Students, past and present, motivate me!
“The future of the world is in my classroom today.”
Related Post: Students First
Related Post: Students First
Have you ever wondered how your best friend lives so freely “moment-to-moment” while your mind is imprisoned by thoughts of past events and/or planning of future events (so neatly) written in your (overly structured) daytimer?
Brain Hemispheric Specialization provides insight into why some of us are more present focused and able to “go with the flow” (Right Brain dominant); while others are busy planning their days with the step-by-step precision of a NASA engineer (Left Brain dominant).
Despite being identical in structure, the two halves of the brain specialize in how they process information (e.g., Past vs. Present), and how they function (e.g., Verbal vs. Nonverbal).
2. Watch the following 20 minute video to: a) learn firsthand about L-R brain specialization and b) discover how Neuroscientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor turned her real-life tragedy into an awe inspiring “Stroke of Insight“. I am still moved to tears by her story! I hope you are too. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is resilience personified.
This post is a summary of this week’s psychology lecture and Chapter 2 of my psychology textbook. If you want to learn more, you can download a free PDF of my neuroscience and behaviour chapter by clicking on this link.
What side of the brain do you live on?
So many students come to class anxious and stressed out. The last thing on their minds is learning. Which is why I start each class by asking students what’s the best thing that’s happened to them today.
Their answers fascinate me. And give me insight into what motivates them. From simple to profound. From food to relationships. From money to purpose. From grades to destiny. And everything in between.
Interacting with students in fun and uplifting ways brings laughter and lightness to the classroom. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Yet it creates a significant shift in student stress and comfort levels.
Students need to feel safe. Students need to feel heard. Showing them you care (while having fun) works every time. Only then can the real learning begin!
No matter how many times I work with students, it never gets old.
Their first class is my first class.
Their struggle is my struggle.
Their victory is my victory.
Students are my reason why.
Another fresh start.
Another set of dreams.
Another opportunity to change (student) lives for the better.
Related Post: Shifting Positive on a Stressful Day.
“While traditional psychology focused its attention on pathology and problems, in the relatively new field of positive psychology, researchers strive to explore and understand the strengths of individuals and communities that contribute to their flourishing.” Source: Psychology Guide
I am passionate about what positive psychology can do for students and educators in and out of the classroom. By first focusing on what is right, before examining what is wrong, students are motivated to move beyond, and in some cases, be transformed by their current limitations, history, and circumstances.
Link to: VIA Character Strengths Inventory
Positive psychology is not about being happy and successful all the time. Instead, happiness is aspirational like a delicious meal at a 5 star restaurant. Wonderful but not to be expected, at every meal, all the time. (Otherwise, we set ourselves up for disappointment on the Kraft Dinner days.)
Instead, the field of positive psychology helps bring out the best in us. In a balanced way. The ebb and flow of life. Negativity is to be expected. The question is – how long do you stay there.
As a professor, I believe it is paramount to create a safe and uplifting atmosphere in the classroom. A secure and consistent milieu where students know what to expect class to class, week to week, semester to semester. A place where students are encouraged to build upon their existing strengths, while feeling supported enough to share their current struggles.
As I teach mostly nursing students, it is critical that I practice what I teach in and out of the classroom. Nursing students will also be responsible for creating an encouraging and safe space for their clients one day.
The yellow t-shirts are from the Yellow Umbrella Project, an Ontario wide college campaign for battling the stigma of mental illness on campus.
My highest goal is to work with young Canadians in a way that empowers and encourages them to become the best version of themselves. Cultivating success in a way that is unique to them. I believe that interactive lectures combined with warmth and real-life stories is the best approach for achieving this goal.
Link to: The Optimism Project
The photo below is from a leadership conference for college students where I discussed the connection between optimism and student success.
Ultimately, I hope to remind students of their gifts. While encouraging them to embrace their challenges. For we are the sum total of all that is powerful and vulnerable – within and around us. And it’s this extraordinary combination of strong and weak, good and bad, light and dark, that makes our world (and our classrooms) such a fascinating place to live (and thrive).
This question came to mind last week when I took over a college class halfway through the semester.
I know how tough it is for students to have 2 professors over the course of a 12 week semester. 2 sets of rules. 2 sets of expectations.
So it’s more important than ever that I play my “first impression” card right.
Students are more likely to “test the limits with the “new teacher”. Accordingly, I use a more strict than usual demeanour at the start of summer semester.
It usually works well. As my tough love approach becomes more on the love side, and less on the tough side as the weeks roll by.
However, this time I knew my first class authoritarian approach was not going to work.
Suddenly I had my hands full right off the bat. One of my students was not impressed in any way.
After laying down the law, the student looked up at me and said: “I’m not going to like you very much.”
And I said: “Good, because I’m not here to be liked, I’m here to teach you something.”
The student loudly responded: “Good, because I just learned something!”
To this day I am grateful for how much this student underscored my purpose in the classroom.
I am not here to be liked. I am here to teach.
A life lesson in self-worth that applies to us all.
Your Turn: Would you rather be liked or respected?
Competing with a machine is a downhill battle. Instead, teachers must focus on what they do best – connecting with students. Rather than lamenting about students being glued to their smartphone, teachers should consider why students do it in the first place. You can’t solve a problem if you’re not asking the right question.
There is no doubt that smartphones have changed the way we live and learn. Which is why educators (including myself) must take a step back and reframe the smartphone problem. Student distractibility existed long before smartphones. Lack of attention is the common denominator.
We doodled. They text.
We passed notes. They facebook.
We all have an idea in our mind about how we perform at work. Yet the only way we will ever have an accurate picture of our performance is to collect data on our concrete behaviours. Click on Teacher Behaviors Inventory (TBI) to obtain a PDF of this suggested assessment tool (used in my doctoral research).
Sample items from TBI inventory –
The TBI assessment tool will help determine how you engage students, capture their attention, and sustain curiosity with instant gratification just one click away. The TBI also includes a measure of how you spark student interest and arouse curiosity in the lessons you teach. Completing the inventory will give you a baseline of your current teaching techniques. It will help identify areas of strength and challenge (potential growth).
The next step in student engagement is to “become” what you expect from your students. Motivate students by being motivated! For example, I write motivational quotes on the blackboard each day. The goal is to model each quote I post. And encourage students to do the same.
Grab attention by being attentive to the unique needs of each student, and responsive to the distinct personality of each class. Engage students by being engaged, passionate, and excited about the topics you teach. Enthusiasm is contagious! Stimulate curiosity by being curious about how students think.
In order to move from instant gratification to meaningful interactions in school (and in life), we must show students how much we care. We must be present and mindful in our own classrooms. And in tune with each student and teaching moment.
For students need to know how much their learning matters. How much they matter. Week after week. Class after class. Students are our reason.
To Learn More: Click on Be The Motivation