Toni’s Template for Engaging Reluctant Learners

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In Episode 90 of the Hack Learning Podcast, Mark Barnes shares Toni’s Template for engaging reluctant learners from the forthcoming Hacking Engagement Again: 50 Teacher Tools That Will Make Students Love Your Class (Times 10 Publications August 2017) by James Alan Sturtevant

From Hacking Engagement Again (Book 13 in the Hack Learning Series)

The Problem: It’s hard to engage reluctant learners.

Did you…

  • graduate from high school with at least a 3.00 GPA?
  • play a varsity sport?
  • become a member of the National Honor Society?

Teachers who were academically successful, participated in sports, were members of  extracurricular groups, and experience warm feelings when they think about their school days (this describes a lot of educators) are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to understanding the perspectives of reluctant learners.

The prompts above don’t even account for minority students who may feel alienated because of race, ethnicity, or sexual identity.

A teacher’s gender can be a titanic barrier as well. I’ve always been intrigued by how some female instructors are champs at engaging reluctant male students, while other female teachers struggle mightily with such kids.

Hacking Engagement Again

Coming to August 2017

I decided to consult an expert, a champion, a guru and find out how she does it.

The Hack: Toni’s Template.

Toni Newton has lived in Cleveland her whole life. She started teaching in Cleveland Public and then migrated to the inner-ring district of South Euclid.  

She recently intervened in a confrontation, “A young male student kept mumbling his name and refusing to take out his earbuds when questioned by a female staff member. She became very upset and started yelling. He responded by clenching his fists. His body began shaking. He was barely able to contain himself. I know this kid and realized that I better jump in. I took him aside and just started talking. Not lecturing…just distracting him hoping to cool him down.

“I nodded to my colleague as if to say, I got this. Unfortunately, she didn’t take the hint. On two different occasions, I calmed him down only to have her circle back and continue her lecture! She kept escalating the situation. This young African-American male was being totally backed into a corner. She had no appreciation of his perspective. All she cared about was getting the last word.”

Check out Hacking Engagment

When it comes to mentoring young colleagues struggling to engage reluctant male students, Toni advises:

  • Be patient. Bonding with reluctant learners takes time.
  • Don’t take things personally. Kids can treat you miserably, but be the adult and don’t take the bait.
  • Let them get to know you. Toni once helped a young white teacher who was struggling to engage his African-American students. She encouraged him to share his love of heavy metal music. Remarkably, and after some failed attempts, it worked.
  • Be authentic. Reluctant learners love to find your weaknesses. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Highlight students on your roster. As I go down through my current crop of kids, it’s easy for me to highlight students that process the world differently than me.
  • Compose a brief perspective description for each highlighted student. These are one or two sentence reflections such as, Jason seems very religious, or, I think Niki is a Democrat. Some may be disturbing, Hans seems inclined towards white supremacy. Such reflections will help you navigate future student interacts. Regardless of whether you agree with your students, it’s your responsibility to forge a relationship.  
  • Breakdown barriers by sharing a hobby. Toni’s students from Cleveland Public probably didn’t listen to a lot of heavy metal, but nonetheless, her young colleague took her advice and engaged his students. What interesting hobbies could you share, that might particularly interest young males?  

Many teachers struggle to understand the perspective of reluctant learners. Engage such kids by patiently applying Toni’s template.

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Author: Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longtime educator and the Founder of Times 10, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, the uNseries, and other books for teachers and learners. To connect with Mark follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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