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How Do You Measure Engagement?

This week I tried a couple of different things with the Medieval class of 30 students, 20 of whom are on the football team. I was told that "conditioning" practices started on Tuesday morning (my class meets Tuesday and Thursday mornings). So they were tired. I was told this in a spirit of, "it's not you, Dr. McKay; we had conditioning."

I appreciated this word of caution/warning/explanation. But how much should it matter to me if they were slouching/yawning/sleepy?

I will be honest. Right now, that type of behavior bothers me a lot. As those of you who have been reading my blog know, I take my teaching very seriously. Each moment I have with these young people I view as a gift and privilege. One of the icons of our campus, Professor of Religion Ira Zepp, now deceased but always remembered (you can read about his amazing life here), called his classroom with students a "sacred space." I have come to view it that way, too. I always try to have a full hour prior to meeting my students to think through what we will be covering, to be present and focused on their learning. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about wanting to be more mindful before entering the classroom, this sacred space.

So, what to make of sleepy students, who do not seem very engaged in the material? Is it me? Do I need to up my game? Do I need to do more than I thought I did to keep them energized? Or do I realize that despite all my best efforts, despite all my innovations and creativity, despite all my energy and enthusiasm (and I bring a lot of that), sometimes students will be drowsy. And that it is not all about me.

I will be honest: I find it really hard to accept that. I continue to think: What more could I have done? And I will continue to think about the fact that there could be a million things going on with them that I don't know, won't know, shouldn't know, and can't know that could affect their behavior in class. But I will still try to do my best to engage them all!

How do you deal with a class that drowses despite your energy and planning? Students, can you tell me why you drift off, even when there is something to do and plan and execute?

3 thoughts on “How Do You Measure Engagement?

  1. Caitlin

    For me, when I let go of the "is it me" question and accept that all of my students are coming in with different thoughts and issues that day, it helps me relax and just be present with them. They may be tired, but I'm still there for them - bringing positivity and encouragement!

  2. Sue

    It’s a thoughtful question and while I’m willing to bet you already go way above and beyond to “up your game”...have you considered a Tuesday morning espresso bar? Or Box o’ Joe? Something that says “It’s Conditioning Tuesday and I get it”? 🙂

    1. Gretchen McKay

      Sue - I actually like that idea, and it were in our budget it would be coffee for all! After writing this post, I watched them all in class on Tuesday more carefully (mindfulness) and I tried to change gears several times when I saw sleepiness. Can't always do that - some stuff has to get covered and sometimes I have to just tell them. Tomorrow, though is a total hands-on day where they have to design a church based on theological ideas of the day. We'll see...I think that will be a new post! Stay tuned!


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