I had lunch with a colleague recently and while we devoured our club sandwiches at a swanky hotel near the airport during our layover, we talked teaching…I mean, why wouldn’t we?!?!  We’re confirmed reading geeks.

The conversation moved to what REALLY moves a school from struggling to successful and here’s what we kept coming back to: oomph!

Oomph?  Come on, you’re thinking, THAT’S what makes the difference?

Yep…sure does!

My friend said it best when she said, “Here’s the bottom line of it: YOU’VE GOTTA ADD A LITTLE VEGAS TO IT!”

So…we talked about what that really means…and here’s what we came up with:

  1. Add a dash of lights, camera, action
  2. Add a bit of lost in the casino
  3. Add a bunch of substance

Step 1: Add a dash of lights, camera, action

Whether you’re putting on a professional development session, prepping for a staff meeting where you’re going over the logistics of the district’s assessment policy or your gearing up to teach kids how important diagramming a sentence is (I still can’t see it, but I digress…), everyone benefits from a hook – a little bit of lights, camera, action-type oomph that helps them to get excited about the topic at hand.

Some people will fight me on this because they say, “Yeah, but Jill, when we get too flashy we tend to lose sight of the real purpose of what we’re trying to do.”  BUT, I see master speakers, leaders and teachers using the personal connection to drive their audience or class right into the topic by using a little Vegas to make the listeners putty in their hands.

If you’re in control of your content, a little Vegas won’t sideline you. More on this later in Step 3…

Step 2: Add a bit of lost in the casino

So, in my mind I’m much too smart to fall for the tricks that the casinos use to get me to gamble more, more and more.  I watched a special where it showed that certain changes in the casino environment kept people indoors, throwing money at the dealer even longer than they had intended.

For example, the temperature is set at a certain comfortable level, the oxygen is maximized in the room, there are no clocks, the lighting is regulated to simulate constant daylight…all designed for a maximum effect: to have us spend more money and time in the casinos.

When I think of connecting this to our classrooms and schools, I think about how we need to build the perfect environment so that our students can get lost in the lessons like some (okay, me!) get lost in the casino.

When we keep a swift pace or make real-life connections to kids during the lesson we help them get lost in the learning.  When we give them lots of positive reinforcement and loving corrective feedback, they hear the bell and say, “Wow!  Recess already?”.

When we act like we’ve brought all of our energy to the lesson and we’re giving it all we’ve got, they bring their energy, too.  When we make learning fun and use our enthusiasm to be a catalyst for kids to work harder and for longer periods of time on important content, we help kids get lost in the learning.

Step 3: Add a bunch of substance

You must be thinking, “Substance?  Vegas?  This girl’s lost her mind!”

While the jury’s still out about whether I’ve lost my mind or not, I know one thing: that while we’re seduced or drawn into the flash of Vegas, the behind-the-scene managers know exactly what they’re doing.  The flash is the vehicle for spending lots and lots of money and time on exactly what they want us to spend money and time on.

How many times have I said, “Ok, no more quarters at the slot machines…” and then just as I step out of the door to catch a cab to the airport, I throw one more quarter in…all the time!  I’ve fallen into the trap once again!

Teaching is just like that: while kids may describe their learning as fun, the teacher knows better…skilled teachers who bring a little Vegas realize that if they can entice kids to really dig in and pay attention to a “fun” lesson, they can slip them the healthy stuff (ie: the skills that they have to have in order be successful and improving the scores).  In fact, what looks fun is also very calculated and purposeful.

So what are our take aways from this Vegas line of thinking?

  • It’s our job to engage the kids and sometimes a little silliness or fun captures kids’ attention so that the learning can begin
  • By making lessons “fun” for kids, we don’t have to dump the academic quality
  • Excellent teachers that get excellent results know that setting the tone of the lesson is often the very key to the lesson’s success

What do YOU do to bring a little Vegas without losing sight of the lesson objectives – leave a comment below!  See you at the Bellagio….