One of the most effective teaching strategies for teachers at every level is an invitation to a guest speaker to visit the classroom. Including other voices in the classroom invites different perspectives and shows that learning is a collaborative effort. It is important to remember, however, that inviting a guest speaker is not simply intended to give the teacher a break or a rest from daily routines. Students have the opportunity to learn something new or hear a new perspective on a topic that interests them from a guest speaker. Students can also discover a new interest in a topic where previously they had little interest.
The guest speaker is the “real world” arriving in the classroom. The speakers might be parents presenting during Career Week, nurses and doctors discussing health issues, or an engineer giving background information on bridges before the annual craft stick bridge building contest.
A guest speaker supports subjects a teacher may not know a lot about and shows students that teachers are not the final word on important topics, issues, or current events. The guest speaker will educate students but can also be a good resource for the teacher as well.
Inviting local guest speakers is great for creating community-school relations too. In most towns, regardless of the population, there are people who can be invited to the classroom as guest speakers. Some of the invited people may be lifelong citizens and will open the eyes of students about topics or issues they did not know existed in their community. Having them in the classroom brings the wider community into the student’s lives.
The guest speakers have a chance to connect with students, meeting them in an environment they may not have been a part of since they attended school. It may encourage local guest speakers to become more involved with the school or district by sharing ideas, offering opportunities for students, or simply becoming the “go-to” person when the school needs assistance, financial or otherwise.
Parents are another great source for guest speakers. Though parents are often extended an invitation to speak during career week, attend an open house, or observe the classroom, many are willing to speak to students like any other professional guest speaker. Most parents would love the opportunity to speak to students at the school and it does not necessarily need to be in their son or daughter’s classroom. At the beginning of each school year, send a notice to parents asking if they would be interested in being a guest speaker and ask about their interests or skills that can be beneficial to students. You never know what unique skills or experiences parents have.
Having guest speakers in the classroom is fun. Besides the lesson students learn, many guests enjoy the attention and students look forward to hearing a different voice. They ask questions, are encouraged to seek more information, and students may become inspired by a guest speaker and interested in the subject when hearing about it firsthand.
Before you decide to host a guest speaker, contact the intended speaker to establish a date and time. Inform the guest of any technology that might be available for their use and ask the speaker of other needs they may have for their presentation. When booking the guest, inform him or her of the total number of students, as some guests like to bring handouts or other items for students. Make sure to allow time for a Q&A session at the end of the presentation too.
In addition, remember to remind the guest speaker of the allotted time for the presentation. Often, guest speakers who spend the day are surprised at how draining the experience can be as many are not used to speaking to a group of excited children in a classroom or auditorium setting. You may want to consider asking the speaker if you can record the presentation for future use as well.
Depending on the topic of the presentation, remind the guest speaker about the importance of being sensitive to the ages of the students in the classroom. For example, some guest speakers are used to speaking to other adults and their peers and may forget the ages of the classroom audience. An insensitive remark may lead to an embarrassing situation or a complaint from a parent later that evening. Furthermore, remind speakers to teach students instead of simply speaking to them. A good guest speaker will engage students and not simply lecture them about their expertise or topic.
Next, it is important to prep your students before the guest speaker’s presentation. Prepare the students about the topic the guest speaker will be presenting. The guest speaker’s topic should be related to recent lessons or to the curriculum, so students will likely already have some background information related to the subject. Challenge them to listen carefully and consider asking students to prepare a set of questions they would like to ask the speaker during the Q&A session.
Once the guest speaker leaves, conduct a debriefing session with the students, held either immediately or the next day. The session will maximize learning and the more you talk about what they have just learned, the more they will benefit from it. In addition, some guest speakers encourage feedback from the audience following their talks. A simple evaluation by students of the guest speaker’s presentation may be appreciated and will also benefit the speaker.
Finally, follow up on the guest speaker’s presentation with a thank you card, note, or a small gift. It may be something made by the students ahead of time and presented to the speaker at the end of the engagement or sent immediately following the speaker’s presentation. In addition, a small article may be written for the school newspaper or local community paper or online publication detailing the speaker’s presentation in your classroom or at the school.