The heart and soul of teaching well is designing, sequencing and planning active learning opportunities around engaging and compelling content. This is creative work that requires the educator to research solid content aligned with the learning objectives and discern effective means of sharing and engaging learners with that content. Furthermore, it requires the educator to think about their specific learners, their prior knowledge about the topic, any fears or resistance they may bring to the topic and then carefully craft the time allotted so that objectives can be met in a fair, reasonably-paced, anxiety-free and hopefully enjoyable manner. It is tempting to try to use many fun activities during a session but very important to be judicious in selecting activities that serve a learning purpose. Avoid the trap of many beginning educators who focus more on ‘activitizing’ rather than aligning learning opportunities to objectives and assessment.
You may know of Malcolm Gladwell’s research about the power of first impressions. It’s worth reading more about – here is a brief summary. The information has implications for adult educators because when we’re planning sessions, we need to pay particular attention to our opening exercises so that participants’ first impressions are favourable, and they are willing to commit to being involved and engaged in whatever we have planned. Opening exercises should be tied to the data collected from pre-assessments and to the objectives of the session. It’s important to find ways to connect the learners’ experience to what you are going to be teaching. This will answer the unspoken question in participants’ minds: Is this going to be worth my time? Opening exercises should also help people feel connected in some way and establish some group sense of purpose.
Perhaps you’ve tried some of these practical strategies for team building, on the spot assessment and immediate learning involvement: Open discussion, response cards, polling, subgroup discussions, partners, go-arounds, games, calling on the next speaker, panels and fishbowls (Silberman, 2015).
Most of the literature indicates that teachers will see the most success with students if they focus on creating a positive first impression by exhibiting positive body language and using nonverbal cues to draw students’ attention…. Appear confident and professional, …. High amounts of eye contact, …. Creating a good learning atmosphere, ….ice breakers… professional and organized. (Wang, 332-333)
Frye, S., Taylor, J. & Stafford, A. in Wang emphasize the importance of passion – believing in the importance of what you teach and the influence you have as an educator to help people become the best version of themselves. Their words about passion are quite poetic:
Passion is not passive; passion leans forward with its face in the wind. Passion is passed through to practice in the form of energy and motion. Passion is not monotone; passion is not motionless. Passion does not stand behind a lectern or sit in a chair. In fact, passion doesn’t stand still much at all. (340)
One way of planning to communicate your passion is to create an ‘elevator speech’ about your course or learning session. Introduce the topic, give one or two ‘did you know ‘statements (surprising facts), ask them to imagine a preferred future and ‘sell’ the course as a step to creating this preferred future. Then make it interactive and ask for their ideas. Here is a TedTalk video https://youtu.be/Xlg8zdSVjgg about how to communicate your passion and create intrigue in a structured and intentional way. I tried it at an important meeting recently when I was presenting a national research initiative and it worked marvelously!
As you consider strategies and technologies related to your context, also consider the bigger picture of education that involves a vision where educators and students alike become agents of transformation. How might you as an educator reflect this vision of faith and hope? How might the strategies and techniques you choose to design your learning opportunities convey this message of hope?
Silberman, M. L., & Biech, E. (2015). Active training: A handbook of techniques, designs, case examples, and tips (4th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons (Chaps 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
Wang, C. X. (2017). Theory and Practice of Adult and Higher Education. Information Age Publishing Inc. Chapter 13