Back to School Mastery: Part 3 — Staying Engaged

Staying Engaged

Staying engaged in your education is necessary, but often is a struggle.
For some students, nursing classes come easily. Possibly having slogged through two years of chemistry and literature classes (or maybe those were great, too!), this nursing student is enthusiastic about learning and being in the nursing program, comes to class having read the first section of the 820 page text book, has highlighters, notebook, and recorder at the ready when the first Monday class comes at 8am. This student will still have neatly ironed uniforms and gorgeous drug cards (do faculty still require those?!) when the last day of the clinical practicum arrives. Some students do not feel this way at all. Some students are enthusiastic, but just become tired or overwhelmed as the semester gets underway. If this is your reality, then how to survive?

Meet your classmates

Of course, nursing classes are full of people with diverse motivation, inspiration, and support. There may be a classmate who is a single parent raising an autistic child on their own who just needs to get through nursing school to get to a good paying profession where jobs are plentiful. There is definitely at least one classmate who is working 40 hours every week to support their family while attending school. There will likely be a person in the class that is in nursing school because their parents insisted, and there is, perhaps, one student who thought nursing would be cool but didn't realize it would mean the end of college parties and is disgruntled about that. A small handful of students will have experience as a nursing assistant, medical assistant, or telemetry technician, and be genuinely bored by material they know well. It is perfectly OK to not be excited about nursing school, and only be excited to be a nurse. Then the problem remains: How to stay engaged?

Picture your nurse-self. What will you be doing?

In every profession there are parts of the educational process or parts of the job that just aren't terrific. The trick for getting through these things is to keep your "eye on the prize," so to speak. Do you really love pathophysiology? Then integrate that knowledge into what you learn in pharmacology class to keep your interest. Are you very interested in working with the oncology population one day? A solid understanding of vaccinations is very helpful to the oncology nurse, so pay attention in child health. Do you plan to be an emergency room nurse or a medical-surgical nurse? A foundation knowledge of psychiatric illnesses will be knowledge you will use throughout your career, no matter the setting, but especially there. If these kinds of positive spins don't help, but you really want to be a chief nursing officer one day, just keep that goal in the forefront of your mind while working on less-than-desirable subjects. When something has been assigned, there is a purpose behind it. Your professors and instructors don't just want more work to grade or more things to do. Honest. Make every mental effort to avoid feeling like you are just jumping through hoops. You have a destination to seek, and you know wonderful things await. Stay focused.

Stay engaged in the class. Period.

During lecture, do you find yourself scrolling through Facebook gawking at your distant cousins' wedding photos? Staring at your "lap?" Shopping on Amazon for a cool car seat cover? Trolling eBay looking for the next great deal on a set of wheels or iPad mini? During group assignments, do you find yourself barely listening? Thinking silent thoughts about how you hate group work? Hopefully, only a handful of class periods are pure lectures; those can be pretty brutal to sit through, even when the content is interesting and the professor is entertaining. More and more classrooms are moving toward interactive teaching strategies, for good reason. When students engage in the material, retention of information increases and the ability to reason and apply learning increases, which is important to succeeding.

You get back what you put into it.

Work hard and smart You will never learn all there is to know in nursing. Even when the material is familiar, listen! There is always the opportunity to learn something new. If you do not understand...ASK! Usually if something is confusing to you, there are several others in the room assuming they are alone in their confusion. Avoid making excuses The reason may be that you didn't prioritize an assignment, that you accidentally scheduled to work the evening before a test, that your family scheduled a cruise that week you didn't come to class, or that you spent the week caring for a child or pet. Those are all valid personal reasons to de-prioritize school — you have a life to live. The fact is, it doesn't matter. Just admit to yourself that these decisions have a cost, make appropriate reparations to any professor or instructor as needed, and figure out how to get back on track! Collaborative work Talk with your group members during collaborative testing, group projects, and class activities. If you have an incorrect notion, your classmates will help you straighten it out. On the other hand, if you are right, you need to be heard by your classmates. Avoid being the one who sits and watches. Even if you really hate group work (and many people do), there is so much to gain by joining in. Pre-class activities Skimming or reading the material before class is necessary to push your brain to a deeper understanding and the ability to "think like a nurse" on the test and "in real life." This is a difficult habit to make and to keep, but it is so worth it. In-class activities Avoid spend hours taking notes and then rewrite them verbatim! This is busy work that makes a student feel like they've accomplished something, when it is really the least effective way to learn. Write cues and phrases, while focusing your energy on listening, taking focused notes, and asking questions. Post-class activities After class, but before a full day has gone by, review notes and associated reading material. This is invaluable to cementing knowledge gained and enhancing it with new understandings. Use your notes to create something new, not just another set of notes. Create a chart, a concept map, draw on a whiteboard (and take a picture of your work), record yourself reading your notes and then listen to them in preparation for the exam.

Contract with Yourself

Finally, considering making a list of strategies that you know have made you successful or others successful, and create a contract. The idea of contracting with a professor for a grade is not new, but this time contract with yourself. Behaviors associated with earning an A are as well known as the behaviors associated with earning a C. This is what a grade contract might look like: To earn an A... I will:
  • Review recommended material before class
  • Attend all classes, unless I am contagious or febrile
  • Complete note review after each class period
  • Review each test, even if the score was acceptable
  • and so on
To earn a C... I will:
  • Attend the required minimum number of classes
  • Study the night before the exam
  • Meet the minimum requirements on all assigned work
  • Make an appointment with the professor if I fail an exam
  • and so on
Knowing these are the activities required helps with being honest with yourself on the rare occasion that you earn a C on a test instead of the coveted A! Maybe contract with a friend, and you can hold each other accountable for putting in your best effort.

What strategies do YOU use to stay engaged in nursing school???

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