I teach a class called Leadership and Organizational Behavior for Music and Entertainment Business students at an innovative and creative university in Central Florida. Our schedule is a little strange. Students take 2 classes at a time, and after 4 weeks they move onto 2 new classes, which means that I shove what could be an entire semester’s worth of material into 4 weeks.

That’s hurdle 1: Connecting with the students quickly so that they are willing to actually listen. If you don’t connect with them in the first week – in the first day even – they will leave not having learned anything.

Hurdle 2 is that my class isn’t normally the most anticipated class of their degree program. On the whole, most students are excited about the classes more directly related to their future careers- either record label development or artist management or music business marketing. More often than not, my students aren’t looking at their future class schedules going, “Oh, wow! Leadership and Organizational Behavior! I can’t wait for that – it’s going to be so exciting!!”

With those hurdles, however, I have several advantages.

1: I LOVE what I do. I love teaching, I love getting to know my students, I love being creative, I love the subjects I teach. I enter the classroom every day with positive energy, passion, and excitement. Even if my students aren’t necessarily excited about LOB, I’m excited about it, and that energy often spreads to them.

2: I’m a perpetual student. I was that kid who loved school. I was always excited for the first day of class. I loved reading, liked to study, and didn’t mind working hard if that meant I’d learn something and do well. Because I’ve always identified as a student, I think like a student. When I’m planning my class, my first thought is more “Would I like to do this? Would I learn something from it?” and less “How can I make them do this?” In fact, I sometimes completely forget that I have to assess the assignments I give. I’ll come up with this great idea for a project that’s going to be interesting, fun, challenging, and thought-provoking; then after spending hours designing the project, I suddenly remember that I have to grade this thing, and I panic a little bit about creating a rubric. But overall, the fact that I think like a student makes my material much more engaging and makes my teaching style much more comfortable and relate-able.

3: I’m an observer. This has benefited me as a business consultant, sales associate, marketing assistant, and mostly, as a teacher. I can watch human interaction and inherently know what’s working and what’s not. I’ve had my share of good and bad teachers, bosses, coworkers, and roommates, and I learned something from each interaction. Having these experiences, I think, makes me a better teacher because I focus on truly connecting with my students, and I know what works and what doesn’t.

4: Learning is for everyone. Everyone loves to learn. Think about as a kid when you went outside to explore in your backyard or your neighborhood. Or pretending to be a pirate searching for hidden treasure. I watched a Muppet Babies episode as a kid about paleontologists and wanted nothing more than to go to Egypt and dig up ancient civilizations and learn about how they lived. Everyone loves to discover something new – and yet school is often boring. Why? It’s because we forget Kindergarten.

Do you remember Kindergarten? When you’re in Kindergarten what do you do? You play, you build things and knock them over, you run around outside, you eat snacks, you nap, you have show-and-tell, you laugh, you fight, you sing songs and paint and play with instruments and have animal pets and you LEARN. Yep. In Kindergarten you’re doing a million other things and learning at the same time.

And then we go to first grade, when suddenly learning has to be a “job” (I’ll get into that topic at a later date), when we’re told to be quiet, sit still, and pay attention, because in order to learn we can’t be up running around, playing, and making noise.

What just happened? At 5 we can play, but at 6 we suddenly have to be professional? And why, exactly, is laughing and having fun not professional?

As we educate and get older, we are taught that having fun, running around, playing, taking naps, and eating snacks are all a hindrance to education – and I believe this is WRONG. Guess what. This philosophy is making learning difficult, and worst of all, boring.

Think about biology class. I can learn even MORE running around outside, looking at creatures and comparing them, their structure, what they eat, and how they interact, than I can reading about them in a book. And maybe while running around outside, we step in poop, or get dirt on our clothes, or, god forbid, laugh and run around and giggle, but we’re engaged. We’re allowed to be kids – to be humans – exploring and observing things for ourselves.

I try to incorporate these ideas in my class. While I can’t take my students outside to look at bugs (and potentially step in poop), I try to make my class interactive and engaging. We have group discussions. We have special guests. We look at the way businesses work and affect us as individuals. We talk about our own past experiences and what we felt about them. We watch videos and read blogs and talk about the news. And sometimes we don’t talk about anything I’d planned for the day. But every day we learn.

Not just them, I learn to. I’m not here to shove information down their throats. I’m here to guide them on an exploration of topics. An exploration where I will be their tour guide, but we will all discover new things throughout the tour.

My teaching philosophy, in a nutshell, is this:

  • Learning is fun. If your students aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Teaching is fun. If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Learning is multi-faceted. We learn by reading, talking, listening, watching, doing, teaching others, demonstrating, and dancing. Yep. Dancing.
  • Learning can happen anywhere. Share those sudden moments of epiphany with your students.
  • Be passionate. If you aren’t excited about what you’re teaching, your students aren’t going to get excited for you. They will reciprocate the energy you give them.
  • Be genuine. They’re students, not robots. If you aren’t genuine – if you’re just blowing hot air or spewing BS – they will notice and they’re not going to listen to a single word you say. This means not pretending you know everything and admitting when you don’t know or when you’re wrong.
  • Listen. If you truly want to make your class useful and interesting to your students, then listen to them. Don’t balk at them. Don’t tell them to be quiet. Ask them what they mean. Tell them to explain. Get them to talk more. And listen to what they’re saying.

In addition to this, sometimes teaching means taking risks. My next post is going to be about an epiphany I had as a teacher, and the risk I was willing to take by giving my students complete autonomy.

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