- Public Agenda’s study found that 43 percent of college dropouts claimed they had to take too many classes they didn’t consider useful.
- Effective learning starts with learner relevance, and every subject can prove valuable once a student sees a connection between the content and their life.
- By simply highlighting students’ progress with recognition, rewards and encouragement throughout the semester, instructors add meaning beyond learning the subject matter.
- When students start to see the benefits that come from doing well in class, instructors can start to connect in-class achievements with constructive feedback that can be used on campus and in the workplace.
Understand Where Passion Starts
Without a passion for learning, students can lose focus and interest in completing your course—or worse, their education. A 2009 study by Public Agenda found that 45 percent of recent college dropouts listed boredom as a reason they decided to leave.
The good news: Your excitement can be contagious! Expressing your passion for teaching or the subject you teach, can grab your students’ attention and drive engagement.
“Love what you teach, and they will love it too.”
-Sandra Scheier, Psychology Instructor at Kennesaw State University
Research links passionate teaching directly to a student’s willingness to learn and experience new ideas. But to incorporate passion into your teaching, you must understand where it begins.
Start by reflecting on the moments that led to your career as an educator. What reeled you into the idea of teaching and drew you to your field of study? Ask yourself what you liked or disliked at first, and why you felt that way. Acknowledge important mentors you met along the way, taking time to consider what made their input so impactful. Recollect the moments where things started to come together, and you finally felt you had found your passion. Remember the excitement—because it’s that enthusiasm that can guide your students towards a meaningful career path. Your love for teaching the subject you teach, can reach students through the energy you show in class, and give students the fuel to stay the course.
“Show your passion for what you love to do. The more excited you are, the more excited your students will be.”
-Terry Weideman, Nutrition Instructor at Oakland Community College
Harness the Power of Your Students’ Curiosity
Passion begins when students explore their curiosity, but first, they must determine if the area is worthy of their time. Public Agenda’s study found that 43 percent of college dropouts claimed they had to take too many classes they didn’t consider useful. Although common, this assumption doesn’t have to seal your course’s fate. Any subject can prove useful—but getting your students to connect with the content starts with how you present the information. When challenged with students who don’t have a primary interest in your discipline, remember that every student can benefit from passion-based learning—and there are ways to link your course to their interests and skills.
Effective learning starts with learner relevance, and every subject can prove valuable once a student sees a connection between the content and their life. A musician can become a better songwriter from an English course. An athlete can perform better on the field after learning how to take care of their body in a Nutrition class. A Criminal Justice major can learn about human behavior from a Psychology professor—applying this knowledge when working on a case. Anyone can apply Accounting knowledge to spending money in the real world.
Linking concepts to local cases, current issues, news and events—especially those that impact your students—is another way to make your course more relatable and learner-centric. Constantly updating your material is key to keeping concepts fresh for students and applicable to their every-day lives.
“Show the relevance of the subject matter and make it fun and meaningful! My excitement for what I teach is obvious, and my students can see it and feel it. I believe in what I teach.”
-Sandy Keeter, Computing Professor at Seminole State College
When curiosity turns into interest, students become invested in what they’re learning and pay closer attention—processing information more effectively while developing learning strategies that make course concepts stick. Interest keeps students focused, working harder and longer and enables them to stack new knowledge upon old knowledge. The best way for a student to discover areas of strength is to delve into physical, intellectual and creative activities outside their comfort zone. The more they try, the more opportunities they’ll have to discover their passion.
You can also take it outside of the classroom, pairing students with help centers, colleagues and any other resources that align with their interests. If they’re having trouble identifying interest areas, guide them towards the multitude of personality tests and career quizzes available online.
Lead with Real-Life Examples
Authentic experiences are meant to be shared and learned from—because they make a lasting impression on students while sparking self-reflection. A study of 257 professional musicians found the most important characteristics of their first teachers were the ability to communicate well—to be friendly, chatty and encouraging—and the capacity to pass on their love of music through modeling and playing well.
Think of a moment in your career that you’ll never forget, then consider what made it so meaningful. Not every student will share your passion, but by sharing honest anecdotes from your own life, you’ll inspire conversation and query. Real experience includes success and failure, so sharing triumphs and mistakes offers lessons students can apply long after graduation.
“I’m genuinely in love with my profession: being a social worker is not just a job but a commitment to making the world a better place, and that’s at the core of who I am. I share that with my students. I give them the good and the bad: I don’t sugarcoat what I’ve experienced in this field, and students respond positively to this authenticity. I ask my students to dig deep as to why they chose this field, and what inspires them. The work we do in the classroom will give structure and understanding to what happens in the field, and I am constantly drawing parallels between the two.”
– Renee Rawcliffe, Social Work Instructor at Simmons College
Add Significance to Success
You’re challenged with helping every student—including difficult or uninterested students—because all students have something to offer, and something to gain from your course. To reach everyone—majors and non-majors, students required to take your course and those who’ve enrolled just for fun—focus on the positive outcomes that can be achieved from success in your class.
By simply highlighting students’ progress with recognition, rewards and encouragement throughout the semester, instructors add meaning beyond learning the subject matter. Use students’ breakthroughs, high scores on homework and exams, leadership skills displayed in class or group projects, extra credit work or in-class competitions to call-out your students’ wins to make learning the curriculum a positive experience. Honoring students’ achievements will get them excited to come to class and eager to participate. The more students partake in class—the more they’ll learn about course concepts—building and improving upon their critical thinking skills.
When students start to see the benefits that come from doing well in class, instructors can start to connect in-class achievements with constructive feedback that can be used on campus and in the workplace.
“I try to share multiple ways that the course content can be applied in a career setting. I also share examples of how I used the course content in my career before teaching and how I use the content now in a teaching role. I tell students to add this content to your toolbox because you never know when you might need it.”
–Donna Sue Shellman, Medical Office Administration Instructor at Gaston College
Encourage today’s learners by sharing what has inspired you throughout your profession. Showcasing your passion through teaching will connect students to the course material, stimulate their engagement and drive their achievements in class—and eventually a career.
Looking to pick up other strategies for boosting student engagement in your course? Check out our student engagement cheat sheet.