Reading the words of John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience…We learn from reflecting on experience.”, I give myself constant reminders to be reflective in my practice. Reflecting led me to really evaluate some things in my classroom.
A few weeks ago, I had a challenging week. Probably the most challenging week as far as behaviors, in several years. It came in the form of disrespectful behaviors, classroom disruptions whether it was students talking out loudly, exchanging words, or other similar interruptions. I really tried to work through these, with the students, patiently and with every possibly method I could think of. I wanted to push forward and in another post, I explain what happened, but for now, these are the lessons that I have learned. And this is how I reflected and did what I needed to do, to restore balance in my classroom.
I am not one to yell in class, in fact, over the 21 years teaching in my current school, maybe there have been 7 or 8 times that I have really yelled. Whether that is good or bad, not going to decide, but I can say these were not the best reactions in my years of teaching. However they have led me to take time to really reflect and remember a couple of things.
1) I am the adult and my role is to provide a supportive, engaging place for students to learn, to feel welcome and to thrive.
2) I don’t always know what’s going on in the lives of the students beyond my classroom and so their behaviors may be a result of something happening throughout the day or in their home or social life.
3) I cannot know everything but if I don’t take the time to get to know something about them, that is doing them a disservice.
So I did yell. It felt awful. I myself further disrupted the learning environment, and for this, I also apologized. I shared this experience with some friends and was asked several times, “why” and “to whom?”
I apologized to my class and to each of the students to whom I yelled, because I did not handle it well. I myself further disrupted the learning and had an effect or impact on not just that student, but on everyone in the classroom. So it was a trying week because I had to really take a hard look at myself and my responses to some situations that I could have handled differently. I could have handled them better. I should have. But I am very open about the fact that I am a work in progress, that I make mistakes and I will own my mistakes and grow from them.
It took a few days for me to really shake off that negative energy and that is an awful feeling. But I did that myself, it was my choice to act, how to handle it and I definitely could have handled it better. I should have handled it better. A lesson learned, a new focus and a new reminder to think before acting and speaking.
Practice patience, use kind words and show empathy.
Teaching is hard sometimes. We can have lesson plans ready, very detailed objectives on the board, every material and activity ready for the students for the day, but one slight ripple ,one small interruption, can completely change the course of even the most perfect plans.
Rita Pierson said “Every kid needs a champion” and even in her math class, when one of her students had missed 18 out of 20 questions on a test, she wrote a plus two. Why? She said because that looks better than a -18 and it tells the student “you got two right and are on your way”. It sends a positive message. We need to be the positive for the students. We may be the only positive they have each day.
So avoid the negative, focus on relationships, reflection and constant growth. It starts with us and we make an impact, and we may never know how large of an impact we make, from the smallest interaction.
So make every moment matter, because the students matter, and we need to be their champion. Even when they push back, push back harder with kindness.
Thanks to Sylvia Duckworth for this amazing image.