There is a saying in sports that is along the lines of “remembering when you were a kid and why you played the game.” While that is not an exact quote that you may have heard growing up, but I’m sure that you will get the point. When professionals were younger they were out there having fun and not caring about money, contract, stats.
Let’s take that “memory” technique and apply it to school. What do you remember about school when you were younger? Why did you go? Quality education probably was not the first reason. I bet friends or the extracurricular activities you were involved in, topped that list.
In an article called “In an Age of ‘No Excuses’ Schools: A Case for Compassion and Better Social-Emotional Learning,” Dr. Vera Triplett stated in her first year of teaching she was “excited and fully expecting the students to share my enthusiasm”. Were you excited about the teachers and the academic process that you were about to begin on? The answer is probably no, and as Dr. Triplett puts it, “Survival was [the students] focus.”
While her article is not about “survival” it is about how to deliver education both compassionately and effectively, so that we do not have to use the word “survival” when referring to our students and their education. To move the conversation away from survival, we must take the intention of our focus from ensuring that all of the boxes are checked, and have an intention to focus on how to educate students who are faced with the everyday challenges of growing up. Remember, they do not know what it is like to be an adult. So the challenges they are facing now, are the hardest things they have ever faced.
Dr. Triplett goes on to list 4 steps towards more compassionate education. The first is, know and employ the crucial components of a restorative culture. I know you’ve been there at some point; the moment when you realize you need to make a change in your life. How did you do it? You probably stepped back your current context, evaluated the situation as a whole and then brainstormed ways to improve. What if you could apply this same strategy to school and education? Dr. Triplett argues that we need to get students involved to incorporate their ideas and help them understand the relevancy of a restoring a culture.
The second step is to “Really get to know your students—both inside and outside of the school day.” Dr. Triplett discusses engaging with students by attending sporting events and other activities. This is a brilliant idea to me because students like the attention from their leaders. While I am in my thirties now, I remember my leadership teacher in high school. Every morning I would go in his class early to strike up a conversation with my teacher. I so valued this time because he took his free time to be with us, and that meant a lot to me then and even more now.
Step 3, “Don’t take challenging behaviors personally”. While easy to say, it often proves difficult to follow in the classroom. There is a saying that “kids will be kids” and that is just as true in the classroom as it is at home kids will be kids. Just because they are acting out, does not mean they are singling you out. Children need love and attention from many different authority figures in their lives, and if they do not get the attention they seek, they are going to go somewhere else to look for it. So let’s stop thinking this is about you, because it has always been about them.
And finally, “An excellent education is always the ultimate goal.” I’ve heard it said that there are three types of teachers: the ones you love, the ones you hate, and the ones you do not remember. An education is not just the knowledge accumulated and recited for tests, but is the life lessons, the way of thinking, and the relationships that educators have helped you build. We have the opportunity to shift the goal from helping students survive to helping develop and shape the very future of the world.
How many teachers impacted your life? One? Two? Several? Isn’t that the reason most educators started teaching – to make a lasting impact on children? We can do that by realizing that our students often view their role in school to simply survive, and see our opportunity to leverage compassion, empathy and love for our students to help them desire an excellent education for themselves.
When you were a student, who was your favorite teacher? I’m willing to bet you still know their name, which grade, and because of social media you might even be connected. Let’s let that memory help motivate you and other to be the teachers your students need. The key to this, as Dr. Triplett puts it, is to be “effective and nurturing,” for students when all they are doing is trying to survive.