4 Tips for Teachers: Responding to the Dreams of Students
In the college we coach students up on setting goals, dedicating time to these goals, and creating strategic plans to accomplish short and long-term goals. Goals. Goals. Goals. We tell students to make the goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant , and Timely). Good for us – goal setting provides us focus and moves us towards purpose and all.the.things.
But when is the last time, as an instructor, you’ve encouraged your students to share about their dreams? Have we asked our students to be wild, if just for the sake of discussion, and talk about something vague, not-so-measurable, unrealistic, and way off base in terms of season of life type of big, wild dream? Because if we look at the works of Jesus in the Bible, what we find is far from an attainable goal (just ask Lazarus or the hungry crowd or the women at the tomb) – instead we find awe struck wonder.
1.) If students aren’t dreaming – encourage them to in and out of class time. I read an article once and I don’t remember the real purpose behind the article (oops), but I remember how it started. It started with an instructor asking an 18-year old on accident what his dreams were – the instructor meant to ask him about his goals. He told her since no one ever asked about his dreams, he had never put words to them and didn’t know how to answer. We can become some enraptured with the American Dream and the ideals of success we trade goal setting for dreaming. Dreaming pushes us to reach beyond what we see as a SMART goal and in doing so, forces us to rely on someone other than ourselves. Dreaming requires faith.
2.) When a student shares a wild dream, don’t immediately shut them out with your wise practicalities. First, before we rain on their parade with our adult pessimism and realism – dream with them! You don’t need to leave the conversation in the clouds. You can bring reality to the dream. But can we do that second? Maybe even third? I had a dream to work at one place in one specific job…to be one of four people on a college campus of 200 employees with a low turn-over rate. It would be considered a wild dream. People allowed me to be wild, to dream and to pursue.
3.) Ask questions and permissions. When a student comes to you with a dream, know they come to you vulnerable, excited, and anxious. They are living in a season of life where these dreams feel so close yet so far and that scares and energizes them. This combination of feelings will be new and different to process. Ask if they want your feedback before you share it – they may simply want to practice saying the words out loud first. Regardless, ask questions that build excitement and offer hope – and only if necessary, questions that frame the dream from your decade+ of life experience for them to consider.
4.) Finally, but most importantly, they need to know you care. Before Paul provided advise to any of the recipients of his letters, he took the time to let them know he cared. If a student brings a dream to you, they already assume you care at some level about their future, hopes, and dreams. The moment a student will share a dream with you, give thanks! Tell them thank you for being willing to share a dream with you and how exciting it is to be a part of the story! Even if the dream is SO wild you could never see it happening, speak care first.
Bob Goff, author of Love Does and Everyone Always (must reads) says, “If we only do what we’re familiar with, we might miss what we’ve been made for,” and I see us get so comfortable in our routine we can shy away from the dreams of others – justifying ourselves by “protecting” them. Instead lean-in, show care, ask questions, and pray!
Encourage students to dream. Listen when the share. Guide when the ask. Catch them if they fall. Repeat.