Last weekend a student told me about a book he's reading this summer. The book, Sophie's World, is a novel that aims to teach about the history of philosophy.
This student told me that he was actually enjoying the book (which is something special in itself because he doesn't usually like reading), and he was encountering big picture ideas like worldview, presuppositions, epistemology, and global diversity.
Granted, he didn't use those exact terms, but he may as well have because those were the technical terms that he was describing. He asked me if I had ever heard of or read the book. I told him I had not, but that I would pick it up the first chance I had.
For the small investment of $12, I will be able to establish a connection with this guy. When I see him again we'll be standing on common ground - both of us will be able to reference the story, characters, and ideas introduced in the book.
Of course the key will be the follow-up.
Our initial conversation happened last Sunday. It's plausible that I could never mention the book again. If I did that, however, the common ground would not be established and I would have to establish it in some other way. Follow-up, in this case finding and reading the book and then mentioning it to him in the next couple of weeks, communicates something important to this student. It says to him, "I am listening to you. Your ideas, questions, and interests matter to me because YOU matter to me."
Common ground is what you need to effectively communicate today. And usually it's easier to establish than you might think. It takes patience to listen and attention to pick up on the cues being offered by students. Those two things are so simple that they are often overlooked.
We all have moments when students offer you something of themselves. They let you see past the facade that they've built up to keep their real thoughts and feelings hidden. It may be direct, or it will be indirect, but there are certain moments when they ask you a question, tell you a thought, or open up with a feeling.
When those moments come your way, don't let them pass by.
Notice them, remember them, and be sure to follow-up.