By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.
When I was in the classroom, I loved getting to know my students as people. In fact, to this day I am still in contact with many of my former students, thanks to social media. I prided myself in getting to know each of my students as a unique individual. Engaging your students interpersonally can have a profound effect on learning.
Our brains are wired to make connections with others. Making connections ensures the longevity of the species. It is important to make emotional connections with your students every day if you want them to focus their attention on learning.
The brain naturally “downshifts” when entering a new setting (like the classroom). Unconsciously, our brain is surveying the environment for what might be a potential threat, sending us into “fight-or-flight” mode. In some cases, the threat may be math—since math has been a threat since the child was in kindergarten.
To help our students “upshift” their brains, we need to positively engage them emotionally—eliminating the fears.
Meet them at the door.
Greeting each student at the door and saying something positive is a powerful way to help their brains upshift. Some teachers use the “Three Hs” (handshake, high five, or hug). Students get to choose which H they want as a greeting and which one makes them the most comfortable.
Make it personal.
Each day, we need to connect with our students on a personal level. Knowing something about students’ personal lives, such as what they like to do outside of school, a special talent they have, or a sporting activity they are involved in, tells students you care about them outside the classroom. It also lets them know that they are important in their own way.
Build a strong classroom community.
Everyone wants to feel like they fit in. A strong classroom community is devoid of cliques, bullying, or other isolating behaviors. Classroom communities should nurture respect for individuality. Have students select a “study buddy,” someone who can be supportive during the learning process. Also, ensure that each student is clear about the classroom expectations/norms and knows how to treat others with respect.
Get them interested.
One of the most profound learning tools is interest. By either connecting content to students’ interests or getting students interested in what they are about to learn, we can make learning stick. Our brain pays attention to information that is interesting. Being interested is both a cognitive and an emotional state. It is being intellectually stimulated as well as having a feeling of excitement.
Build responsibility and ownership.
When students have ownership in a space, they feel more connected to their surroundings. Provide students with a space in the room they can call their own. It can be a cubby, a file folder, or a desk. Allowing them to decorate the space or to add their own touches to it will help them feel connected.
Giving students classroom responsibilities is also important. Responsibilities can be routine jobs in the classroom, such as taking attendance, keeping spaces clear and organized, or cleaning off the whiteboard. Having a role in the classroom also helps build a strong classroom community.
Most important in engaging students in learning is to have fun! Get students to laugh each and every day. Whether you post a daily joke or pun, share a daily cartoon, or do something else, laughing together will bring a sense of joy to the classroom. Learning does not have to be tedious—laughter and enjoyment can help kids overcome stress and anxiety. Laughing is also important to our overall mental and physical health.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
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