After a visit to the school’s nurse, Jonathan entered his history class late and handed the nurse’s note to the teacher. He quickly settled in and tried feverishly to jump into the download of notes taking place. At the end of the class, the teacher asked to view everyone’s notes to ensure accuracy and completeness.
Looking with disgust at Jonathan’s paper, the teacher snatched it, ripped it into pieces and discarded it in the garbage bin, all while running on with a verbal tirade that further humiliated Jonathan in front of his peers.
So, what is wrong with this picture? Well, notwithstanding that this is a real situation, let’s see if there is anything right about it first…….. Got anything? Neither did I! One might say that the teacher perhaps had a high standard for work presentation, or that her knee-jerk erratic response was her way to show the student she thought he was capable of better. But was that the right time or even the right response to convey such a message? Absolutely NOT!
What Else is Wrong?
Finding out that this same teacher seldom smiles, is always critical in her comments and only offers negative feedback about the student’s work, makes the opening scenario even more disheartening. Is compassion even in her vocabulary? Does she have the ability to understand the emotional state of others? Knowing how to treat students with compassion is one of those things you are not taught in education courses, yet is one of the most significant indicators of exceptional teachers.
Perhaps you have wondered why some students always congregate in a particular teacher’s classroom at recess or early in the morning, while other teachers are devoid of such cordial visits. Maybe it’s because the teacher understands the students as complex people and make them feel that they belong. Or possibly it’s because the teacher realizes that he/she does not have to sacrifice academic rigor for a compassionate classroom environment. Such teachers actually believe that challenge and encouragement are two sides of the same coin. They value their students’ voices and ideas, and push them to be the best version of themselves.
If you think you have moved away from being a compassionate teacher, here are 10 practical ways you can begin to reflect more compassion in the classroom:
- Smile with your students. Joking around, my teenagers would say that if some of their teachers smiled, their faces might just crack. What a shame! A simple smile lets students know that you are glad they are a part of your class. Country singer, Dolly Parton said, “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” So help your colleagues if they fall into the “smile-less” category.
- No matter what, keep your cool! We all know that teachers have a lot on their plates, and some students can really push your buttons, but this is no excuse to lash out and explode on students with unreasonable behavior and negative words. If it happens repeatedly, perhaps such teachers may want to consider establishing a personal routine of exercise and healthy nutrition to decrease stress, relinquishing some responsibilities, taking a sabbatical, or maybe even submitting to therapy. Do whatever it takes because the goal is to be courteous to your students at all times.
- Celebrate with your students. This may seem to be common knowledge, but to have a student win a national competition and not be congratulated by his teacher or even the school’s administrators, is sadly some students’ reality. Celebrating their accomplishments opens the door to a better teacher-student relationship and a more engaged student.
- Write more positive and constructive comments on your students’ papers than negative ones. Can you imagine waiting for over a month to receive feedback on an assignment only to find the words, “You are the only one who didn’t do what I asked!”. Hmmm, not very constructive and certainly NOT encouraging.
- Institute a system to make it easy for students who have missed a class to get caught up. This can be as simple as having a box with extra copies of handouts or just assigning a student to fill them in on what transpired. If, like in the opening scenario, the student missed the class for sickness, you definitely don’t want to make a big deal about missing notes.
- Communicate positively with your students every day. I am not talking about the long lectures. Positive communication with your students can be a silent smile, a commending head nod, a pleasing stare or even an encouraging hand on the shoulder. But let’s not forget that communication is a two-way street. Therefore, pay attention when your students speak to you and really listen without interrupting.
- Invest time in encouraging your students to excel. Some students encounter many problems, but praise and encouragement are great remedies for most of their challenges. One caveat here is to avoid giving those cliché, almost commercialized praises such as, “You have great potential!” One student admitted that he cringed inside when his principal said the exact words to him. In his mind, he said those were just empty words that meant nothing. So, be specific with your praise.
- Differentiate instruction whenever possible. This means that constantly dictating pages of notes won’t cut it. Varying your approach lets students learn in a way that best fits their learning styles, and simultaneously demonstrates that you value them and the way they learn. This may be a more prevalent practice in the elementary classrooms, but differentiating instruction in high school is very important.
