“When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done.”
- Sir Ken Robinson
Question: How do you instill a love for learning in middle school students?
Short Answer: Ask them questions about their lives. Every day.
More Nuanced Answer
Here in Florida, somewhere around 600,000 middle school students have just met their new teachers, reconnected with friends or started to make new ones, and have begun to acclimate to another school year’s routines. The routines vary from district to district, school to school, and teacher to teacher, but almost every student has been exposed to:
- syllabi for their courses,
- classroom procedures,
- classroom rules,
- school procedures and rules,
- forms/permissions/waivers/acknowledgments/contracts, and
- initial formative assessments.
Takeaway: It’s easy for students to feel lost in the shuffle. The students who feel valued as individuals are the ones who thrive.
The week before these students arrived, most teachers were extremely busy preparing to meet their new students for the first time.
Mostly, they were meeting with school and district administrators to think and talk about the procedures and rules and assessments they’re going to implement this school year. In between these meetings, teachers were:
- decorating the walls and hallways,
- arranging desks and other classroom furniture,
- creating/updating/printing/copying syllabi,
- connecting and testing technological gadgets and gizmos,
- procuring textbooks and other resources, and
- writing lesson plans.
Takeaway: It’s easy for teachers to feel lost in the shuffle. The teachers who feel valued as individuals are the ones who thrive.
Wondering how teachers can cultivate relationships with students so that everyone feels valued as individuals?
Try Allen Mendler’s “2x10 Method.” For two weeks in a row, talk to a student (especially a resistant/distant student) for a couple minutes about anything (s)he wants to talk about. If the student is reticent, try these starters:
- What one genre of music could you tolerate on a deserted island?
- Why do people tend to root for the underdog?
- Would you rather be able to fly or become invisible?
- What’s one thing you wish your teachers knew about you?
The premise is simple: Getting to know the students you teach gives them the confidence and self-esteem they need to try their best and take risks.
Teach Heart First
As a classroom teacher, my approach has always been “heart first.” Are the students Ivy League graduates now? Only a small handful. Are they CEOs and U.S. Ambassadors? Not yet.
However, many of them have expressed that they were moved by my efforts to support them as individuals.
One student, in an anonymous survey I created for my eighth graders last year, wrote this:
“At some times, it may have seemed that I didn't want to participate in some assignments. Although it may have seemed that way, I want you to know that every day I walked into that classroom, I felt like you were the only teacher that understood how the average 8th grader acted.”
Another student from way-back-when recently reached out to me to say this:
“I remember little about the classroom that I sat in but much about the eccentric teacher who was not only passionate but cared more about his students than most teachers. The teacher who saw me on a bad day and asked me to stay after class just to make sure I was doing okay. The fearless teacher. You were always one of my favorites.”
Those of us who teach heart first have discovered that although not every child will demonstrate mastery of standards at the highest level, the only ones who will try to do so are those who know that we value them as individuals.
Mendler, A. (2001). Connecting with students. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2015). Creative schools: The grassroots revolution that's transforming education (p. 120). New York, New York: Viking.