Real learning takes place when a students are engaged and can easily make connections between what is being taught and how it will benefit them in life. In order for a teacher to be effective, students must want to learn.
That can feel daunting when you have many students in your class with such different interests, motivations and learning styles. That’s part of what makes teaching so challenging, but also so rewarding.
Let’s face it, most teachers didn’t choose this vocation because of the major league salaries. They’re in it for psychic income… that wonderful feeling you get when you know you’ve made a difference in someone’s life.
Having taught hundreds of thousands of students, we’ve accumulated decades of research on how to create engaging learning environments. We share this knowledge with educators to provide strategies and techniques for empowering and inspiring students to live their best lives.
The following methods may seem simple, but they’re profoundly effective. Pick one or more to implement, and you’ll be reminded why you love this profession so much.
Here are 10 effective teaching strategies that really work.
1 – Give them their dreams back.
Dreams are critical because they represent hope and optimism in our students. This affects academic performance, peer and group functioning, as well as behavior.
Too many middle and high school students have lost their capacity to dream and envision a bright future. As educators, we often play the role of the realist, challenging the dreams our young people have – or worse, squashing them.
We need to remember that it is not the content of the dream that matters, but rather to encourage that they’re dreaming at all.
Provide opportunities for your students to think about the future. Research shows that just getting students to acknowledge the road ahead can drastically reduce the likelihood of life-changing, catastrophic decisions such as quitting school or taking illicit drugs. When students start to place a value on their futures, it alters the way they make decisions in the present.
2 – Show them you expect greatness.
Just as important as having them envision the future is encouraging them to have higher expectations. A colleague and partner of ours, Nashid Sharrief, has had a dramatic impact with at-risk, inner city boys through his “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” program. The key to his success is the expectations he sets for his students.
In his program, the boys read and analyze Shakespeare and converse on topics such as Quantum Physics and World History. In Nashid’s words, “They are capable and need to know that I know they are capable.”
Students often rise or fall to the level of expectations we set for them. As parents and educators, we must expect more and demonstrate our belief in their ability to accomplish extraordinary things.
Instill in yourself the knowledge that all students are capable and that no student is “bad” – they are only making poor decisions. Demonstrating your confidence and expectations in them creates a new energy in your classroom, and may generate just the spark you need to get through to them.
3 – Teach them to forgive themselves.
So many of our students have regrets. They feel labeled based on past mistakes or circumstances. They feel stuck and lack the necessary appreciation for their ability to change things. This can create anger, apathy and so many other things that get in the way of the learning process. They must forgive themselves and recognize that what they’ve done in the past isn’t who they are. Just because they have gotten bad grades previously doesn’t mean they’re destined to do so in the future.
Let them know that every day is an opportunity for a fresh start. It is about who they want to become and not who they were; that within them is the ability to create a new future on their own terms. They are not a product of their past, and their future is not predetermined; it is what they decide it will be from this moment moving forward. Agree that you will let go of preconceived notions and have them promise to do the same.
4 – Make your information relevant.
Too often, students see education as unnecessary or irrelevant. The key is to help them understand why it matters. This is accomplished when students have clear dreams and goals. With a vision for the future, they will connect the dots on why their education is relevant.
A great tool for this is student-driven discussion. Ask them why the content you are teaching is important. You will find that students articulate the relevance in their own terms and begin to make powerful connections. Just as important is that they share this understanding with their classmates to help them make their own connections.
5 – Be vulnerable.
Want to build trust and rapport with students? Try sharing your own trials and successes in life.
Vulnerability is essential for creating an empowered classroom. When an educator opens up and shares, he or she sets the tone for students to do the same. This provides a truly meaningful opportunity to connect with them as well.
6 – Tell more stories.
A powerful way to teach is through metaphors. Storytelling is a wonderful way to present basic ideas in clear, comprehensible terms and use metaphors to bridge the gaps to complex concepts. As an example: for younger children, the story of the “Little Engine That Could” provides a great foundation through which to teach the concept of persistence.
Stories are not only a great way to engage and build trust; they can be an exceptional technique for teaching.
7 – Facilitate more and teach less.
Today more than ever, students resent and distrust the assumed air of expertise. The saying, “Be the guide by their side, not the sage on the stage” is more important than ever.
We should no longer think of what we do as teaching, but rather facilitating the learning experience. There is no better technique for this than becoming a great facilitator.
A classroom that is conversing is a classroom that is learning.
Often, your students will become the teachers, the content will become more relevant, and connections will be made in a more current and compelling manner. And chances are, you’ll learn a thing or two as well!
8 – Embrace new media and technology.
We are fortunate to live in a time when so much content is being created that’s easily accessible to educators. There are videos published every day that are educational and inspirational, and we know they work because millions of young people are watching them on YouTube and other social media sites.
As educators, we must embrace these new tools and incorporate them into our own teaching. With some effort and creativity, you can connect the messages to your curriculum while making the experience engaging and relevant.
Likewise, new songs are released every day with empowering messages. Why not use these to create energy and make connections in the classroom? Classroom games can be played to support your objectives and cater to kinesthetic learners. And it never hurts to get everyone moving!
Don’t forget to use imagery and quotes that many students gravitate to as well.
Connect with your students from every angle and in every way possible. What works for one may not work for another, but you can reach them all if you optimize the experience in the classroom.
9 – Foster creativity and imagination.
Creativity is a fundamental human need. If you are not creating in at least one area of your life, then you aren’t living to your full potential.
Students are being creative and imaginative when they are engaged, energized, and participating. They can be playing games, actively engaged in discussions, or telling their own stories. The important thing is to create an environment where creativity is recognized and celebrated.
10 – Celebrate failure and growth.
We live in a world largely driven by extrinsic motivators. Many students value themselves based on external accomplishments such as test scores, grades, and trophies. In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck calls this the “fixed” mindset and urges us to work to build a “growth” mindset in our students.
Teach them to see and cherish their personal growth. When they fail, celebrate it and let them know that learning from mistakes is essential to success.
And when they succeed, celebrate, but focus on the person they have become to get the grade rather than the grade itself. There is no instant gratification in doing this, but you are helping your students build the powerful muscles of growth and resilience.