torsdag 5. juni 2014

Engagement in Teaching and Learning

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve been presenting my research on conferences in USA, France, Canada, England, Spain, Lithuania etc. but never in my birth country, Serbia. In Fall 2012 I got an e-mail from an teacher educator who occasionally found my articles on internet and realized that we had common research interests. At that point she only knew my second name (which is Norwegian) but when she found this blog she saw my first name and got excited – the name uncovered that I was Serbian. Her e-mail reached me while I was visiting my parents in Belgrade and we had a chance to connect. Nevena Hadzi Jovancic is an art professor at Teacher Education Faculty at Belgrade University. She invited me to give a talk at her faculty, which I finally did in spring 2014, more exactly April 15th.

I have to admit that I was curious how many people would show up the afternoon before Easter holiday, especially because the lecture was not required for the students, but I was positively surprised. The auditorium was fool of people, mostly students but also faculty members: teachers in mathematics, music, pedagogy and visual art. Next astonishment: No phones, no computers, nor hiding behind the screens - the student showed full attention. I could feel how this act of respect and trust that I was given strengthened my self-confidence. The expectations reflected in the faces of the audience made me even more engaged.

I told them how important eye contact end body language is for children and students of all ages - in the same time as my body verified my words. The communication was immediate and the positive energy was flowing back and forward: the audience was motivating me, so that I could motivate them back. So, when the applause broke loose, I must say that it was the audience that deserved at the least the half of the cheering. The applause sounded suspiciously similar to what you hear on rock concerts - a kind of applause a teacher only can dream of. Nevena later commented that she was afraid the students were about to light their lighters and phones to glow in the dark. And I felt like I was supposed to go back on stage and repeat one of my songs – though I did not sing that afternoon at all…

No wonder, after this experience meeting my students back in Norway was a bit disappointing. I don’t like to say this in public (though I am quite sure that these specific students will never bother to read my blog, even though I did ask them to do so). I have to make explicit that I am not saying that students in Belgrade are more engaged than students in Vestfold, but I am saying that some groups are more engaged than others; Some student groups develop to be more engaged and positive than others, and some groups unfortunately bring the worst in each other.
Something obviously happened during the hour “on the stage” on Belgrade university. On the other hand, some of my own students never gave me a chance to share with them my research, but with anger and disrespect stopped me before I started. After a few attempts I actually gave up. When their virtually asked “Why do we have to be here, when we would rather do something more fun? Why are you bothering us – listening and reflecting is so hard!”, I felt like drawing under a heavy wave of discouragement and disengagement. Why should I bother when they don’t? I know, I know… because I am responsible for the teaching. But I don’t believe that anyone can be thought if she/he does not want to be thought! What do you think?
One thing I am sure of is that teaching and learning are much more meaningful, fun and long-lasting if each student and teacher invests own share of positivity and respect, and responsibly contribute with whatever they can bring to the context. A friendly smile is a big contribution.

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