5 Strategies to Win Over a Classroom Full of Eager Boot Camp Learners

By Dartanion Williams

Having come from humble beginnings on the south side of Chicago, I will never forget the impact that a great teacher had on me. My seventh-grade teacher saw my potential, instilled a great set of values in me at an early age, and gave me confidence that helped shape my future. Regardless of what was happening in my life, his classroom was an oasis of inspiration and hope. That formative experience has motivated me to pay it forward by helping guide individuals whenever I am in a position to do so.

Today I take great pride in preparing boot camp students to take on any challenge in the world of data and analytics. Part of my guiding philosophy is to find the most direct path to get a foot in the door of industries that have traditionally been shut tight. I believe that workforce accelerators and boot camps are phenomenal ways to gain this type of access to the tech space. I find great satisfaction in helping eager students gain entry to this exciting field.

Because real commitment is key to student success, I employ quite a few strategies in the classroom to make sure that no one feels obstructed by any unnecessary barriers to learning. Here are five of those strategies.

Get to Know Your Students

Be sure to personally get to know and understand each student along with their motivation for joining the program. Use that information to tailor your classroom approach to ensure that their individual needs are satisfied. This technique is not always easy, but it pays off in the long run because it allows you to earn the student’s trust. Creating an opportunity for students to get to know each other is also important. Encourage students to work together on some of the more challenging class activities so that they can talk through their perspectives, their approaches, and learn together.

Pay Attention to Their Cues

Pay very close attention to the class while teaching. Actively listen and observe carefully and sensitively so that you can pick up on important non-verbal cues. These subtle bits of information will help determine whether there is a need to modify the approach, explain the material differently, or adjust the pace. 

Celebrate Their Accomplishments

It is important to show appreciation for the sacrifices that the students make to be successful in the boot camp program. Most students have to come up with ways to juggle work, friends, family, fitness, hobbies, and other aspects of life to remain committed to the program. Celebrate successes along the way and devise ways to call out and reward solid effort, real commitment, and extraordinary performance. Something as simple as a shout-out in Slack, ordering coffee or lunch for the class, or even setting up a happy hour to celebrate major milestones, such as projects, are all great ways to boost morale and show your class that you care. 

Use Real-World Examples

It is important for students to be able to relate to the material you’re presenting, so it is important to teach from a place of experience and empathy. Whenever possible, use real-world scenarios to help underscore why the concepts are relevant. I incorporate practical examples in the classroom and position the students to understand not only the what or the how but also the whywhen, and where. I believe in training analytical minds and building the confidence to ask that fourth or fifth question to ensure that there is a solid understanding of the subject matter.

Don’t Be Afraid of Spoilers

Make a conscious effort to remind students that all our day-to-day lessons are building up to something much larger. Try to give students a sense of what the conclusion of the boot camp looks like so that they can begin with the end in mind. Consider presenting demonstrations of successful projects from past students, showing examples of research cases that they will be able to do upon completion of the program, or doing anything else that underscores that the students will be walking away with new skills and abilities that they didn’t have before.

One of the many special aspects of the boot camp setting is its authentic diversity; students come with a broad range of backgrounds, experiences, and comfort levels with technology. It creates a unique opportunity and space for them not only to learn technical skills but also to appreciate the various ways that the subject matter can be applied to different contexts.

My goal as an instructor is to make sure that every student in the class is successful, to leave no one behind. Boot camp learners are serious about the investment they have made in themselves when they enroll in the program, and I make sure that I demonstrate my understanding and appreciation for them by guiding them thoughtfully through this journey.

Dartanion Williams teaches for the GW Data Analytics Boot Camp.

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