- Embrace each student’s individuality. Young adolescents especially are trying to come to terms with who they are and how they will present themselves to the world. Embrace their uniqueness rather than giving in to stereotyping and judging. When we do,
- Create a community within the classroom. Even as a college professor, this is one of the main avenues I take in my courses. Do some practical activities to get students comfortable with you and with their peers. Helping students connect to each other gives them a support system that can help them navigate school life.
Implementing these ten ideas might sound like a tall order that requires much effort. Admittedly, if compassion is not an everyday practice, these tips may seem challenging. However, we must remember that just being a smart teacher who knows his/her content area well is not enough.
Students will never trust or even open up to hear what their teachers have to say unless they feel their teachers value and respect them. Developing a positive relationship with them by reflecting compassion is instrumental in making this a reality.
Leave a comment: In what ways do you show your students that you understand and care about their emotional challenges?
Tis the season to be graduating! Yes, everywhere you turn there’s an invitation requesting the presence of family and friends to honor a student’s accomplishment of a major academic milestone.
Speakers from all backgrounds are invited to the hallowed halls of high schools and colleges. However, their common goal is to motivate and inspire graduates to continue to pursue their dreams.
Recently, I too had the opportunity to do just that. The high school graduates had decided that their theme would be, “Moving Towards Success Through the Power of Dreams”. Powerful stuff!
Recently, I participated in the commissioning and commencement services at Regent University. It was a liberating and empowering experience! But I must admit that I could not have done it on my own.
After four and a half years of grueling studies and research, I was able to achieve a major milestone…obtaining my PhD. Woohooo!
As I was hooded and even prayed for by the dean, instant flashbacks flooded my mind. One thing was certain, I didn’t do it alone! It took many people to make it all possible.
As I leaned on my family, friends and even my cohort members, I garnered the psychological and spiritual strength I needed. But I also received the expertise I required. This was achievable because of a sense of cohesiveness and even a sense of family that was fostered among my peers.
You see, no one person knows it all or is good at EVERYTHING. And if anyone holds such a belief, they are delusional! As the saying goes, “No man is an island.” And this idea was certainly reinforced during my doctoral journey. This was the time when I had to acknowledge what I knew I didn’t know.
The flashbacks got me wondering about how this concept of “community” impacts our school environment. Reflecting on my experience, I realize that having a sense of community in the workplace is more than just being a member of a group. So we first have to know what it entails.
McMillan and Chavis define it as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together”. There you have it: mutual commitment that allows needs to be met. Voila!
But being a group member or being employed by an organization doesn’t equate to a sense of community. (We could only wish it was that simple!)
Community is a process that nurtures a sense of collaboration and collaborative skills. It involves pulling together the talents, experiences and insights of a diverse group of people who are committed to a common purpose. Such a community features authentic communication that is respectful of differences and embraces conflict.
Benefits of Developing Community at Work
One thing is certain, developing a sense of community within the workplace yields great dividends. Here are just a few benefits of taking the time to engage in the process of community in our schools:
- A community provides support to avoid FRUSTRATION. When we isolate ourselves we are susceptible to loneliness and depression, and we risk the breakdown that can occur in communities. Knowing that we have a group of people we can rely on is comforting.
We realize that we’re not in it alone and we don’t have to go through it alone either. This reduces the tension that sometimes builds up. In fact, people who feel a sense of belonging live happier and healthier lives.
- A community brings about effective COLLABORATION. Having a supportive community means you have other minds at your disposal. It creates interdependency between everyone’s collective efforts. Skills can be pooled in order to make projects more successful. I once had a slogan up in my classroom that read, “None of us is as good as ALL of us.” This means that when we team up, we produce far greater results.
- A community fosters creativity and INNOVATION. There is something dynamic about a community that gives birth to novel ideas. Have you ever noticed that inventive programs tend to be produced by schools with a strong sense of community? When frustrations are reduced and collaboration is encouraged, creativity and innovation are inevitable!
Even in our school environments, having a sense of community is crucial! It might appear to be one of those intangible things that you can’t readily put your finger on, but you know it when you see it.
