May 13, 2019

Translating Your Profession to Students — 5 Tops to Becoming an Effective Educator

By Patrick Thorpe, AIA, Allegedly Design

On July 31st, 2018 the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act was signed into law. If you are not an architect, or involved in STEM education, this may not have made headlines in your news feed. This important legislation, however, allows for over $1 billion in career and technical education grants for high school level architectural programs.

For educators, this means States will be allowed to use federal money to modernize their CTE curriculum to include architectural education and “encourage a more diverse workforce, fulfill the promise of design as the synthesis of art and science, and affect a fundamental change in educational curricula.”

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) K-12 Initiative supports the development of local architecture education programs by building relationships between chapters, members, allied members and educational partners. AIA is currently developing a digital repository that includes sample program guides and teaching tools, scholarships, and grant opportunities. These resources are invaluable in creating and maintaining a successful program.

The diversity and extent of resources from a national network of volunteers allows for anyone interested in starting an Architecture in Education (AIE) program the ability to start making connections with local schools almost immediately. There is a plethora of people willing to share learning experiences and lesson plans from their local programs. But let’s face it, if you have never stood in front of a room full of thirty rambunctious and curious students, you may be apprehensive about that first encounter. And that’s OK.

Nothing will be more important than creating a positive learning environment from the start. Children can be brutally honest. They are curious by nature and can be cavalier in their self-expressions. To an adult, the idea of a child telling you exactly what they think can be daunting. With a little preparation and confidence however, it is nothing to fear.

In the four years that I have been participating in the Architecture in Education program in Tampa, FL, at Lee Elementary, our biggest hurdle in preparing leaders for the eight week in-class program is convincing local architects that students will not be completely disinterested. I assure you that 9 times out of 10, students are excited to meet you and ready to listen.

If you are interested in or are considering launching an AIE program at any school, here are a few quick tips to establish a successful student-educator relationship from the start.

Tip No. 1
You are in control. This is your classroom, you lead the conversation and manage the flow of information. Take every opportunity to express your personal mastery of the topics at hand even if it means telling the whole room how badly you goofed on something before you learned how to do it correctly. Use your immediate surroundings as reference to make new or complex ideas relatable. You may be surprised how well your students relate and respond positively.

It is common for new educators to be nervous, questioning themselves ‘what if they ask me something I don’t know,’ or ‘what if they think I am a liar?’ Well, there is one simple way to answer both questions: tell the truth. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will look it up and get back to them — and then deliver on that.

Tip No. 2
Don’t be afraid of shifting focus to enhance learning opportunities. You will not reach every student the same way — some students are good listeners, others require hands-on activities. It is easy to keep focus and attention by presenting actively. What I mean is:
  • Don’t stand still — move around the classroom and engage with the students at their desks.
  • Don’t just talk — ask questions about how the material at hand relates to their studies.
  • Exercise active listening — respond to comments directly and explore ideas that lead into the next part of the lesson.
  • Use your imagination to capture their attention. An idea can be expressed with a sketch, a physical property can be described with a demonstration, vocabulary words can be written down for reinforcement.
  • Ask for volunteers to help with demonstrations or passing out supplies for an exercise.

An object in motion tends to remain in motion, while an active mind tends to remain open and interested.

Tip No. 3
Know when to be serious and know when to have fun. When it comes to hands on learning activities, you need to set clear and definable goals that provide a measurable outcome. Competition is natural and healthy. Strive to provide an environment where achieving more is encouraged but not in a way that it becomes detrimental to achieving the learning objectives of the exercise or becoming devoid of imagination.

Keep the classroom teacher engaged by sharing lessons and presentations ahead of time. They will be your best resource in the classroom to help relate the information to the daily learning, as well as assisting in tailoring the presentation to the class. Lastly, they can be your biggest ally as a disciplinarian should the need arise.

Tip No. 4
That does not mean that you shouldn’t be having fun all the time. The only time a student will be less than interested in anything you have to say is if they feel no one is listening. Do yourself a favor and read the comics or watch a new cartoon. If you want to know how to make your material fun, ask students what they find entertaining and then do your research. Structure the next lesson to make it relatable. You do not have to deviate very far from reality to make fantasy worlds plausible, especially when communicating the importance and value of design.

Tip No. 5
Be a good sport. That means knowing how to act after crossing the finish line first, even if you have never been there before. You must only get over the first hurdle; then the momentum carries you through. No one starts out as an expert, being an effective educator is no different. It takes practice, patience and continual refinement in order to keep programs relevant.

Remember that a good attitude never goes out of style. Trust yourself, you got this.

Patrick Thorpe, AIA is an award-winning young architect. He is the 2019 President of the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay & the youngest individual to serve that honor in the chapters ninety-year history. Patrick is Secretary for the Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture & Design and served as an Advisor to the AIA Florida Strategic Council. Patrick’s work and contact information can be found online at

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