When you tap into the hearts and minds of each student you can foster a culture of respect. You will observe increased student engagement when each student feels valued and heard.
Learning is more than a cognitive journey. In the 21st century classroom it must also be a journey of the heart. Unfortunately many students guard their hearts so closely that they often seem disassociated with experiences before them. My goal is to help students harness the powerful dichotomy of intellect and emotion by developing essential character strengths. I often find myself consumed with behavioral and academic outcomes, and find I rarely step back to get the larger view of the dynamics of my classroom. I took a moment to pause.
When I observed with my heart this is what I found…
The other day I was facilitating a class project, and I took a moment to step back to observe student interaction. I put down my clipboard and stopped collecting data about student behaviors. As the analytic purpose of my observations slipped away, I shifted to an emotional connection to all that was good.
Take a Moment to Appreciate Progress
When I tapped into my own heart to view the hearts of the students, I was in awe. My students came to me at the beginning of the year with a broad range of collaborative abilities. They were able to complete the work for the sake of completion, interact enough to understand tasks, but the quality of work and the purpose for participation was limited.
There was limited invest of the heart or the mind.
Students Matter to Students
What I saw as I paused to soak up their growth was this:
•Student had a genuine interest in the value they were bringing to their learning teams.
•They sincerely wanted to learn from their learning partners.
•They supported and guided one another…, and yes,
•They even listened to one another with a hunger for understanding.
Practiced Behaviors Develop Skills
As my gratitude and appreciation deepened, I heard one student say to his teammate, “I think you might be on to some thing there, but I’m not sure I’m following you. Can you tell me more to help me understand your thoughts?” The other student began expounding his thoughts to clarify the conclusion he drew about the character in literature. Wow…
Reflecting on Growth is Important
This type of conversation was peppered throughout the room, and I was delighted. I took a moment to pause and listen from the heart. These students have developed communication skills based on an authentic desire to grow not only themselves, but raise up another in the process. Our intutition tell us we need to balance teacher instruction with student engagement in order to meet the needs of the whole child. But, are we mindful of the heart as we consider outcomes, planning, and data?
Students Deserve to be Recognized
By no means am I leading to the conclusion that their current level of interpersonal skills and level of engagement were about me. I give students 100% of the credit. My students are amazing! They have been a determined bunch of students who became invested as the year progressed, even when the standards were continually challenging.
Express the Gratitude You Want to See
As a way to share my sentiment with the students, I offered them expressed gratitude and admiration for their efforts and achievements thus far in the year. No physical gift presented, only my sincere emotional response. This heart to heart talk allowed students to hear my deep appreciation for their contributions and their presence in my classroom. Their reaction was one of shock. Here were some responses.
•”Ms. Beck, no one has ever said that to us before.”
•”Thanks for telling us nice things.”
•”Does this mean we’re your favorite class?”
•”Ms. Beck, we appreciate you, too. That’s why this class is fun.”
The heart-felt connection is a powerful vehicle for growth. If every student can experience a sense of belonging and value, the culture in a classroom shifts. Rather than being individuals in a group, they become contributors to their community.
Focus on What Matters
I will say, there are some strategies I have used to build a learning culture that emphasizes respect, understanding, and contributing. Beyond tolerance, these students have expanded their social perspective of self. Unlike what I saw at the beginning of the year, they are now bringing value to others. This is an integral part of their learning.
Tips to Foster a Culture of Respect
1.Establish three foundational values that direct the climate in the classroom.
2.Discuss these values often and link them to learning.
3.Learn about individual student’s interests.
4.Ask questions about their areas of interests.
5.Edify individual students when interacting in the classroom.
6.Encourage students to edify others.
7.Learn about their top 5 character strengths.
8.Post relevant character strengths in the classroom.
9.Have students create biographical review of another student.
10.Facilitate a class discussion reflecting weekly behavioral progress.
11.Offer leadership roles to students each week/month/quarter.
12.Reveal some of your interested to the students.
13.Make Reference to character strengths you are developing.
14.Express appreciation and gratitude to your students.
15.Encourage students to express appreciation and gratitude regularly.
Remember the Heart at the Beginning of the Year
Start your year off with an investment in relationships building. Intentionally include getting to know activities and sharing opportunities in the first few weeks of school. focus on character strengths, not just academics.
Some direct instruction and student contribution will foster ownership while you collaborate to establish shared values with your class. When you share explicit behavioral expectations, it helps establish boundaries. Encourage students to share ideas, as well. During this process, model the desire to gain understanding from their contributions.
Leading with your heart and being the character you want to see in your classroom allows students to model and apply those behaviors until they become character strengths that serve themselves and others as well.
Please Share Your Thoughts
I would live to hear a “story of the heart” that inspired you and your students. Please share. Your story might be just the inspiration that recharges someone else!