Keeping Students Engaged-Nine Lessons from Observing a Great Teacher

Eric Branner

Dec 14, 2016

Do you struggle to keep your students engaged? It’s a topic that frequents every teaching journal, blog and forum out there — but it’s an almost impossible issue to resolve.

As a teacher, I’m sure you’re familiar with this scenario: you prepare a fantastic lesson plan, you spend hours cultivating ideas to drive discussions and interest in the topic in hand. And, in the lesson, you’re only met with a room of glazed eyes, yawns and heads propped by against palms. It happens to all of us, and it’s one of the biggest challenges to an otherwise spectacular job.

So, how can you improve your teaching abilities to engage your students?

I love to watch great teachers teach so I sat in on a Capoeira class(Fenix Capoiera, Seattle) this weekend with my son, and was truly inspired by an incredible instructor.

During the class for this Brazilian martial art, I observed patience, great vibes, repetition, hierarchy, fun, culture, discipline, movement, spontaneity, and consequences. The combination made for such an engaging class! I left with an exhausted but fascinated child and so much excitement for the next lessons I would teach. Here’s how it went down:

The teacher’s name was Esquillo. He warmly greeted each student with a huge smile and double high-five. I loved how the call to practice was “let’s play.” Students of all levels were “playing” side by side. The oldest student, who had achieved the highest belt-ranking, was expected to lead and demonstrate.

This hierarchy showed the younger students what they would aspire to. When the high-rank student started goofing off, the teacher showed spectacular patience. It was obviously difficult to teach the class during the moments when he was not paying attention — and with parents watching. I’ve been there a million times. He continued to smile, and applied some discipline by issuing friendly verbal warnings, and making the class do extra pushups.

All of the movements were conducted to music and rhythms. Exercises were repeated, alternated, and revisited. When something didn’t work well, Esquillio would spontaneously stop the exercise, and move to a new activity. I watched him conduct his class with so much love and good vibes.

Towards the end of the class, one of the experienced students asked if they would play the “snake game.” Esquillio announced that they would not play the snake game, because there was too much goofing off — and this was the consequence of that behavior. He said this while smiling, demonstrating that he knew the next class would be better.

It all wrapped up with learning a percussive rhythm,and singing a song together. A moment of understanding the cultural significance of Capoeira to Brazil and all the people that study it. I was amazed at how he really kept that class engaged. It was a fresh take on how to run things for my own classes. We packed up our things, thanked Esquillo, and left the studio.

I was very much looking forward to the next lessons with my own students. I couldn’t wait to smile, be patient, move around, and have fun with my lessons. There are wonderful sources of inspiration to help keep our students engaged all around us. I’m so glad I took my son to a Capoeira class on a rainy, Saturday afternoon.

If you’ve learnt from another teacher’s techniques and felt inspired, please share your experience with the Fons teaching community in the comments below.

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