About two weeks ago I was conducting a training with educators discussing the most important changes that they saw as needing to happen in their schools. It was a conversation that covered many of the issues that surrounded communities with low socioeconomic statuses; which is the reason, they explained, there is a multitude of academic and behavioral struggles. The conversation covered our responsibilities as educators go well beyond that of simply being teachers, but that we have to teach our students social consciousness while teaching them skills and habits to lead successful lives. As we finished our conversation, I asked the question “When our students leave us, will they fall, survive, or thrive?”
There was no initial response, however, I was surprised to hear a first-year teacher in the room shatter the silence by rebutting, “That’s not my problem!” He then went on to explain that students were more interested in roaming the hallways with their “buddies” instead of coming to his class and learning; students’ focus was on their cell phones, more than their homework. And their parents, their parents were indifferent, uneducated, and even more disrespectful than their children. “Those kids should leave and allow the ones who want to learn to learn!” He exclaimed.
“Wow,” I thought. “I can’t believe that he said that aloud.” I was even more surprised that none of the veteran teachers corrected this response; they audibly agreed. At this point, I started to wonder about the relationships that teachers had with students, the experiences of teachers, students, and parents, and the mindset that has been adopted that contributed to this cold uninhabitable environment. I started to see why all the stakeholders may potentially be struggling; the mindset created an environment of helplessness, dysfunction, and the bleak dystopian world.
I tried to respond in a loving and calm manner, but I have to be honest with you and say that the teachers; responses really started to get under my skin. But my explanation had to model the behavior that we needed to explore. I advised them to view students from a standpoint of empathy; reminding them that in order for our schools to be successful, we have to be supportive and less supervisory (Jensen, 2009).
What we have to understand is that in our schools, environment matters even more than academics do. It sounds insane, I know, but what we know based on research that the toxicity of an environment leads to toxic results. As educators, we are the facilitators of positive, supportive environment. Many of us think that culture is the start of good schools, however, in order to get to a positive culture and prepare students to thrive when we release them into the world, creating a supportive environment is the first step.
Start with looking inside of yourself…
Let’s be real, we have to be honest with ourselves to really dissect the expectations that we have set for students, and the what we expect from students. Self-Reflection is the first step to building positive environments for our students.
Adjust the language that is used and create commonalities among the staff.
Proverbs 18:21 says “Life and Death are in the power of the tongue.” Now I don’t mean to get all biblical on you, but we also know that research suggests that when we shift our language from pity to empathy, or from condemning to encouraging, students will appreciate your efforts and reciprocate (Jensen, 2009). In greater understanding, it takes 5 positive comments to replace 1 negative comment. So imagine how many negative comments students have had in their lives, and we can see how much work we have to do. They are not “those kids,” they are “our kids.” This shift shows that we care about them and that we take responsibility for what happens to them.
Understand what emotions are hardwired and which need to be taught…
Educate yourself on emotional intelligence to understand when students come to us, they are a work in progress. What I mean is that the only emotions we are born with are sadness, joy, disgust, anger, surprise, and fear. Emotions like empathy, patience, shame gratitude, compassion etc. are behaviors that need to be taught (Jensen, 2009). Because we have more than likely been taught these behaviors it is our responsibility to pass them on to our students.
Teaching is certainly hard work, but our jobs are to ensure that we are the solutions and that we are not perpetuating the issues. As we continue to explore this topic more, we will explore how to get students to change their behaviors by focusing on methods of rewiring their brains unlocking potentials that they had no idea they had.