Trust in the classroom

The job of helping young people grow into well-educated and independent adults rests upon the relationship between teachers and students, teachers and their administrators, the community and its school staff. And yet many of the rules governing schools are about control.”

The millennial generation of students is often criticized for being impatient, unfocused, entitled and lazy, but Luhtala said that’s an old-school way of looking at a group of kids who have grown up in a dramatically different world than their teachers. “I don’t think kids are unfocused,” she said. “I think they can be super focused if you give them something to do. And I really mean DO, not listening or watching, but really physically doing something.”

Creating learning opportunities that don’t rely on lectures, textbooks or sitting quietly goes against established educational patterns and can feel foreign to many adults who learned that way themselves. It requires trust, but once given, can often produce incredible projects from students that might never have materialized without giving them the freedom to think and act independently, Luhtala said.

“Passive learning is really not an effective way to teach these kids,” Luhtala said. “The reality is that kids will retain less than ten percent of what we say in a lecture setting. So we need to empower them to become independent learners.”

Excellent read.



It’s not actually about "triggers"

The Atlantic ran a piece last week that’s sure to be controversial. The columnist focused on the rise among college faculty (though I’m sure this is happening in high schools too) of labeling syllabi with “trigger warnings” and offering students exemptions from material they find potentially, personally difficult to handle.

“Empathetically Correct is the new Politically Correct” (The Atlantic)

While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.

I understand the tension between pulling students into material that’s difficult, material they otherwise would not choose for themselves.  I’ve seen Story work its transforming power in the hearts of students pummeled by their personal tragedies — abuse, neglect, rape, broken relationships, suicide, depression.   I’ve also seen students start to shut down during a classroom discussion because I wasn’t paying enough attention or thinking ahead about how their interpersonal stories might mix with the literature to create a toxic environment.

The classroom should be challenging, enriching, even uncomfortable at times — but also safe, nurturing, and caring.

I wonder if one of the mechanisms at work is that high school teachers spend many more hours with their students, so they tend to be more naturally aware of “triggers,” while higher ed faculty (especially when they’re teaching underclassmen) may have very little knowledge of the individuals who make up their classes.

My struggling students were all Christian school kids in a place where we emphasized the Gospel, Grace, and dealing with the world head-on (not hiding from it). I saw my role as teacher to know my students well enough that I hoped I could divert a discussion before it truly became a trigger.

 The foundation of teacher-student relationship formed the basis of a learning community that could actually work through tragedy rather than just tiptoeing around it.

Perhaps higher education fails to nurture a similar connection between the average underaged and her professors. In smaller colleges, professors can build those bridges and make quick adjustments rather than having to list out every potential “threat.” They can judge whether a student is actually being pushed over the edge vs students taking an offered excuse to avoid the difficult. But I can’t imagine a 50-student English lecture class having that level of relationship.

The old saying warns, “If you only own a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I don’t want to imply that all problems can be solved by building relationships.  But some could be averted.

We make rules and politics because we try to use procedures to fix what are essentially human problems.  We’re all broken.  The problem isn’t so much the trigger; it’s the need for humans to live within nurturing, caring communities where their brokenness can be healed, not condemned or exploited or — just as bad — ignored.

Apologizing "for real"

Blogger, educator, and parent JoEllen published a wonderful piece called A Better Way to Say Sorry a few weeks ago. Shout out to my friend & M.Ed. fellow student Niki for punting out such a great read.

JoEllen suggests, wisely, that the typical way we adults handle childhood disputes leaves out the hard work of reconciliation. It’s “simple” to make kids go through the motions of “saying sorry,” but everyone is left the poorer afterward when the wrong-doer escapes with a halfhearted mumble and the wronged party knows that no one was actually sorry at all.

Redemptive teaching suggests that teachers need to 1) recognize biblically normative practices for human relationships and 2) encourage those practices in our classrooms via 3) aligning our procedures to reinforce the idea of loving God and neighbor, rather than trying to implement “rules” or a “process” that can somehow magically erase problems.

JoEllen came up with four basic steps to use as a pattern for apology with her 4th graders. This pattern is true for all humans, not just kids — and we would accomplish a lot as educators if we chose to follow the same steps when we find ourselves needing to apologize to our own students.

From her post (please do go read the whole thing)

A Better Way to Say Sorry:

1) I’m sorry for…: Be specific. Show the person you’re apologizing to that you really understand what they are upset about.
2) This is wrong because…: This might take some more thinking, but this is one of the most important parts. Until you understand why it was wrong or how it hurt someone’s feelings, it’s unlikely you will change.
3) In the future, I will…: Use positive language, and tell me what you WILL do, not what you won’t do.
4) Will you forgive me? This is important to try to restore your friendship. 

