The Impact of a Learning Relationship: How Knowing Your Students Helps You Create Rigorous Lessons.


Today is Sunday, February 13th, and it’s the big day for American football fans. It’s Super Bowl Sunday! I must admit, I’m not a big fan of the NFL; I have never been. I’m more interested in the Canadian game and am a close follower of the CFL. I’ll likely watch the game today, even though I have no emotional or financial investment (no bets!) in the outcome. Real fans have been salivating for this day all year, and for some, their pregame rituals started days, weeks and even months ago. Casual fans, like myself, are not so caught up in it, and if I watch some or all of it, I’ll be okay with that.

However, what has my interest piqued is all the pageantry that comes along with a Super Bowl. The over-the-top pregame shows with stars of the past weighing in on who they think will prevail. The highly anticipated Super Bowl commercials that people enjoy watching. The carnival-like halftime show that features Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar; all performs I am aware of, but none of them has a home on my Spotify playlists! There are so many things that surround the game that are there to engage and entertain the fans. But at the heart of the Super Bowl is a game between two teams. The dimensions of the field, the rules of play, and the object of the game are all still the same. Everything else is just there to draw eyes (and dollars) to the event.

The Super Bowl had me thinking about the world we live in as educators. I’ve heard many students say they do not like school or a specific class because “it’s boring” (their words). They try to justify their lack of effort by saying what they are learning about does not interest them. I can sympathize with them, to a point. I’ve often told students who complain that my lessons are boring, that I’m not Netflix and that I’m not just here to entertain. They understand that, but we need to be mindful of the impact that engagement has on teaching and learning.

I believe it is essential to know our learners and look for ways to make learning fun, relevant, and meaningful while at the same time rigorous. It’s not always easy, and we know that what works one day does not always work the next. We also know that so many factors go into what a student will find engaging or not. Then, there is also the subject matter. I find anything to do with math or science highly interesting, but I need to remember that not all students will feel the same. Some will have other subjects they are passionate about, and those students will be easier to motivate in those classes.

It’s all about knowing your learners and having a learning relationship with them! If students see you making an honest effort, they will usually give you the benefit of the doubt. Not every class needs to be the Super Bowl, and not every noon break needs a halftime show, but we do owe it to our students and to ourselves to look for ways to make our time together enjoyable while at the same time having an impact on their learning.

I think the answer lies somewhere between the following two extremes:

And with that, it’s kickoff time!

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About the Author: Bruce Mellesmoen