Here are some thoughts on the interactions between teachers and students .. Most of us can remember how we felt at some point when a teacher either ignited a fire inside of us or made us feel inept.
Adults in the classroom never have the luxury of being neutral. Everything you say or do is either building a bridge or building a wall. Seems like a lot of pressure, I know – but teachers (by which I mean all adults in a classroom, since the kids are learning from all of the adults) are the most powerful people in the room.
Sometimes teachers can feel powerless when faced with apathy, disrespect, and other assorted expressions of negativity in the classroom – but it is really important to remember that you hold at least 2 types of power at all times: “official power”, because you ultimately have the final say on what happens in the classroom (how rules are enforced, who sits where, who gets to talk, what lessons and activities will happen, etc) and “perceived” power, because most of the students are under the general assumption that you are in charge here (if you don’t believe this – watch their eyes when something goes wrong – they all will look to you to see how you react and to find out if everything will be OK). You can also develop “social” power when the students see you as the person who makes sure that everyone feels respected, safe, and cared about.
All this rambling about power is just a reminder that – even on the toughest day – you have what it takes to make or break a student’s experience at school. They watch your face and your body language, they hear every twinge in your voice, and they look to you to provide an example of how a smart, capable adult handles stress and surprise and joy and etc….
Here are some strategies (habits of heart and mind) to help build bridges:
1. Speak to students as though their parents are in the room with you.
2. Notice something great about an angry disaffected student and bring it to his or her attention in a meaningful way.
3. “Creative Visualization” to help create compassion when you can’t feel it in the moment: Picture a big, angry student as the 3-year-old he once was … picture him “playing school”, watching the school bus go by, and getting excited about someday going to big-kid school. Then picture him in Kindergarten – running open-heartedly into the classroom, only to learn very quickly that he didn’t fit in there (his “walking feet” were “running feet”, for instance, and his “listening ears” didn’t work well; his circles were not round and didn’t sit well on the line).
4. Learn the secret language of the disaffected learner: “This is stupid” means “I don’t understand this”. “I don’t care what you say” means “I still have to figure out if you’re for real or not”. “I can’t do this” means “I feel like I can’t do anything, so why bother trying and looking stupid again?” “No” means “Not until I get some need met”. “You can’t make me!” means “I need to feel in control of something because I feel powerless.”
5. Remember that when students exhibit challenging behaviors, they are usually trying to mask their fear of rejection or of looking / feeling inept.
What do we really want for our kids? What do they really need? According to some arguably brilliant people (Tony Wagner, for instance, or Yong Zhao … just to name a couple), our students need to become autonomous, imaginative, confident, articulate, creative, passionate, collaborative, innovative, critical-thinking, problem-solving individuals who participate fully as effective, productive, happy, fulfilled, global citizens.
Sure, our students need to learn the hard skills of Literacy and Mathematics, and they need to understand certain Social and Scientific concepts – these are often prerequisites to all of the above. But to get at the OUTCOMES we really want, ask why a student needs to “learn and be able to do” any of the standards (either Maine Learning Results OR Common Core Standards)… Seriously – choose a standard … any one of them – in any content area … and then ask WHY the students need to know or be able to do this. The answer is going to lead you directly to the ultimate outcomes we’re hoping to achieve – that our students will become responsible, involved citizens; effective communicators; creative problem-solvers; critical thinkers; collaborative, compelling, curious, innovative folks who care for others and who receive care in return. (These are not frivolous, soft aspirations for our students, by the way – these are necessary capacities for competing successfully in a global and swiftly-changing economy).
Some wonderful standardized test-takers have gone on to become fairly ineffective citizens. And some of the most astounding innovations, the most profound acts of kindness, the most heroic sacrifices, the sweetest victories, the best music, the finest art, and so many other superlative feats have been accomplished by unremarkable standardized test-takers.
We might want to rethink a system wherein schools are forced to squander considerable fiscal resources, time, and energy on standardized testing (and on teaching to those tests).
What matters most cannot always be quantified.
Think about the child you love most in your life – what do you want for that kid? How should this be measured?