I’ve always been fascinated by process and efficiency. Some would call it being critical, but I attest there’s a slow way to do things and a fast way to do things. When I walked out of corporate America and into the public school system, I felt like I stepped into the land of opportunity. There were deficiencies in processes almost everywhere! I was in heaven.
One of the things which stood out immediately were the number of questions I got every single day for things I had already given the answer for. “What page is that on?” “Can you go back a slide?” “I don’t understand #6.” “What are we supposed to do?” I will freely admit that patience is an area I have had to work on my entire life, but there had to be a better way to deal with the onslaught of questions.
Subject Matter Experts
After doing some research, I found a strategy that changed my classroom forever. Subject Matter Experts ( or SME’s) became a first line of defense against many of the situations where an answer was either evident or had already been explained.
A SME is someone that I assigned in the classroom who was able to provide support to students who needed it. The SME’s changed per activity and weren’t always the highest-achieving kids in the room. If a student understand the task at hand then they were eligible to be a SME.
What did it look like in my class?
Here’s a perfect example of what it looked like in my own classroom.
Me: “Alright guys, we’re going to take 7 minutes to cut out the INB template per the directions on the sheet, glue it into your journal, and then compare and contrast plant and animal cells on the template. Raise you hand if you understand the directions clearly. <25 of 30 hands go up> Cool. Sierra, Antonio, Diana…You guys are the SME’s. Does everyone see the SME’s and know who to go to if they have any question about the directions or activitiy? <class nods> Sweet. Get after it.”
At this point I can focus on the students who are going to need a little extra help with cutting or recalling the information.
Brent: “Mr. K, I don’t get how to cut this out.”
Me: “Find a SME.” <I continue to work with students who truly need me AND my stress level is lowered because I’m not repeating myself.>
Madison: “Mr. K, I’m done cutting everything out now what do I do now?”
Me: “SME’s are your friends. Find them.”
This may seem a little harsh to some, but I ensure you that by raising the expectations of how things are done it will eliminate a lot of the unnecessary conversations.
Little Work, Huge Rewards
Do you see how this strategy can make your classroom run more efficiently? The only extra step I had to take was to teach them what a SME was at the beginning of the year, and then assign them out per activity. There are plenty of things to worry about in a middle school classroom, but answering the same questions over and over about process doesn’t have to be a source of stress.
SME’s can be used every single day. Once the students understand the SME process you can use them for nearly anything you do, which will ultimately free you up to do the things you should be focused on.
Where Can I Use SME’s?
Here are some example activities where I have used SME’s in my classroom:
- Lab days
- Student projects
- Classroom policies and procedures (restroom, pencil sharpener, getting out journals, handing in papers)
- Small group activities
- Interactive notebook templates
- Technology issues
- Classroom management – Students can’t stand to be reminded by other students about classroom management issues.
As much as we like to be in control in our classrooms I believe the addition of SME’s will give some of that ownership over to the students and make your classroom run much more efficiently. What other activities can you think of where a SME would be beneficial? Leave a message in the comments.
Want More Efficiency Tips for Your Classroom?
I wrote a blog post titles 11 Time-Saving Strategies for Science Teachers. I think you’ll enjoy it!