I am passionate about teaching kids, and understating WHY students are disengaged.
I have written a thesis (currently under review) that examines this national issue- TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS and STUDENT ENGAGEMENT. In the thesis, I provide seven teaching strategies that help teachers become more effective in the classroom- creating a strong connection to their students, hopefully, improving student retention, and in the end advancing the student’s chances for success inside a competitive and often troubled educational system. Simply, my thesis helps the educator connect to kids and improve engagement. The following is a passage from my thesis for my masters in Educational Leadership.
For almost 10 years I have been teaching and facilitating groups in education, arts, and leadership. I began leading youth groups in my late teens through my early twenties. Throughout my adult life, I have worked with children as young as five professional educators on a national platform, and artists as old as 60. I have facilitated, in both public and private schools, at over 40 national educator and counselor conferences. I have also facilitated and taught at professional theater companies in New York City and Los Angeles. My wide exposure to different age groups, audiences, and learning communities — combined with my varied background in traditional and nontraditional education — has provided me with skills that make it possible to observe what teaching techniques have been most effective and productive for both youth and educators.
In 2003-2006, I worked in South Los Angeles in a middle school that was red-flagged by the state as one of the three lowest performing in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). I was teaching an innovative after-school program that provided supplemental academic help and enrichment classes for middle school youth. Certainly, there were many challenges. Everything from socioeconomic issues, poor-quality classrooms, no materials for lessons, behavioral issues, poor-performing and disengaged students, no parent involvement, students who didn’t trust a white lady, and students who were just bored. I had no formal training in education at that time, just a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a natural gift for teaching. In order to break through all these barriers and improve engagement, at the start of class, I began asking the students questions about themselves. Each day they would come to my class and we would ‘check in.’ I wanted to know how they were doing so that I could structure the lessons for the afternoon. I would spend just a few minutes going around the room and taking a kind of ‘pulse check.’
By the end of the first week, I noticed that students were coming in and saying “Ms. Julia, can I tell you something that happened to me today?” By the second week, I noticed that number of students were much more willing to focus on school work instead of goofing off or acting complacent. During our now ritual ‘check in,’ we had begun to discuss some real-life issues and how their futures would be impacted if they didn’t study and continue with school. The students felt valued and they began to understand why going to school and doing their lessons were relevant to the future. I believed that they really did want to learn but were having a difficult time seeing the connection between school and their personal lives.
The challenges described above became less each day.
It no longer mattered what color I was or if they had a bad day earlier in school — it mattered that there was a caring adult willing to spend some time hearing about their lives. I was ‘building relationships’; they were willing to listen to me.
In 2006, I was hired at an educational nonprofit whose mission is to provide limitless possibilities to young people through supplementary educational opportunities. I was hired to train and implement a character education curriculum. In the process, I attended and facilitated over 40 national conferences with educators ranging from school teachers, administrators, school counselors, out-of school-time youth workers, community-based organizations, service-learning providers, and more. At these conferences, not only was I able to show educators how to implement the new curriculum I was managing but through coaching, I began to hear how the character education program was helping the educators connect to their students — thus providing them more learning opportunities, along with traditional academics, for their students. Young people were becoming motivated by the curriculum because it focused on youth development and character-building. The students in turn began connecting with their teachers because of the very nature of what was being taught. The program showed students their intrinsic value and potential, additionally creating engagement in other areas of the classroom outside of academics.
Through my travels around the country, listening to and observing educators from many different kinds of educational institutions, one common thread I hear is that they are frustrated with the students’ level of engagement.
The challenges in and out of the classroom present some variables that can be controlled, and some that cannot. An educational mentor of mine once said “Hungry kids don’t learn.” — that is a variable a teacher cannot control. Mandated testing is another variable a teacher cannot control. But what happens when a child walks into a classroom, for the most part, a teacher can control. What I hear from youth is a variety of issues: ‘It’s boring, I don’t know why I have to learn this, I hate taking tests, all we do is sit in the classroom, the teacher doesn’t care, or the teacher doesn’t even know who I am.’
Reflecting on what educators have provided as feedback from the program in which I trained for six years— as well as listening to students talk about what they want from teachers — it has occurred to me that if a teacher can build a relationship through creative and disguised learning strategies, their chances for student engagement will expand even further than the personal ‘check in’ mentioned above. The student will begin to see the educator as someone who has invested in them and their futures. By building relationships in the classroom, students are more apt to attend class and stay open to learning. Even with subjects they may not enjoy, they will endure because they ‘like’ the teacher. In my experience, this is a key motivator for student success — and it may well create a greater chance for a promising future.
If you would like further information about the seven strategies for student success—please email me at [email protected] #changinglives
I had fruit and tea for breakfast.
Author Profile: @juliagabor