, introduces your students to potential careers and jobs they’ll need after they get out of school. It’s one thing to be told what your options are, but it’s better to see them brought to life in another person.

Encourage your students to keep up contact with speakers they find interesting, and help tap into their natural curiosity to keep those conversations going.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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