By Teachers, For Teachers
“Mr. Catapano – you told me yesterday you were going to call my mom about my grade … you never called.”
Well, I had called, but was forced to only leave a message. I suppose she didn’t receive it in time to confront my student about it. But I found it interesting that the very first thing young Tommy said to me that morning was regarding what I said I was going to do. I told him I would call, he waited for the inevitable conversation with his mother, but then concluded that I never followed up on my word.
What Billy recognized was a seeming disparity between my words and my actions, and he called me out on it. Although there was little I could do in this situation that occurred during my student teaching experience, I learned a valuable lesson: Students pay attention to our talks and our walks. Our ability to use classroom management to follow up and follow through is critical toward their academic success and their perception of adult professionalism.
I mean two different things by these terms. To “follow up” is to send a message or perform a corollary action after a previous decision or conversation. For example, if I host a meeting between teachers in which each teacher agrees to do a specific task, I follow up with them when I contact them each separately a week after the meeting to see where they’re at.
“Follow through” is a little different. This means to take a stated intent and turn it into a completed action. This means not abandoning a task, not cutting corners, not shirking requirements. The term follow through reminds me of swinging a baseball bat or golf club; if you want the ball to go far, then make sure your swing is fully completed and not a half-attempt.
Follow up is typically communication directed towards other people to get on the same page and move forward together. Follow through rests more on my shoulders to complete a specific task to the utmost of my ability. Both are essential for success in education.
Classroom education is often broken down into units, strands, or standards that students are marched through in a given school year. In a sense, the teacher lays down certain “building blocks” of learning, and students pick them up. However, not all students learn at the same pace and not all methods of communication work the same for all students. Sometimes we blindly expect students to just keep up. But this is where follow up and follow through are critical.
The reality is that students fall behind, get confused, need supports, and rely on interventions to help them through school content. Teacher follow up with students is essential for helping students get to where they need to be.
Follow up can take on a variety of forms, but it ultimately has a simple basis: Ask students how they’re doing and how you can help. To follow up with students means that they are approached and given an opportunity to chat about how they’re doing in class. If they’re doing well and feeling comfortable, then great. If not, then certain actions need to be taken to ensure that students have the proper support to help them progress.
There are a few ways how to conduct follow up. Here are some tried-and-true methods to consider:
Follow up is all about getting past the assumption that students understand the material, that they will advocate for themselves, or that they’ll just be fine with mediocre performance. It’s about the teacher taking the lead and personally connecting with each student to identify a plan to help him or her achieve.
Follow up is also essential in other relationships, too. When it comes to connecting with parents, teachers, or administrators, it’s essential to touch base continually, to say, “We talked about X … how is that coming?” or “What more can I do for you?” Follow up is an essential communication piece that brings to the present a discussion of the past so that the individuals involved are on the same page and taking action for the components they’re responsible for.
To follow up with students means to take a personal interest in the progress and well-being of each one. Yes, it can take more time and isn’t ideal for crashing through the curriculum, but it helps students feel more aware, supported, and known.
Our day-to-day job includes dozens of promises. “I’ll do it.” “I’ll be there.” “I’ll make it happen.” Follow through means that we make these words come true.
A big part of follow up is helping students make a plan for their own achievement, which often involves getting additional help or materials from us. When the burden or a particular task or appointment is on our shoulders, then it takes follow through to ensure that the job gets done. If we don’t follow through, then we hurt both students’ academic growth and their perception of how adults handle responsibilities.
In our professional relationships, too, follow through is essential for our personal credibility and the success of the initiatives we’re a part of. If we agree to perform a certain task, it must get done quickly and to the best of our abilities.
Follow through goes further than just making our words come true, though. It means not going halfway or going through the motions. When I was learning to play the drums, I was told to imagine I’d hit the top drum head so hard that I’d hit the bottom head as well (snare drums have a head on the top and bottom). The idea was that I couldn’t just tap the drum weakly -- I needed to mean it when I played! The same is true with any task before us -- we need to mean it! Follow through implies that we don’t just go through the motions of our profession, but that we do our best to turn any given opportunity into a true success.
We often talk about how leadership is important, but following – when it comes to follow up and follow through – is a critical component for how we conduct ourselves as professionals in the teaching world. Our students and colleagues rely on our ability to do whatever it takes to ensure we’re all on the same page and that we’re knocking our opportunities out of the park.
Young Tommy was watching me and waiting for my follow through. My students -- often too shy, unaware, or disinterested about their learning -- rely on my follow up spur them on to success. My colleagues see me as a critical piece of their initiatives because I’ve agreed to play a role. Follow up and follow through make my life busier, but pay huge dividends for the long-term success of students and the school.
How do you see follow up and follow through as part of your teaching profession? Tell us about your thoughts in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.