Yes, a strong community is beneficial not only to individuals, but also to the community itself and to society at large. For the good of everyone, no one should ever…. EVER, try to do work or life alone! One thing is certain, we need each other!
Leave a comment: How has being a part of a community helped you to achieve a goal? How can YOU help to build a better sense of community in your school?
If you spend any length of time working in education, you WILL encounter the green-eyed monster called ENVY. No industry is immune to it as long as the emotional beings called humans are involved.
The Impact of Envy at Work
It could be an evil glance, an unjustifiably snide comment or maybe even an outright attempt to sabotage your success. No matter how it materializes, envy stings and it creates serious tension. Although teachers are usually thought to be fun-loving, kind and cordial, schools are not exempted from this.
What do you expect teachers and school administrators to be doing on their much-deserved spring break? Resting, right? Well, it was refreshing to see educators taking time away from their “chill days” to receive information, inspiration and motivation to work on developing themselves. They realized that they had to begin working harder on themselves than they do on their jobs. And that’s commendable!
During the session, the educators were challenged to make personal development a priority. Though it’s not always convenient to attend a seminar, the avenue of accessing books, CDs, blog pages and other online resources was highlighted. Attendees saw how easily they could be mentored, motivated and moved to improve their personal skills.
No doubt, you’ve attended scores of workshops and conferences all focused on equipping you with scores of teaching strategies. But how many seminars have you been a part of that targeted your personal development? I’m talking about the kind of development that focuses on YOU as a person and not just you as an educator.
If you are like most teachers, you probably can number the personal development seminars on one hand. This is a serious indictment, especially for persons who work every day to shape the lives of future leaders. When we consider that we teach what we know but duplicate who we are, then it’s a crying shame that we take little time to improve our personal skills.
Though I have been teaching since 1994, I must admit that all of the personal development training I’ve ever received came through my involvement in private business ventures. Thankfully, I had a mentor who ate, slept and lived personal development. So, she always encouraged me to do the same in order to increase my skill set.
Wouldn’t you agree that skills such as balancing life, listening attentively, arguing constructively, communicating effectively and people skills like influencing people positively are worth enhancing? Sure they are!
So, why is it that personal development, which focuses on improving oneself on a continuous basis, gets little attention among educators? Perhaps if we consider the benefits of this dynamic process, we would readily embrace it. Here are ten advantages of engaging in personal development:
- Clearer ideas about the kind of life and work you want
- Greater confidence in the choices you make
- A better understanding of how you learn and how to improve your performance
- Greater confidence in your own skills and talents that you bring to education
- Better positioning for promotion
- Improved reflective thinking capabilities that enhances your performance
- Better problem-solving and planning expertise
- A more positive attitude and approach related to a successful personal and professional life
- More enjoyment and less stress as you keep yourself motivated AND
- A sense of direction that brings improved focus and effectiveness
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but one that should nudge you to reconsider the value of personal development to you.
What you have today, you have attracted by becoming the person you are today. So to have more than you’ve got, I challenge you to become more than you are. Our students deserve it; our community deserves it and you owe it to YOURSELF.
Leave a comment: In what type of personal development activity do you engage? How has such an activity impacted you?
Do you remember that feeling of exhilaration you felt back in August when school had just reopened? You were rested, revived and ready for the new school year. Now, several months later, you’re depleted of energy, devoid of inspiration and drenched in backlogged work. Well, I’ve come to tell you that it’s okay to take a break.
It’s Monday morning and you’re so excited to get to work! Mentally, you’ve already mapped out your day: successful implementation of lesson plans, minimal classroom disruptions, self-disciplined students and a chance to mark some projects. But the reality is, things don’t always go as you envision, nor as you plan. Strangely though, you still experience a deep feeling of satisfaction. Why is that?
If this is you, then you might be in that group of people who value the work relationships that they have developed.
Nothing is as distasteful and upsetting as a chronic complainer, a giddy gossiper or a nonstop negativity nitwit….unless of course there’s one person who qualifies as all three. You know these people all too well and you feel the effects of them on the job every day.
Maybe you’ve had the delightful pleasure to have your students finally “get it” after many unsuccessful lessons on a particular skill. So, you bounce into the staff room, bubbling with excitement over their response and eager to share it with your colleagues.