If I asked you to recall your favourite teacher, what is it exactly that you remember? For me, remembering my favourite teacher is a little like this quote from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The teacher I recall is Mr. Humphries – senior English. Mr. Humphries rode a motorcycle and was very softly spoken. Mr. Humphries really ‘got’ me, and I felt understood for the first time in High School. I couldn’t tell you what he taught me in terms of content (well, I may remember certain bits!), or specific lesson activities, but I can tell you how he made me feel. I felt emotionally attached to him and English for the first time and I was in a safe space emotionally in that classroom. This brings to mind 2 of my favourite fictional teachers; the warm, delightful Miss Honey from Roald Dahl’s book Matilda, and the charismatic substitute teacher in the Simpsons, Mr. Bergstrom, whom Lisa is both inspired by and utterly adores.
Interestingly, in a class survey that I conducted recently, with over 100 students, one of the questions was “What is the nicest thing a teacher has ever said to you?” I was saddened to read one student’s answer was “Teachers never say nice things.” This only inspired me to be even more mindful of the positivity that I bring to the classroom. In Eric Jensen’s Brain Based Learning he emphasizes that learners “pick up on the emotional state of the instructor, which either enhances or interferes with cognition. Teachers who smile, use humour, have a joyful demeanour, and take genuine pleasure in their work, generally have high-performing learners.” In essence, your attitude is as important as your content.
Jensen argues the ‘old’ way of thinking in education was “First get control of the students, then do the teaching.” Today, however, he says that neuroscientists would say, “First engage the emotions appropriately, then continue to engage them.” He states, “Engaging emotions must be intrinsic to the curriculum, rather than something done as an afterthought…we remember events that are laced with emotion.”
In terms of classroom practice, Bob Sullo explains that it is more likely that students will remember what they have learnt if they are in a positive emotional state. Let’s look at some practical ideas about how to create this atmosphere:
- Model enthusiasm
- Role plays
- Lively debates
- Hands-on learning experiences
- Guest experts
These types of learning activities can increase the emotional engagement in the classroom.
Two questions for you to ponder: Who was your favourite teacher when you were a student? Also, how are you incorporating emotional connection in your classroom?