Yesterday’s class brought tears to my eyes. But in a good way.
Does this happen often? Not really.
In my decade or so of post-secondary teaching I have experienced the odd classroom situation that has made me want to run as fast as possible from the room, curl up in a corner of my office, grab my tea and a box of kleenex and let loose.
Why? Because I care. Even though I’ve learned to distance myself from student issues, disappointments and frustrations, they still get to me from time to time.
Fortunately yesterday’s class was nothing like that at all. In fact, by the end of class I wanted to call for a group hug and tell my students how proud I was of them. You know, a regular “Kumbaya” session. I’m writing this post to share what happened and why what happened is so important to student learning.
Yesterday, groups of students from my management class presented details of the business ventures they have been working on for the past three months. This is a huge project involving lots of coordination, research, writing, number crunching, organization and group drama. The project ends with the presentation. It’s generally a happy day for most students as they are truly relieved that the process is over.
After each group presents, the class is invited to ask questions. It was during this time that I observed a major difference from past years in the classroom tone.
In the past this Q&A session has let’s say, been a little tense. Students on the receiving end are often on the defensive because they are really completely invested in their ideas and research. It’s their baby and they will do what it takes to protect it.
Students on the delivery side are often on the offensive. I believe that some students feel that in order to make their project seem more impressive it’s a good idea to pose questions that are designed to make other groups feel inadequate and uncomfortable.
That did not happen yesterday.
Yesterday’s questions were posed with a genuine desire to better understand the business plan that the presenting group had developed. Even though some of the questions were similar in content to those posed in the past (remember, the ones with the bad intent) there was something different about the delivery that made the difference.
For the first time I had a presenter respond to a question with “That’s a really good idea. Thanks for bringing that up.”. I also had comments from students that simply recognized the hard work, something unique about the idea or presentation and the excellent job put forward.
The supportive and encouraging atmosphere created by the students was what brought the tears to my eyes. I was so proud of them.
A supportive environment must be present in order for most students to take risks. And taking risks is necessary to foster student learning.
What do I mean by risks?
I mean asking questions of faculty and fellow students. I mean sharing information and opinions. I mean asking support services on campus for help or guidance. I mean reaching out to fellow students and simply making an introduction.
Let’s face it, some students don’t necessarily need a supportive environment to take risks. They would do so regardless. That’s their personality. But many students are in no way ready to take such risks, especially in the first couple of years of university. They NEED this environment in order to grow.
What About You?
What do you need to do in order to be in a position to take risks? How can you help create a supportive environment?
Here are some ideas:
- When you are “shopping” for institutions or classes, pay particular attention to the “community feel” you get from the place or from what past students have experienced.
- Get to know your fellow classmates. Just say hi. Start the conversation and you’ll be surprised how easy it takes off.
- Do the work so that you can be an active contributor in class or in discussions with your professor or fellow classmates outside of the classroom.
- Take advantage of opportunities to work in small groups (seminar/tutorial sessions or simply smaller class sizes).
- Work well in groups. Know the tools that exist to help manage plans and progress and use them.
Don’t wait for someone else to create a supportive environment for you. Take initiative and do it yourself.
Support is a funny thing. You get more when you give more. So, are you doing everything in your power to be supportive? If not, what can you do to be more supportive in your classrooms, in your family, in your life?
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mandajuice/562954687/”>Mandajuice</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>