I just started taking a new class in something that is really new and challenging to me, and the first thing that happened was that we just jumped into the content, and I was a bit taken off guard. I didn’t know what we were doing, where we were going, what was going to happen, who the other people in the room are, and a number of other things. My anxiety kicked in and my brain was going crazy trying to get my footing. After a while, I finally figured out where we were headed and I managed to calm my inner voice enough to focus on the content.
Every person who goes into a workshop comes with two things: the want to learn something new and vulnerability. Usually, we as instructors have to deal with the vulnerability, nerves and emotions before a student is in the place to actually take in the content. One of the most disconcerting things when I go into a workshop is how the leader starts the class. As someone who has a Masters in Adult Learning, I’ve run a lot of programs over the years and I’ve discovered that there are certain activities that a workshop leader can do regardless of the content matter that will make a better learning environment for students to stretch and learn.
Most instructors teach because they have a good grasp of the content, but may not know how to actually deliver that content in a way that’s easy for the student to process. Doing a few things at the beginning of a workshop might take time from some of the content, but it will make sure that what is taught will be integrated better.
Here are the seven classroom management recommendations that I use to set the tone for a positive workshop:
- Make the classroom a safe environment: We don’t know everything about our students and what they are bringing with them. Many people have experiences of being shamed and embarrassed in classes, and just arriving and sitting down might have been a big jump for them. The more you can be clear about what’s going to happen in the class, the more you can calm down nerves so the students can actually engage with your content. Some of the main ways of doing that are:
- Introduce yourself and your background
- Tell them your experience with the subject matter (i.e. why should they be listening to you)
- Describe how the workshop will be structured and what kind of activities you’ll be leading
- Detail any expectations your have of the students
- Have the students introduce themselves and why they came, what they hope to learn, etc. This is very important as most students want to know who the other people are in the room and if they are the only ones who don’t know what is going on.
- Go over the activities with examples of what kind of results you are expecting: If this is one where you really want them to let go and be creative, give a few, wildly different possibilities to let them know it’s okay.
- Give clear directions for activities: Think about what the results you would like for any activities that you are having the class do. The way you describe those activities are key to having the students relaxed and able to engage successfully. Too often, instructors who are subject matter experts (SME) in a field make assumptions about what the students know, and the students don’t know where to start. You might want to try out your instructions in advance with some friends to check to see if you are clearly describing the task at hand.
- Have people process information on their own first before sharing it with others: This can look like a brainstorming activity where you write down information in a list of every item in the room you could use as a chair, or all the details of the first time you gave your first presentation. Whatever it is, some people will need to process this individually before they are able to speak about it to others.
- Have people share with 1-3 other people before sharing it with the whole class: If a student comes up with a thought, it’s always safer to share it with just one other person or a small group before sharing it more broadly. It’s always a good idea to put people in pairs or groups of four or less to process information after a brainstorm. That way, they can try out their thoughts and hopefully get support for them. This is a way of building safety for new concepts.
- Offer the opportunity to share, but don’t force it: No one likes to be put on the spot, and most people have traumatic stories of being singled out in class and made to look foolish. If you’ve done the previous steps, you are more likely to have people willing to share.
- Show your passion for the subject: Your enthusiasm will also bring the students along, but they want to feel confident that you are a safe leader to follow. Keep heed of the balance of the excitement of the subject with the structure of a good teacher.
If you’ve done your homework and have made the classroom a safe space to learn and grow, you are much more likely to have energized and engaged students and you will be able to cover more material in a shorter amount of time.
So, if you have taught anything before, what has worked best for you for setting a good classroom environment, and for anyone who has taken a class, what did the instructor do to make it a good experience? Leave your comments below!