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Let's Get Excited (Again)!

Posted by on in Student Engagement
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This past summer I had the opportunity to hear Glenn Wiebe's (@glennw98) closing keynote at Podstock in Wichita, Kansas. At one point he said, "Kids start school in kindergarten excited, but they don't usually end school the same way. We have to change that."

Mr. Weibe’s words made me reflect on my own time as a student. Do you remember yours? Or perhaps your child's? I have never met a kid who is not excited for their very first day of school. They may be nervous, even a bit scared. Perhaps they experience some separation anxiety. However, every child looks forward to starting school - it is a rite of passage, a sign they are growing up - a big kid now.

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I started school in the same way you did – the same way your children did – full of hope and excitement.  In fact that is a very hopeful version of me in the picture above. However, somewhere along the way I lost that excitement and I am not alone in this. Look at the high school graduation rate in the United States. According to a report last updated in May 2015 from the National Center for Education Statistics, 81% of public high school students in our country graduated on time in 2012.

While there are many reasons for these statistical truths, one underlying factor has to be the fact students stop enjoying school. They simply lose their excitement. This is clearly an issue, but to whom does this problem belong: the students? I don't think so. Many students lose their love of learning, and that, my education friends, is on us. Like Glenn Wiebe said, "We have to change that." How? I have a few ideas.

Build relationships.

I read a quote on Twitter from Jeff Charbonneau: "Relationships then content. Both matter. So does the order." I love this. If you take time to get to know your students and show them they are important to you, it will pay off throughout the year. We often start the year wanting to jump in and teach. We haven't taught all summer and we are excited to impart words of wisdom and understanding to our students. While it is essential to be excited about our content - if we fail to build relationships first, students will be less likely to enjoy their time in our classrooms. When your students know you care about their lives, futures, and success, they will work harder for you every time.

Be a human.

Students need to see that we are not infallible, robotic sources of rules and information. Let your class get to know a bit about who you are, what makes you tick, maybe even why you teach. More importantly, let them see your mistakes. Students need to know you are a human being, just like them. When you let them see this, they feel a connection to you and your instruction.

Create safety.

Kids have all kinds of pressure from the world outside school. Make school a safe place for them - a place where life is somewhat normal, where they want to go because it is a location in which they can find adults who are willing to listen and help. Also, our classrooms should be as intellectually safe as they are physically safe. Create a culture of learning where discussions between students or teachers are open ended, challenging, and supportive. Show your students that failure is not the end - but often the beginning. Many students start to hate school because they are not "good" at it - find a way to make them feel success, and they will start to find their excitement all over again.

Keep it real.

As great as connecting with kids and making a safe environment for learning can be, we all know that students can love their teacher but hate school. One huge reason I disliked school was that I became bored. I can remember more than once complaining at home because I would never need to use what I "learned" that day in life. I'm willing to bet you often felt the same way. Rarely do kids run home excited about a worksheet or a required textbook assignment. To me, this is the biggest fix we need to make in order to relight our students' love of learning: create realistic, challenging learning experiences. Find a way to tie your content to life - show them why learning is important. Build fun, engaging, authentic learning experiences and just watch the excitement come back. For inspiration on this, research project-based learning or makerspaces.

Find your passion.

Perhaps some of our students lose their love of learning because we have lost our love of teaching. I know times can often be trying for educators. If you find yourself buying into negativity surrounding you, step back - literally or figuratively. Every once in a while I like to do a quick self-inventory and remind myself exactly what it is I love about teaching. Then I re-devote myself to that passion. When students see you are truly passionate about learning, they can't help but get enthused, too.

The task of lighting a fire in students is not always easy. The task of re-lighting the ashes of a fire gone out is even harder. It will require work, maybe even a change in our mindset. However, nothing worth doing is ever easy and we owe our students the best possible experience we can give. It's on us to make the change and keep our students in love with learning.

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Brian McDavitt spent ten years teaching elementary students in Pleasant Hill, MO. He taught third grade for eight years and has taught fourth for two. In addition to teaching in the classroom, he has served as vice-president and president of his district's professional development committee, been a team leader for third and fourth grades, and is the chair of his building's standards based grading committee. Starting in August, 2016, Brian will be taking on a new position as the Technology Integration Specialist for Millennium @ Santa Fe Elementary School, part of the Hickman Mills C-1 School District in Kansas City, MO.  He holds a BA in Elementary Education from Graceland University and a Master of Education in Technology-Enhanced Teaching from MidAmerica Nazarene University. Brian is passionate about creating authentic learning experiences for his students, technology integration, professional development, and improving classroom management. Connect with Brian on Twitter: @bmcd25.

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