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Part 1: Overcome Resistance With Excitement and Encouragement

Suzy Winter is an 18 year veteran Middle School English teacher from Texas. She seriously loves working with students, but also loves encouraging those in the education field either through writing her posts on TER, or leading professional development courses.

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Spring Break 2022 was our do-over vacation. Covid-19 robbed my husband and I of a special anniversary celebration during Spring Break 2020. That year, we planned a cool trip to celebrate 35 years of marriage. I imagine we all remember how that might have turned out. This year, for our 37th, we decided to fly to Disney World and spend the majority of our time in the world of Star Wars at a park called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.  

Our primary objective was to ride the popular attraction called Rise of the Resistance, an immersive experience where you partake in an epic battle against the evil Kylo Ren. We knew the line would be long, and it was – an estimated two-hour wait to be exact. Yet, the time actually passed quickly as Disney knows how to plan the wait time with interactive experiences along the way. We struck up conversations with fellow travelers and debated which were the better Star Wars movies and such. Our time did fly by, even with two delays that pushed the time to four hours. A few grew weary and left the line leaving the faithful to continue the journey. 

As we began the quest, we were arrested by Kylo’s soldiers, pulled off a daring escape with an epic lightsaber battle, and more. All along the way, we received encouragement from the protagonists Rey, Po, and Finn. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Would I wait four hours again? Definitely! Why? Because of the encouragement of the characters, being surrounded in an experience with others excited to be there, and being part of a universe I’ve loved since middle school. 

On the flight home, I began to jot down ideas on how to “Imagineer” experiences for my students as exciting as a Disney World ride. My experience on Rise of the Resistance modeled four components of successful learning experiences. When teachers utilize excitement, encouragement, immersion, and options, we can help even our most resistant students overcome barriers to success.

Learning Needs Excitement

Not every lesson causes the adrenaline rush of a Disney ride, and we would wear ourselves out trying to do this on a daily basis. However, if we design learning experiences with some fun elements, our students will commit; they will work harder no matter how difficult the task. For example, one of the “boring” lessons I have in English is subject-verb agreement. To engage students I have taken a worksheet and literally cut it into pieces. I’ve also taken the elements and formatted them into a Google Jamboard. Either way, students match the subject to the correct verb in a race against the timer on the Promethean board. Competition and collaboration are the most important elements as the table groups work together, discuss and in a race to beat the timer and win an “edible eraser” aka a Starburst. 

Over the years, I have learned the importance and value of designing lessons that build off students’ knowledge and interests. Currently, I have a big group of Mandalorian and Boba Fett fans, as well as Tom Holland and Harry Styles groupies. Why not let them use these as their launch pad so to speak? They could extend the learning by creating their own sorting activity with these topics, then I could share their templates with another grade level as their assignment. Afterwards, the creators could be in charge of assessing the learning. This guarantees the lesson experience becomes fun instead of a chore. This might not have the heart racing thrill of being chased by the Knights of Ren, but it is pretty cool trying to beat the clock, and my students will do anything for a Starburst. 

“Sometimes finding one small connection with a student is all it takes to light a small fire of hope to keep at a task.” – What Teachers Can Learn From a Disney World Ride (Part 1) Click To Tweet

Learners Need Encouragement

The rebel fighter that came through the lines encouraged us in our long wait and engaged everyone in fun banter along the way. As teachers, we know it’s important to encourage students in their academic journeys, especially if they are struggling with a difficult concept. A little encouragement goes a long way.

I always have a few reluctant writers in my room who offer the excuse “I can’t write good” to not even try. I try to have them add one word, “I can’t write good… yet,” to change their mindset toward potential growth. When I conference with them over a piece of writing, I find something they did really well in the piece, whether it is the use of a vivid verb or phrasing of a sentence before I offer suggestions for growth. The next time we meet, they usually want to show me their changes based on the prior conference. This becomes another opportunity to praise their efforts. 

The rebel leader who connected with us in line not only encouraged us, but engaged us in conversation asking us questions about our home planet since she had never been there. Sometimes finding one small connection with a student is all it takes to light a small fire of hope to keep at a task. Some of the connections I’ve made over the years have been over television shows, music, food, and books we both enjoy. This can be powerful because they see someone who took time to get to know them beyond the lessons taught, and they realize that I believe in them. By the way – for those in administration of any kind – find shared connections with your staff and get to know them as well. You will also reap the benefits as well.  

All ages need encouragement because the past two years have been a struggle for all of us. The pandemic has drastically affected the mental health of all. This is why grace and patience need to be at the focal point in our classrooms for both students and teachers. 

Excitement and encouragement are two powerful tools that made the Rise of the Resistance irresistible to me. Teachers can use these to make their learning experiences irresistible too. In Part 2 of this piece, I’ll write about how teachers can also use immersion and options to enhance learning.

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