How to make excitement for learning contagious

Teacher reading laughing_000014533534_LargeWhen you think about the teachers who made a difference in your life, do you wonder why they made such an impression on you? Was it because they taught you clever strategies for comma usage, or posted the learning objectives and referred to them often? Perhaps, it was the way they kept everyone quiet during tests. Sound improbable? More likely, you remember how they respected and valued what you had to say, or that they cared about you as a person. You might also recall how passionate and excited they were to teach their favorite subjects.

As a teacher, it’s important for you to consider the type of personality and energy you bring to the classroom each day. You, like everyone, have troubles inside and outside of the classroom. However, when working with students, you have to check your problems at the classroom door—to a degree. Your students come to you because you are focused, supportive, and provide encouraging words.  Your guidance helps them improve in school and learn many of life’s lessons.

Sometimes, though, students do need to know that you have a life outside of the classroom and will better connect with you when you reveal some personal details. You, too, might have had a pet who passed away, or may have been disappointed with yourself or been let down by others. When you reveal your struggles and challenges, it helps your students see you as real, understanding, and approachable. Students don’t need to know every detail, of course—just enough to see you, the teacher, as similar to them. In The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Hubbell advise that meaningful interactions with students “are critical to student academic success” (p. 79), leading to positive classroom interactions and better behavioral and achievement outcomes.

Showing enthusiasm and humor helps. University of Virginia researchers Hamre and Pianta suggest that classrooms sprinkled with “pleasant conversations, spontaneous laughter, and exclamations of excitement” (p. 957) generally support higher levels of learning. British teacher research coordinator Helena Marsh states that students want teachers who aren’t so serious that they can’t feel “confident enough to do silly and memorable things to help [students] to understand something” (p. 162). In other words, students appreciate teachers who seize on opportunities to inject a little humor. Don’t take it too far; be purposeful with your instruction, but incorporate humor into your classroom and share a laugh with your students every now and again. Kids will certainly remember when you danced the Charlie Brown or the Macarena during break time. They won’t forget their teacher jumping in a 90-degree, 180-degree or a 360-degree pattern during math, either. And, in the end, the lessons will stick better.

When you model your enthusiasm for learning, your students will really want to grasp the information and do something with it. Excitement for learning is contagious!

Note: McREL is offering a 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching professional development workshop this summer in Denver. For more information, visit the registration page.

AblaCheryl_6851_webCheryl Abla is an education consultant and product manager for McREL International. After 26 years in the classroom, she now works with teachers and schools on what matters most in classrooms using knowledge gleaned from The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching, Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, and Classroom Instruction that Works. You can reach her at cabla@mcrel.org.

32 Comments

  • Sam PErry says:

    Well written, informative, and pertinent, in my humble opinion!
    Uncle Sam

  • Jodie D says:

    Thanks for this timely reminder…it is the relationships that we build in our classrooms everyday that our students will remember. It is also these connections that let our students feel safe to try new things, fail and then make changes to learn from these failures!

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    Hi Jodie,
    I completely agree and with all the emphasis beingon test cores, it’s easy to forget the power and importance of those relationships. Thanks for your comment.

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    Thanks Uncle Sam! I believe the message is quite pertinent, too.

  • Suzanne says:

    I have often said that teaching is a daily performance that requires you to put a mask on every time you step foot inside the classroom. Throughout the course of the day, you might find moments that require you to remove the mask so that the children can see the “real you.” It might not be often, but, when it does happen, it is most likely because there is a teach-able moment. If you are really good, the students do not realize that the mask has been removed. No matter how often the mask is taken off, it is a perfect moment to let your students know you are a human being!
    Your message is a brilliant reminder to have fun and laugh with your students. Everyday should be filled with laughter!

  • Holly O'Quinn says:

    Thanks for reinforcing learning is exciting. I feel that if students can see you make mistakes and laugh at yourself then you can teach them anything.

  • Valerie Hicks says:

    This has made me reflect on the teachers that I had growing up and throughout my student teaching. Those I remember most were some of the funniest, most caring women I have ever met. They are the reason I teach. I wanted to be the same kind of role model to others as they were to me. This is a great reminder that I am doing something right! I teach kindergarten and I make a fool of myself everyday! It is so important to keep all of the students engaged and if that means I have to sing, dance, or make mistakes just so they can correct me, I will do it!

  • Adin Junuz says:

    Hello Ms. Alba,
    I found your blog to be very true. As I think back of the teachers that have influenced me and my life, it is those teachers that had passion and energy. I do believe that you can get a vibe from a classroom by just walking in. It is vital for educators to have that flame that drives the classroom, as they walk in with the flame, they are ready to ignite the instructions.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Kristin Calderon says:

    Reading this really made me realize how important it is to be yourself inside the classroom, allowing students to know you are a person just like they are. Sharing information about yourself with your students is something they can relate to you and remember about you. I had a student who came in my classroom every morning to just chat about life. This student looked forward to our daily morning conversations about life in general. Thank you for reminding me to have fun in the classroom and to connect with my students, in the long run this is what my students will remember about me.

  • Stephanie Gildenmeister says:

    This is a very encouraging post! I teach kindergarten and I can see that when I have enthusiasm about something so do my students. I think I could get students excited about just about anything! I also see the benefit of being relaxed and silly with students at time. There is no greater sound than the sound of a group of laughing kindergartners!

  • Samantha says:

    I completely agree with everything in this post. When I show my enthusiasm for a lesson and/or topic, the learning is contagious in my classroom! I am passionate about recycling in my school. My students have become passionate about recycling as well. They pick trash up at recess and debate whether or not to place it in the recycle bin or reuse it. They often dig in my classroom recycle bin for treasures. I enjoy listening to them explain to others why it is important to preserve our natural resources.

