It is hard not to be amazed by what artificial intelligence (AI) can and promises to do. We wonder how much AI will change the ways in which we engage students and support their learning. It seems clear that there will be new opportunities and unexpected challenges as we adjust to this new reality.
However, we need to remember that many of the most important influences we have on students cannot be duplicated by AI—because they are uniquely human. Their power resides in the relationships we build with students, and our relationships with students are among the most powerful influences on students’ choices related to their learning.
Consider that each day we reach out to students to discern their mood, learn what is happening in their lives, and understand how their emotional state may influence their behavior and probable success in upcoming lessons. Here are five of those routine behaviors and the important implications they hold for students and their success.
First, we welcome students at the door with a smile, and we check out their emotional state. Initial contact between students and teachers sets the stage for the learning experience designed for the day. Eye contact and other nonverbal cues can tell us when students will need more attention, some additional space, or have exciting news and experiences they want—and need— to share.
Second, we offer a wink, frown, or raised eyebrow to connect and encourage. We possess a variety of communication tools beyond words. In fact, among the most effective tools for managing the classroom are nonverbal signals, facial expressions, and “looks.” When teachers know their students, they can anticipate what students are likely to do next, “nudge” their behavior, and prevent a variety of behaviors that otherwise might necessitate intervention or redirection.
Third, we offer high-fives and fist-bumps to celebrate or a pat on the arm to comfort and reassure. Physical contact can be a powerful communication tool. Celebrating with students in a moment of success and triumph can reinforce the experience and create a lasting memory. Reassurance and encouragement can also be powerfully communicated by a gentle touch. Of course, physical contact requires sensitivity and thoughtfulness. However, it remains an important way to communicate caring, support, and confidence.
Fourth, we look over a shoulder or stand next to a desk to refocus attention and discourage distractions. Physical proximity can have a significant influence on student behavior. Experienced and insightful teachers for generations have known that moving close to a student can be a reminder of the task at hand and lead to engagement in expected behavior. This move can influence students to shift their behavior or attitude without having to say a word.
Fifth, we send students off with a personalized comment or words of encouragement to carry them through the day or evening. During the time we spend with students, we often learn much about what may be on students’ minds, what may be worrying them, and what they may be looking forward to during the remainder of their day. This information positions us to provide students with specific reassurance, support, and encouragement as they move to their next challenge or experience.
We need to be open and ready to learn how AI can support our work with students. However, we would also do well to remember the power of our connections with students, how we build relationships with them, and how influential we are in nurturing their well-being and success.