JoEllen’s classroom experience corroborates mine: If you model biblical thinking and action in front of your students (whether they’re 6 years old or 16), you will see positive change among your learning community.

Rules cannot accomplish nearly as much as following the Great Commandments do in our hearts (and you don’t have to be teaching in a “Christian” School to model loving God and neighbor for your students.).

Article: What students remember most about teachers

What makes a good teacher? 

Before you start looking at lesson plan outlines and teaching certificates – those these details are important – look first at the teacher and their willingness to build relationships as the core of teaching.

Great blog post:  What students remember most about teachers.
Give it a read.

And of all the students I know who have lauded teachers with the laurels of the highest acclaim, those students have said of those teachers that they cared. 

You see, kids can see through to the truth of the matter. And while the flashy stuff can entertain them for a while, it’s the steady constance of empathy that keeps them connected to us. It’s the relationships we build with them. It’s the time we invest. It’s all the little ways we stop and show concern. It’s the love we share with them: of learning. Of life. And most importantly, of people. 

And while we continually strive for excellence in our profession as these days of fiscal restraint and heavy top-down demands keep coming at us- relentless and quick. We need to stay the course. For ourselves and for our students. Because it’s the human touch that really matters. 

It’s you, their teacher, that really matters.

Truly – It takes a village

This article posted on the lovely site Good.Is caught my attention today:
Want to Transform Public Education? Act Locally.
The author suggests that parents really DO make a difference in their local schools when they visit campus, get to know the staff, come to understand the problem, and get involved in solutions.

 I see too many good people in Los Angeles who are afraid of our kids. They are afraid to send their kids to an unknown school. All these people really need is to be invited on to campus, take a look around, and put that fear aside. These are our children—why are people afraid?

So if you want to transform education, find a teacher who needs help. Get on to that campus. Have a simple clean up event with teachers, students, and parents all working together. Invite the village. Bring coffee. Tap into the good in people. It’s there, just waiting for an invitation. They are out there, just waiting to be invited

We all tend to care much more about institutions that we have invested personal effort into maintaining. What is handed to us cost-free, even work-free, is an institution that we feel free to walk away from.  
In my MEd coursework at Covenant, we read a book called Is There a Public for Public Schools? The author suggests that local school management, where parents and community members can have a greater say in the particular traditions, setup, and even moral outlook of a given school, has a much better chance of succeeding than a monolithic education policy driven from “above.” 
Media coverage of education makes the whole situation sound so dismal. But we really CAN make a difference in our schools. It’ll cost something, of course — the courage to know before we condemn, the willingness to invest in the lives of others, and the determination to focus on finding solutions rather than railing away at problems.

Discipline that Restores

“Restorative Practices”: Discipline but Different
from Education Weekly (URL)

Public schools are realizing that zero-tolerance discipline doesn’t work. If your goal is to educate students, then arbitrarily setting automatic penalties like suspensions and expulsions for what often takes place in much more nuanced situations forces principals to treat kids like criminals rather than emerging adults (if you’re dealing with teens).

I’m glad that the idea of discipline rooted in community, and within a positive teacher/student relationship, is coming to the fore.  Nothing is more powerful than a positive relationship. When a student and teacher have invested in one another, there’s something to lose if the relationship goes south. And the teacher begins to save up a significant pile of “relationship capital” that backs up her behavioral demands in the classroom.

“It’s about building relationships and having [students] do what you want them to do because they want to do it—not because they’re afraid of what the consequences are,” said Rhonda Richetta, the principal of City Springs, which has 624 students. “We really want kids to change.”

The article talks about “restorative discipline” as a new thing.  …. How have we come so far down this road of rule-based schooling?

The Law never works to change us into righteous people. All it can do is show us just how horrible we human beings are on the inside. 

Once you go relational, you’ll never go back.

Is it harder to discipline in grace, and teach relationally?  Well, that depends on how you define “hard.”  Loving another human being always costs something. Grace always costs the Giver.

But I think it’s a much better cost than the stress and negative emotion associated with trying to manage a classroom full of kids who don’t care for your lesson, your subject, or you.

Social Media & Education: Maintaining Healthy Relationships

Everytime I talk to a new teacher, the conversation always drifts to the question of student relationships and social media. Do we friend students on Facebook or Twitter? How do you maintain the proper “distance”? What about all those new laws in states like Missouri, banning students & teachers from online contact?

I wrote about it on my blog and I think it’s worth sharing in case other educators are wrestling with social media policy in a Grace-education context:

Social Media & Educators

A Better Social Media Policy for Educators