April 1, 2023
Our world can be such a paradox, especially when it comes to education. Every student is an individual, with knowledge, skills and struggles uniquely their own.
For some, those struggles may required education plans to help them demonstrate their learning and show just how capable and intelligent they truly are. For others, those struggles could have nothing to do with academics, but interfere with them nonetheless.
But, a school environment also has very rigid structure and requirement that can sometimes contradict the student’s learning needs, and stifle their emotional or social needs.
We also see this in the everyday world as adults–embrace our individuality while also trying to fit into society’s everchanging norms.
I won’t dive into that subject today, but focus, instead on how we can support the student that is still learning how to fit into the world because they are still learning who they are and what they are capable of.
History is riddled with stories about people, including children, who didn’t fit an image of what they should be. It took them time to find who they were as a person and what their unique talents are.
The prodigal son that left and returned after having squandered his inheritance, being celebrated by dad and despised by the sibling that stayed and worked.
David, who was weak and yet killed Goliath with a sling and a stone, then became a great King.
Albert Einstein who didn’t speak until he was 5 years old, but went on to win a Nobel Prize.
Oprah Winfrey who was born into poverty and endured unspeakable acts as a child, only to grow up into the entrepreneur and philanthropist she is today.
So, how can we do the same thing with our students, even if on a much smaller scale?
TALK TIMES Students are humans that have stresses and worries of their own and they need a chance to talk about them, whether to seek advice and guidance, or to just vent out loud. Allowing some free talk time with peers throughout the week for a few minutes can be good. Sincerely checking in on them and asking about their game last night or their vacation after a break and listening gives them this chance and shows them they are valuable and someone wants to hear them. If they have deeper concerns, be sure to have access to a guidance counselor they can talk to as well, and let them know that sometimes we all need help and need to talk to someone.
MENU ACTIVITIES When it comes to learning strategies and demonstrating mastery of a skill, allowing students to choose from a variety of options that fit their comfort zone, interests, or skillset will allow them to truly show what they know and measure the skill you are looking for. Sometimes in life there is only one way to do something–a driver’s test requires driving an actual car on an actual road; standardized testing requires answering questions on a computer most times–but sometimes there are other options. Be open to alternatives so you can really see your student shine. This also helps when there are certain things that need to be done a particular way, they learn how to do that as well, but can concede that they will still have other times to show their individuality in their work.
OPEN OFFICE TIMES Having a time for a student to stop by your classroom, your zoom room, or call you (if you are not in a physical school campus with them) can create opportunities for students to reach out with questions if they aren’t comfortable during class time. It will also make them more likely to reach out if they don’t think they will be bothering you. I’ve used this technique for years and have had students pop in to say hi, chat about an issue they couldn’t bring up in class, ask a quick question on an assignment, or even get hands on time for a project they were completely lost on or didn’t have resources or space to work on at home and used my classroom. This is an additional step that truly shows students they are valuable and their unique learning style is okay and you will still support them.
LISTENING Not all students want an answer or solution, sometimes they just want to be heard without judgement and acknowledged by someone that their feelings or thoughts are okay. By actively listening to them–repeating what they said, acknowledging their feeling or thought–can go a long way in helping them work through a situation. I’ve had students in my room crying over a break up, and saying with an eye roll ” I know, I know, I’m young and it isn’t real love yet” and I let them know that if it is real to them, then it is real. My life experience level is different than theirs and not a fair comparison. I’ve had students also come in and feel they weren’t being challenged in class, they were placed based on test scores in remedial class but had been ill or lost a family member during testing and weren’t focused. So we talked about what we could do to challenge them and help them grow as a student, or even appeal on their behalf to change their course level with evidence of their learning.
RESPECT This is always my #1 unbreakable rule in my classroom, and life in general. If we show respect to everyone and everything, all the other rules and guidelines pretty much take care of themselves. Respecting a student and their situation, thoughts, feelings, or work is crucial to their development of both self-esteem and social etiquette. We won’t always agree with them, but we can still respect them and learn from them. I am not the person I was 16 years ago when I went searching for my first teaching job out of college, and part of that is because I learned, not only from professional training, but from my students. And that respect was acknowledged and reciprocated by my students and their families more often than not.
GRACE Students will make mistakes, lose their cool, refuse to work, or be mean sometimes. But we are the same way. Having grace when someone snaps or doesn’t work is crucial to changing the negative behavior into a positive outcome and learning from it. When a student is frustrated and yells out that something is stupid in class. Instead of getting onto them for the outburst, quietly go to them and give them a pass to a quiet place to regroup, or if it won’t escalate things, invite them into the hallway or office for a quick check in. Acknowledge and give them a chance to clarify. “It sounds like you are upset about something. What’s going on?” Let them vent, then ask what they should have done instead of yelling out and let them do that. Also, clearly state your forgiveness and your support for their success, and invite them to tell you another way next time they have an issue.
I can’t stress enough that our role as educators is to educate students, but that isn’t always just “reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic”, sometimes that will also be building character and helping them become who they are meant to be. Take the time to see them as individuals and be there for them, it can make a world of difference to them, and they can make a difference in the world.
And remember to do this for everyone, not just students in your classroom. Helping someone in need can have a huge impact in their world as an individual, and the world around them as a whole. If their struggle is beyond your expertise, then be there with them and guide them to someone that can help them through their struggles, don’t ignore it and let it grow to something uncontrollable. Be a helper, even in the little ways.
Like or comment below, and share with others to support the blog. I post weekly about teaching, traveling and family. Until next time, you can find me on Tik Tok @sonya.BOMSquadleader or our adventures at BarnesOnMove.com, Facebook & TikTok at @BarnesOnMove