February is conference season for teachers across Alberta and Jaralyn Monkman, Director of Programs for Impact Society, had the privilege of speaking to educators in Lethbridge and area last week at the SWATCA 2016 Conference.
As we have promised to be relational in everything we do, connecting with teachers and schools in this atmosphere is always something our team looks forward to, and we wanted to share some of our thoughts from this year’s conference presentation.
From the Inside Out: A Journey of Student Engagement Through Meaningful Instruction and Excellent Content explores why there is much more to teaching than just having great content. Pairing it with meaningful instruction and being conscious of connecting with your students makes the experience richer and engages them far more than an interesting subject or project could do alone.
Science demonstrates for us that nearly every species finds itself forming into some sort of pack – making them/us feel understood. However, over one third of us live alone and we’ve moved into an ‘iPod’ isolation movement. We have a perceived connection through our modes of technology or accessibility to all this great content. But… we aren’t in love with technology. We’re in love with the pursuit of connection. This is the same for our students. They are more ‘connected’ and yet more isolated than ever before. They are craving connection, and from connection comes a feeling of safety, belonging, a sense of being understood and a desire to learn and be present.
The importance of connection goes beyond the classroom to our daily lives and how we connect to the world around us. Let’s think about advertising. Why do you buy what you do? Is it the catchy tagline or the cool graphics? Branding and Marketing expert Debbie Millman recently discussed why we are drawn to certain brands over others. She takes a look throughout the decades and discovers that since 2005, the brands that are successful are the ones whose marketing has been done in a way that impacts the limbic part of our brains. The limbic area is the feeling centre; it makes connections for us, it makes us feel meaning and belonging. This is why we connect to brands such as Coke and TOMS shoes in the way that we do. Coca Cola advertised with their “Share a Coke” campaign – Coke bottles that have yours and your friend’s names on it – inviting you to share an experience together over a simple beverage. TOMS got its start in 2006 and we connected with the their story and the idea that we do good and help those in need simply by buying a new pair of shoes. “One for One” makes us feel connected to a person in another country whom we’ve helped support by buying a pair of shoes, and in turn, giving them a pair of shoes that they need.
Simon Sinek also breaks down why companies are successful today with his TEDx Talk, Start with Why. He explains the “Golden Circle” with three rings inside. The outermost ring is the ‘what’, the middle ring is the ‘how’ and the centre of it is the ‘why’. Most companies look at the ‘what’ first and work their way in. What do we have to offer? How will we accomplish it? And lastly, why will we do it? The ‘why’ is where the connection lies, and if it appears to be so important, why do we focus on it last? Those brands that start with the connection- that start with the why – seek to discover how to connect to the consumer first, before figuring out how and what to do to accomplish it. This is why Coke, TOMS and even Apple are so successful. Simon Sinek sums it up by saying, “Inspired individuals think, act and communicate from the inside out”.
So how can we instruct our students from the inside out…making them feel more connected and valued? The content will never tell the whole story or get the results we are after as it can lack creativity, connectivity, relevance or meaning. “Effective (material) for children and youth have a couple qualities in common. The first one is that they contain high quality content that reflects current best practice. Another quality centres around how the (material) is presented (which is excellent instruction)” (Resiliency Canada, 2013). Questions we can ask ourselves…Is the material being presented in a lecture type way, or through a relational model where the learner is valued and respected? How are we engaging our students in a meaningful way?
To think practically, ensure the material is contextualized to your environment. Pull a number of additional resources to target a variety of learners. Make sure to process or internalize the materials or content for yourself, creating a personal connection to the material. Be willing to be vulnerable by sharing parts of your story or background as it relates to the material; as a result it will help students connect and engage with the content and in turn encourage them to share parts of their story or reflect deeper on their learning. And lastly, work to embrace the digital realm in your delivery model.
This doesn’t begin and end with education. Connection is important no matter what context you are in. How can you make a meaningful connection in your world?
If you are interested in our conference presentation, or our other professional development opportunities, check out for http://impactsociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Professional-Development-Package-Jan-2016-edits.pdf more information.