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Samantha,
    Isn’t that the truth! I love hearing that you value enthusiasm. I just received a Facebook message from a former student who is now a teacher and she expressed the lesson she learned from me as her third grade teacher. It’s amazing what kids pick up and hang on to.
    Keep making a difference!!

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Stephanie,
    You have the best position in the school. I am sure your administrators come down get a dose of goodness from you and your students.
    Thanks for all you do!

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Kristen,
    I think it’s fabulous that you take time each morning to visit with that student. What a difference you are making in their life.
    I agree….kids need to see us enjoying ourselves at our job and to know what we are really made of.
    Thank you for all you do for kids!

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Adin,
    Sometimes is takes a little more work to keep our energy up than other days, but the effective teachers have a knack for keeping the enthusiasm up, even on the hard days. (Maybe coffee helps.)
    Thanks for making a difference!

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Valerie,
    You sing and dance? Good for you! Think of the great doses of dopaimine you are receiving and giving at those fun times.
    Keep it up!

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Holly….you are correct! Once your students know you really care, you will have them from then on!

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Suzanne,
    What a beautiful metaphor!
    It’s always fun when the kids realize they have been working really hard without feeling they have. It’s like, “AH….I was having so much fun, I didn’t even realize the hard work involved.”
    Thank you for your lovely words.

  • Kayley Sanders says:

    So very true in so many ways! Teaching requires you to put on a completely different role each day when you come into the classroom. Many times I have had to put all my outside problems away and turn it on “teacher mode.” I thought about the teachers I had growing up and realized many of them didn’t offer the warm, welcoming, and encouraging environment. The few who did are the teachers I still remember today. I definitely want to incorporate more time for daily conversations in my classroom. I do believe once children understand you on a personal level, as well as being their teacher, they are able to open up more.

  • Alex Stevenson says:

    I really enjoyed this article! It is challenging to bring your highest level of energy everyday and I am continually finding ways to do so. This article reminded me that some of the best days are when we are able to share a good laugh in my classroom. Life is too short to take things too seriously.

  • jessicap671 says:

    @Samantha
    Learning is definitely contagious! You are so right, when you show enthusiasm for something it makes them so much more excited to learn it!

  • jessicap671 says:

    I also love the piece about showing enthusiasm and using humor. I feel as though this helps build relationships with students and gets them more excited to learn. Normally it is my behavior students who need that extra boost to get excited about learning, humor helps a lot. Do you feel that way as well?

  • Aimee Early says:

    This is a wonderful post. Thank you so much for all of your wonderful suggestions. I love to have my students actively participate in their learning experience and enjoy it while they are learning. The enjoyment will motivate them.

  • Danyelle Henin says:

    Thank you for reminding me of this valuable aspect of the classroom. I completely agree that students need to see a fun and carefree side of their teacher. It is sometimes difficult in the day-to-day activities to remember to include humor inside the classroom, but it is so vital to the classroom environment. I do remember the wonderful teachers I have had throughout my school career that made me laugh, and had fun with our class. I hope to focus on that aspect more this coming school year. Thanks, again!

  • JC says:

    Albert Einstein summed it up well: “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it!” It is a never ending process! The more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know! It is a continuous cycle. Teachers have the ability to make it an exciting journey, one that students will embrace! Your post contains is a refreshing list of do’s instead of don’ts. Wonderful job!!

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @JC, thank you for your kind words. It certainly is a continuous cycle. I’m glad you liked the positive tone, it makes a difference.

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Danyelle, I am glad to hear you agree. You must be making a real difference in the lives of your students. Sometimes we do have to take a step back and make sure we are bringing happiness into the classroom any way we can.

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    @Aimee,
    I think our students are so much more eager to learn and retain that learning when tied to a positive emotion. A lot of what we do in the classroom hinges on that very tone.
    Thank you for your comment.

  • Eugena Cornelius says:

    I definitely feel that more work is needed but when you think about the end result it is so worth it. Tying emotion into learning naturally engages the students in their learning. So, why not get excited while teaching?. It will have a positive effect.

  • Hannah Clark says:

    This was a great reminder for me! There are many things in my personal life that I keep private and do not care to share with my students. It is a refreshing way to think about students and their own emotions and how they can relate to me. I teach students with disabilities, coach for Special Olympics, and an adviser for Best Buddies. My students see me outside of school but do not see me as being my own person. I try to move around the room jumping and dancing but it wouldn’t hurt to show some struggles I may also have (appropriate ones of course!). I have one particular student who has a lot of personal and family issues and isn’t always willing to open up to me. The problem then distracts him all day long and is unable to complete his work assignments. If I am able to connect to him on a different level, we may be able to work closer with him to assist him. It would be a more “meaningful interaction”.
    I also bring lots of silly and entertaining things. I was doing it more to keep my students attention but now I am also able to see that it helps their learning. Students learning is imperative and it is great to hear the connections between personal connections and being comical when appropriate.
    Thank you for this!

  • Rebekah Holcomb says:

    Although I have been teaching for several years, it is a great reminder of the impact we have on our students. I must model for them the excitement I wish they will exhibit. I loved the reminder to laugh with our students. I really feel this is important, but easily overlooked because of test prep. Thank you for reminding us to enjoy teaching so that our students will enjoy learning.

  • Cheryl Abla says:

    Hello Valerie,
    I admire you for teaching kindergarten. You have an incredibly rewarding and hard job. I love being in the kindergarten classrooms the first weeks of school because there is SO MUCH learning and patience taking place.
    Thank you for all you do.I am certain you are a wonderful motivating educator. I’m glad this blog resonated with you.
    Have a great school year and keep making a difference.
    Cheryl

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