February 10, 2014
Using Guerrilla Tactics to Improve Teaching
Most of us are aware of the important benefits that cooperative learning offers for student achievement (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2007). We frequently use, or seek out these strategies to further engage our students in the content and enhance the learning environment. However, when it comes to our growth as teachers, we typically don’t employ this practice with ourselves. Teaching traditionally occurs in isolated silos. At best, some of us may have conversations with colleagues either prior to or after a course, but we almost never collaborate during the actual class.
There are many legitimate reasons for why collaborative learning among faculty occurs so rarely — regularly changing schedules, spread out class locations, individual work load agreements, and different areas of expertise — and these challenges give us insight into the logistical difficulty of building/maintaining a community of learners in higher education. They also highlight the importance of adapting creative approaches if we are going to benefit from cooperative learning as teachers.
Guerrilla marketing is known for being an unconventional approach that pursues conventional goals. Remember all the flash mobs? What about the blue stroller with the recording of a baby crying that UNICEF left in 14 cities (van Gurp, 2009)? These are low-cost strategies that generate awareness through unexpected interactions with audiences. They are especially effective at the local level where budgets and resources are limited.
Enter “guerrilla teaching” — a creative, low-cost strategy to meet the conventional goals of building dynamic learning environments by the unconventional event of briefly “invading” class sessions. Guerrilla teaching is the improvisational interaction of one teacher entering into a class that is currently in session. In essence, it is a temporary hand-off of instruction between teachers.
Ground rules for guerrilla teaching:
- A teacher voluntarily places a green card on the door/wall outside of the classroom to signal an invitation for guerrilla teaching. (Email invitations can also be sent out to the faculty).
- The entering guerrilla teacher observes silently for a minimum of 5 minutes to become acquainted with the topic/flow of the discussion.
- The guerrilla teacher is then able to become part of the class and interact with the students. They may pose questions, give comments, conduct an activity, etc.
- Ten minutes is the maximum time limit for the “learning attack” session.
- The guerrilla teacher must leave the classroom after this session/time limit has ended.
In the spirit of guerrilla marketing, there are several educational “buzz” benefits created with minimal direct costs. Since it is a voluntary activity, colleagues are able to have moments where they collaborate during teaching. The 15 minute flexible commitment allows faculty to “drop in” at their convenience or when they just happen to be around. This adds spontaneity to the teaching process and helps develop flexibility to better take advantage of teaching moments. Ultimately, the experience builds stronger collegial relations by promoting conversations about the teaching session (how can you not talk about what happened afterwards?) and sharing one’s expertise.
Students also benefit from guerrilla teaching. At the base level, students gain increased exposure and interaction with additional faculty members. These interactions allow students to have more familiarity with their faculty and multiple perspectives to consider and relate to. It supports an environment that accepts different viewpoints and, at the end of the day, presents a new learning pattern that can help refocus student attention during extended class sessions.
We’ve included a brief account of our first unofficial guerrilla teaching session to help give you a better idea of what this might look like. We also look forward to your thoughts and experiences with it!
“The genesis of this idea came from a spontaneous visit to a colleague’s classroom. Walking in the hallway, taking a break from reading papers, I passed a classroom whose door was open. It was exciting to hear Matt interact with his students. His deep passion for his subject, along with his inquisitive questions, was invigorating. I decided to step in and listened quietly to the flow of exchanges between Matt and his students. I then made a rash decision and asked the class a question and interacted with the students for the next few minutes. This spontaneous border crossing into his world unleashed a series of questions and ideas that tumbled around each other like clothes in a dryer. My exit was as unplanned was as my entrance. I thanked the class and left.” Micah Fierstein
Guerrilla teaching was born.
Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. (2007). The state of cooperative learning in postsecondary and professional settings. Educational Psychology Review, 19(1), 15-29.
van Gurp, M. (2009, November 14). Unicef: Be a mom for a moment. [Blog post]. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from http://osocio.org/message/unicef_be_a_mom_for_a_moment/.
Matt Anderson is the program coordinator of the MA in Education with Teaching certification at West Virginia University. Micah Fierstein is an assistant professor of educational leadership at West Virginia University.