Teachers who teach from the heart make a bigger impact.
The best teachers I have ever met are amazing not because they have mastered the curriculum or the latest teaching techniques but because they understand children. They accept every child as they come, not as they "should" be, and they guide them gently along their own individual learning path. They are sensitive to the needs of individuals in their classroom and naturalize the idea that everyone needs something a little bit different to learn...and that's ok. They trust their heart and their gut and do what's right for kids, whether it fits within "the rules" or not. They are driven to learn because they want to meet the needs of the littles that they work with every day but at the same time they never want to be out of the classroom because they know that daily connection is so important. They connect, connect, connect and in doing so they make a big difference on kids' lives.
Starting with love, compassion, gratitude and kindness makes for a better community.
Too often in teaching we launch in to curriculum before teaching our kids that they are part of a bigger community - their classroom community, their school community, their hometown community, the world at large - that they need to look after. The blame doesn't entirely lie with us; there are so many outside influences trying to convince us that our kids need reading instruction, writing instruction, math instruction, academic hammering that will purportedly give them a leg up in the wide, wild world. But what world are we preparing them for? If we teach our children that the only things that matter are being better - smarter, faster, stronger - than those around them then we are actively destroying the only support system they will ever have - the village. Friends, if you can think of a moment where the village hasn't reached out to you, hasn't buoyed you up, looked after your children, made you laugh, made you cry, then you can think of a reason why we need to be teaching our kids to love and look out for others. Teach their hearts and souls first, their minds will follow, probably stronger than they would have otherwise.
Students come to us with a lot on their plates. They aren't really ready to learn until they feel safe & loved.
No matter how much we know about a student's background and home life, we can never completely understand what they bring to school everyday in their hearts & minds. All we can do is connect, listen and meet them where they're at, every day of the year. When we make our classrooms safe spaces for students to be their genuine selves - whether that means incorporating time & space for them to move freely, opportunities for connection, work that is engaging and individualized or simply an honouring and celebrating of differences - we allow them to feel safe and secure. This, in turn, calms their sympathetic nervous system and allows them to move forward with their learning. As anyone who has ever worked under stress can attest, it's almost impossible to be at your best when your head & heart are in another place. The best thing we can do for students is make them feel safe & secure in our rooms and in our presence.
We have to show ourselves love, compassion, respect and forgiveness and we have to teach our students to do the same.
Teaching is an exhausting, all day job (bonus points for knowing, instantly, where I stole that line from*). Even in the moments where we are supposed to be taking a break we are often working, often meeting a need other than our own. And then so many of us go home to our families to meet so many more needs. The potential for exhaustion, burn-out, mistakes, is huge. and don't we know it? We hold ourselves to the highest possible standard and often forget to give ourselves grace when we don't meet those standards. By learning to love ourselves, to recognize that we deserve as much compassion and kindness as we offer everyone else in our lives, we begin to learn how to teach our students to do the same. I am quickly coming to believe that instilling a growth mindset in children might just be the best way to teach resilience, self-respect and self-esteem all in one fell swoop.
Learning and development is a continuum and our students are at all different places on it. We need to meet them where they're at without judgment.
I have been in Pro-D workshops for the last couple of days and have been acutely aware of the recognition (or lack thereof) of the continuum of learning and development. Our school system is designed to fit children in to little boxes, boxes labeled "meeting", "approaching" and "not yet meeting". But, when push comes to shove, does it really matter if they're meeting, exceeding or not yet meeting our expectations? They will still be in our classrooms, they will still be who they are, where they're at. If we start acknowledging that all students fall somewhere on a continuum of development and learning, we start to see that we can move them along that continuum, regardless of where they started. Once we understand that teaching is actually about meeting students where they're at and moving them forward, not about students meeting prescribed learning outcomes, we free ourselves to teach kids, not outcomes.
Social-emotional learning is more important than curriculum. Dysregulated students can't learn effectively.
Teaching our students to recognize and regulate their emotions and arousal levels is fundamental to their learning. Some children are able to do this naturally and others need help. The fact of the matter remains that if students are dysregulated they cannot learn; if their bodies are constantly seeking or avoiding some kind of stimulation there is no way that their minds are ready to learn. With all of the pressure to teach curriculum, meet benchmarks and demonstrate student learning, it's easy to forget that we are teaching little humans; that is, until Johnny won't stop moving and Sarah won't stop crying every time you ask her to do anything resembling school work. Then it is blatantly, unavoidably obvious. And instead of blaming the kid, or the home or the learning challenges, we need to start looking how we can teach the child to self-regulate, to meet their needs in any given moment. Secondary to this, we need to accept that even we, as adults, are not perfect at self-regulation and that there are always going to be times (more for the kiddos that struggle in this department) where the wheels fall off the wagon. The trick is accepting this as normal, however disruptive it may be, and finding solutions with humor and grace, acknowledging all the while that it can be incredibly frustrating and finding a support system that helps you deal with this frustration. Just as dysregulated students can't learn effectively, dysregulated teachers can't teach effectively.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about literacy, collaborative teaching and finding new and innovative ways to engage & motivate all kids. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!