No matter your profession knowledge is being passed around each and every day. The sharing of knowledge is an extremely vital part of growth and development. From account analysts, to managers to teachers – we all communicate our knowledge in some form or way. I have a close friend who is a mathematics teacher at Eastern Illinois University and upon reading a few of my posts has taken a sincere interest in the role social neuroscience and social intelligence can play in education. Dave, this is for you buddy.
Have you ever been bored to death by a class? Have you ever skipped a college class because you anticipated it was going to be a snooze fest? Conversely, have you ever been a class that you really enjoyed? We have all had boring classes and we’ve all had really fun engaging courses. The reason we enjoy certain classes is because of the way knowledge is communicated. Yes, the course work has us initially engaged but the professor is the driving force behind our excitement for the course.
I like to focus on college professors because I believe on the whole most college students are emotionally disengaged in the classroom. So why is this? To understand why college students often show great disinterest in their courses we’ll have to go back to when you six years old. When your first grade teacher asked a question all of the hands in the classroom went up. There was probably even that one kid who was dieing to be called on – the kid who was using his free arm to hold up the arm he had raised and was waving like a battle flag. Now think about any one of your college courses. Out of a lecture of 100 people less than 10 hands might go up when the teacher asks a question. So what the hell happened from the time you were six to now?
The reason so few hands go up in college classrooms is because you have been conditioned to fear failure. When you were younger teachers called on you to give opinions and thoughts. You were young, you were care free and you were not scared of being wrong. But over time your teachers stopped calling on you for your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. They started calling on you for answers, and answers only have two outcomes: right or wrong. With 50/50 odds you don’t want to look like a fool, so you decide to sit this one out. What they don’t tell you is that those feelings, thoughts and ideas you used to have are paramount to retention and learning. Failure is stigmatized in today’s education and students suffer each and every day. So how do we change this? We shake things up.
“Mental energy is not a fixed substance. Mental energy rises and falls with our passion and commitment to what we are doing.” – Sir Ken Robinson, PhD.
At the root of our mental energy is our emotion. In a previous post I discussed that to optimally perform our emotion has to be at just the right balanced level – like the heat gauge on your car’s dashboard. This is especially true for learning. The truth is that most students are not immune to education; they’re immune to how it’s communicated, how it’s taught, and even the classroom they’re in. College students have been conditioned to resist trite lectures, lesson plans and power points. Nearly every class has the same format in the same type of room. Yeah, the chairs and desks might change but they know what’s coming. To actively communicate knowledge you need to gain the emotional buy-in of your class. You shouldn’t talk at them. You should genuinely communicate with them.
Randy Pausch, PhD., the author of The Last Lecture, used to start one of his college courses at Carnegie Melon by breaking a VCR with a baseball bat. Talk about emotional buy-in. Imagine sitting down for what you think is going to be just another class and then your teacher comes in and beats the hell out of a VCR. Different, right, and maybe now you’re thinking this isn’t a normal class so you pay more attention. That experience has just taken your emotion response level from barely present to right there and ready to learn.
Apply Social Intelligence
Most teachers focus on dispensing knowledge. Instead of being concerned with what they’re going to say I suggest teachers should be more concerned about how their message is going to be perceived and understood. Maybe then they would realize that every student understands differently and in different contexts. Break away from power points and lectures. Utilize all of the media mediums for communicating knowledge: movies, sound clips, documentaries, role playing, art, music, skits and the list go on and on. Shake things up and present it in new angles. Look at the same old ideas and theories in new ways. Your class might begin to buy-in emotionally because your lesson itself is salient and fresh, and who knows, you might even learn something new yourself.
Teacher, professor or professional, this is game plan we can all use to aid in our growth and development. As a teacher you’re a leader. You’re a pace car for emotion and contrary to popular belief; you can go down any road you choose. It’s okay to change lanes and explore new exits. It might lead to places you never knew existed. Don’t just teach, actively communicate.