Jun 23

Surprisingly Inspiring Student Engagement Strategies from Our Favorite Teaching Movies

Have you ever wondered, “What is the best way to engage students?” Believe it or not, you can take your cues from a few classic movies that involve students and teachers. And one in particular just might surprise you. You could easily find inspiration for student engagement strategies by channeling your inner Mr. Voss. Don’t know him? Don’t worry. We’ll come back to that. 

You definitely don’t want to channel your inner economics teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The teacher monotonously calls students by name, and with Ferris Bueller absent, the students in the classroom are stuck hearing,  “Bueller … Bueller … Bueller.” Depending on the day and your student’s behavior, you may need to channel your inner Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Of course, you would have to go back to 1982 to get that reference, but that is a subject for another time, and you probably shouldn’t ever channel your inner Mr. Hand.

You don’t have to look far to find something written on engagement strategies, but in the hilarious movie Here Comes The Boom, which debuted in 2012, the protagonist, Mr. Voss, played by Kevin James, opens our eyes to creative ways to engage students. 

So, what are examples of engagement strategies that you can learn from Mr. Voss to bring focus to the lessons you’re teaching? 

First, he didn’t interrupt his students. Instead, he became what his students were interested in. So what exactly does that mean? Well, his class was full of high school students. If you think about high school students today, what do they spend their time doing? Most of the time, it’s Snapping away on their phones or doing some parody of a dance move for Tik Tok. In that fashion, Mr.Voss gained his students’ attention by doing his form of Tik Tok, standing on his desk and dancing in front of his students to help them engage in a conversation about biology.  He met his students where they were instead of starting from the perspective of his subject matter. In essence, he became relatable to his students by engaging them based on their interests. 

Second, he used sounds to get their attention. If you have kids at home, pay close attention to them while watching a sporting event. If you watch closely, you’ll find that at some point, your kids will either jump on their phones or engage in some other activity and become passive viewers. Advertisers learned long ago that sounds are a great way to bring attention to television. Typically commercials use music, noise, and volume to draw viewers’ attention. In Here Comes the Boom, Mr. Voss uses a loud hand clap to engage his students and pull their attention to what he is doing. As a teacher, you probably found that your students can use obnoxious sounds to create a classroom distraction. You can quickly turn the tables to become the distraction that engages your students. 

Third, he uses movement or physicality to engage the student’s senses. In this case, Mr. Voss moves around the classroom, climbing on students’ desks. He gets them to follow him, not just with their eyes and ears, but more importantly, he gets his students to follow his energy. Our energy is contagious. As social beings, we enjoy connecting with one another. Physical energy in the classroom can often turn into disruptions, but if you can harness that energy and move your students’ attention through your physicality, you find that they mirror your behavior. It is known as mirroring psychology, which happens when we start to emulate the behaviors of people we like. 

So we’ve covered three student engagement examples to get you started. Remember that students don’t engage with strategies and tactics. They engage with you. 

So, how do you motivate students to engage? 

The Oxford Dictionary defines motivation as the general desire or willingness of someone to do something. It defines inspiration as the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. So motivation is intrinsic, while inspiration is something that happens outside of us and moves us to act. Our general concept here is that you can’t motivate your students; however, you can inspire them.  

The central premise of Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, is that great leaders inspire people to move and act by helping them understand why they are doing what they are doing. He shows several examples of historical movements, such as Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership on Civil Rights and the importance of communicating from why you’re doing what you’re doing versus just expressing what you’re doing. If you help your students understand why the coursework is essential and how it will help them as they grow, you’re more likely to inspire them to active engagement. 

Finally, what are the three elements of student engagement? 

First, let’s not forget that when you’re teaching, you’re also leading. The best leaders are typically great teachers. So whether you call them elements, pillars, or areas, you have to motivate your students in three ways. 

  1. Academically. The classroom is a place to learn, and learning is hard work. When you have higher expectations for your students, they will rise to the occasion. So don’t shy away from asking your students to work hard. 
  2. Intellectually. One of the greatest gifts you can give your students is the ability to wrestle with ideas and help them develop their point of view on issues. Challenging your students to think through ideas will stimulate their desire to achieve their goals. 
  3. Socially and Emotionally. If you feel like this is one of the most challenging areas for teachers today, you’re not alone. Let’s just embrace the fact that social media is not helping teachers today. Instead, your students need to learn how to communicate and engage one another without using a screen. Unfortunately, the only place they often learn how to connect socially and emotionally is your classroom. It’s a big task for teachers like you, but you’re up to the challenge, and it will shape and impact your student’s identity for years to come.

When it comes to engagement strategies, there is no magic bullet or tactic that solves every issue. It takes time, commitment, and discipline to engage your students. Remember what you do echoes through eternity.  Thank you for working hard to impact your students’ lives. Keep pressing forward to engage your students daily. 

Want more engagement strategies for your classroom? Check out Avanti and see how we’re changing the paradigm of professional development for teachers like you. Watch short you time short on-demand videos packed full of proven strategies you can learn today and apply in your classroom tomorrow.  

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