(This was originally posted on the Curious.com blog.)
I just came back from nine days at Disney World with my family. Now, I’ve been to Disney World before and to Disneyland many, many times, but The Mouse* never ceases to impress me. It does so many things well, with an attention for detail that is simply astounding. And this comes from someone who isn’t even really a Disney fan, but someone who just appreciates incredible execution.
Overall, they are really good at what they do: making and keeping kids happy. There’s a lot we could learn from The Mouse, and a lot that I think would be useful to Curious teachers:
1. Keep them engaged
When you think of Disney World, you do not think of subtlety. We stayed at the Art of Animation Resort where a 40-foot plastic sea turtle watches over your children. The splash area has plastic sea creatures spitting at your children because, apparently, it’s fun to get spit on by plastic sea creatures. And you know what? It’s awesome.
That doesn’t mean there’s no room for subtlety in Curious lessons. But you can keep the information coming, and you can keep it coming fast. It’s one of the benefits of Curious: students can easily rewatch sections of your lesson if they missed something. So if you keep throwing things at them, the students and the kids stay engaged.
2. Make them feel progress
This is something Disney does really well: they make waiting in line (almost) fun. For instance, my favorite ride (the best ride anywhere) is the Hollywood Tower of Terror, based on the timelessly fantastic Twilight Zone. They easily could have the line snake through the zigzag of bars and lead you to the elevators, but instead, they break it up. After you wait in line, you’re lead into a “dusty, old” library where an old TV shows Rod Serling introducing you to the ride. And after that intro? You’re waiting in another line.
And it’s still great. You’re still waiting in line for the actual ride but you’re now one significant step closer. You’ve engaged your brain a bit (watching Rod Serling) and the wait feels a lot shorter.
We encourage teachers to do the same thing by breaking up their lessons into short sections and engaging them with exercises. The students will feel they’re making progress on the lesson with every little bit of knowledge they pick up.
3. Prepare for failure
Disney knows its target demographic really well: parents who want to see their kids have a good time. And to that end, every cast member carries Disney character stickers and offer them to you or your kids if they look unhappy, hot, bored, annoyed, concerned about fighting in Syria, or even if they’re happy. Who doesn’t love a free sticker? If you play it right, you can cover your kids in stickers and save on sunscreen.
The best teachers I’ve ever had know the problems their students tend to have. They not only explain how things should be done, but also explain common mistakes that people make and explain why those are wrong. They’re prepared for the inevitable failures of the learning process, like Disney is prepared for the inevitable meltdowns of the vacationing process.
4. Have a good time, or at least pretend you’re having a good time
At Homestead, I ran the annual talentless Talent Show where I forced employees to do unspeakable things in front of their friends and families. And the one piece of advice I gave to everyone was this: Look like you’re having a good time, because if you look like you’re having fun, they’ll have fun.
Whether it’s the chemicals in the water, or fear of termination, or maybe, ummm… enjoying their job (?), cast members at Disney World are all smiley. They look like they’re having fun and that’s contagious. And students want to see the same thing: teachers who love their subject and can share that joy. And teachers who can genuinely express that joy on video are the best teachers on the web.
Now, the kids already want to go back; frankly, they want to live there. So now all I need is a Curious lesson that can teach young kids to plan, pay for, and take a Disney World vacation on their own, and I’m good to go. Anyone?
* I use “The Mouse” like they use “The Company” in the Alien movies: with respect and a healthy dose of fear. They’re not reading this are they?