A few weeks ago on an early Saturday morning, before the sun had begun to bleed over the horizon, I found myself, like I do on many weekends, behind the wheel of a car.
Driving has a way of calming me. The sound of tires rolling and humming along the road, bring peace. It gives me time to decompress from a busy and hectic week.
I listened closely to the peaceful sound of my beautiful two-year-old baby girl breathing steadily, asleep, in the back seat, and smiled in the direction of my wife, stirring in the seat next to me.
My wife, who is also a teacher, sat up in her seat, unable to lull herself back to sleep. For a moment she was quiet, but I knew she was thinking about something and it was plaguing her mind. Eventually, the silence broke, and the conversation quickly turned to the classroom.
We usually find ourselves locked into conversations about our students or lessons. This is the plight of the profession. It is not easy to leave thoughts of work and students in the classroom. These thoughts always seem to work their way into your home or social life in some way or another.
While our conversation began to pick up, a question came up from my wife about a particular student of hers. I had heard her mention this student on several occasions, but it seemed that she has finally run out of ideas in how to grab the attention of this young mind. Her question was a simple one and one I find myself asking frequently in relationship to my own students as well: “How do you help a student care about learning?”
I found myself speechless. I could have rattled off a list of things I had learned in college that effective teachers should do in the classroom to engage students more, and this piece could have turned into a listicle about engagement in the classroom. I would have called it, “Five Easy Steps to Better Student Engagement” or something like that.
While these thoughts filled my mind, however, I realized I did not have an answer to her question. At least not one that I felt comfortable sharing in regards to her particular situation. So, the conversation slowed and eventually came to a halt. My wife sat, somewhat defeated and deflated, still unsure of what to do.
Fast forward three days, and I was unbelievably overwhelmed. At the end of the week, I would be hosting a Speech and Debate tournament at my school, and without going into detail, let’s just say it was a huge responsibility. I was running around frantically, making last minute adjustments to scheduling and verifying the use of multiple rooms.
In the midst of the chaos, I needed a break. I needed a place to escape.
At my school, there is one teacher I find myself constantly going back to for mental breaks. Her room has a peaceful, comforting atmosphere that for the moments you are in there seem to take away the stress of the outside world.
I knew this was where I needed to go. Not for advice, just for the peace the room could provide.
As I walked through the doors, I was immediately greeted by said teacher and a handful of students setting up a camera. Unsure of what was going on, I decided to sit down and see what would happen.
I hadn’t been sitting for more than a minute when I was prompted to sit at a circular table in the middle of the room and join in on the project that was taking place. I, welcoming anything not remotely related to the event I was planning, agreed without question, sat at a round table in front of a camera with three or four students and my colleague, and was handed a book.
Still unsure of what was going on, I thumbed through the book, which I discovered was about the inner workings of the brain and how we can relate those workings to education.
For the next 10 minutes, I sat amazed at the conversation that was going on around me. The discussion was largely led by the students and was focused on what these students would like to see take place inside their classrooms. They showed an incredible understanding of how genuine acquisition of knowledge takes place. They offered suggestions to teachers, who would eventually watch this video, on how they could make their classrooms more engaging and interesting for young learners.
These students seemed to deeply care about the process of education and had, thanks to the research they had conducted on the workings of the brain, inside information on the young mind and what should take place to engage it.
When I walked out of the room, my wife’s question came back into my mind. It seemed to me that this teacher had the answer. While much of what the students had said would fall in line with the listicle that this piece could have been, there was something more I could take from this experience.
There is more to student engagement than simply doing all the things on a list that promises interested and active students.
We want our students to care about the things we are teaching and to see the value in education.
The students I observed, care. They know what education has to offer and what value it has for life. They know this because they have been involved in the process of education. Not only with what they are learning but in how they are learning as well.
We need to, as educators, facilitate the exploration of the mind and its workings. If our students are allowed to cross the boundary from what to learn into how to learn, I am sure we would see those students who don’t care or see value in education, eager and engaged once again in our classrooms.