How do you respond to people who aren't paying attention?

On Wednesdays, I teach from 3pm to 6pm. It's a terrible time slot: students are tired, distracted, and when the sun is shining outside, a little hyper. They care enough to show up, but once in the room they can have a hard time tuning in for more than a few moments at a time.

I love it. It reminds me that this is the world into which I am sending most of my words. The people who are looking at my emails (and deciding whether or not to open them) are just as busy and distracted and, I think, just as well-meaning and energetic as my classes.

Here's what I do with my class: I pay a lot of attention to them. I move to them instead of waiting for them to look up and find me. I repeat things in different ways. I spend much less time than I used to worrying about information and much more time working to give my students incentive to uncover and own information.  Most of my words are spent persuading them with my tone that what we're doing is worthwhile and that I believe they are capable of "getting" it.

It takes a fair amount of energy to engage individually with 30 or 40 members of a class. You can't do it on auto-pilot.  But it takes less energy than it would to be frustrated because my well-qualified, motivated audience only seems to be sitting in front of me. Really their minds are restlessly moving among many different places. That could make me crazy.

It doesn't make me crazy. It makes me work harder and it makes me value all the connections more. When I'm really on my game, it even lets me find the energy hidden in their distraction and coast on that a little.


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