June 11, 2024
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How to Keep Your Students And Your Children Engaged

This year some teachers teach in a blended setting, some are fully virtual, and some are in a face-to-face classroom setting. Good teachers are always looking for ways to improve what they do and for strategies to sustain increased student engagement.

This also applies to parents (the “real” teachers of their children) dealing with children who are spending much more time at home. Every parent and teacher has valuable experiences, stories and talents. Reflective practitioners always seek tools or resources to improve. However, what teachers/parents possess inside themselves is a powerful resource.

Teachers/parents should smile and laugh. Smiles have an effect on interactions with students/children. Smiles and laughter generate a welcoming tone and a certain warmth, and children thrive in such a hospitable environment. Studies have shown that humor stimulates the brain’s dopamine reward system, and hence, humor can be an operational tool to improve content retention. Finding humor in the mundane is not only a tool for a more gratifying life, but also a potent act of inspiration for teachers/parents. Teachers/parents who focus on the everyday joys (and not the “oys”) are the ones who smile and laugh often.

Teachers should create experiences, not activities, and not be afraid to think outside the formal, frontal, rigid lesson plan. There are so many ways to be creative in math, science, history, literature, chumash, Gemara, etc. Be determined that students will never be bored. Every day is an opportunity to actively learn in meaningful and fun ways.

Classroom activities aren’t adequate. They don’t remain with students, and they’re not what’s best for learning. If students are given a problem to solve and debate various solutions, then are shown the same arguments articulated in the Gemara, or if they are tasked with calculating and tabulating Supreme Court positions prior to a vote, or even figuring out how to turn a profit on a bake sale, these are positive learning experiences. Experiences, rather than activities, change how students view the world and how they think about their own thinking.

Be visibly invisible. Allow students to work out and suggest solutions in small guided group discussions. Guide from the periphery and allow students to defend and justify their answers to each other. “I like the way you solved this problem.” “I wonder if my answer would have been different if I had used your strategy.” The teacher is visibly invisible in that the students know she/he structured and planned the learning experiences, but they feel they were in charge of their own learning. Research has shown that student discussions increase learning outcomes.

Every lesson should be treated as if you get only one chance to teach it. This applies if a teacher is in their third or 33rd year of teaching and getting ready to teach a concept that she/he already taught before, or if a teacher is putting together a remote learning lesson. It’s easier to use what was taught before or in years past. Each class is different, as are the students in it. Every group of students has different interests, backgrounds, experiences and skill gaps. Teachers must create experiences that connect to their intrinsic motivation. It’s fine to look at previous planning, but that should not be a starting point.

What do children/students want to learn about, what do they need to know and be able to do in this ever-changing world, and how can you best support their individual needs? Think about what in your experience of successful methodologies will best accomplish this mission. Also, teaching a lesson or interacting with your child as if it was your one and only opportunity increases your own passion, dynamism and determination, so that every teachable moment becomes an opening to make learning stimulating and meaningful, as if it was your very first class, on your very first day of school, every day!

Being an effective teacher or parent requires planning and much thought. Part of successful teaching and parenting is to think about and formulate a methodology. What is your educational/parenting philosophy? Start with your purpose. Why did you choose to become a teacher or parent? Are you limited in any way? Think about what you need to change to free yourself. What has given you the strength and encouragement to make crucial changes? What kind of ongoing support do you need to help you revive your temperament for teaching and parenting? A well thought-out and articulated plan is a crucial component for success.


Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene has had a distinguished career in Jewish education.

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