We Are the Champions, My Friends
We live in a world that needs hope. The more years I spend with students, the more I see it, feel it, and know it deeply. When students come to class without curiosity, with more negativity inside than positivity, I feel the blows. We talk a lot about fixing the system from grading practices to improving school culture, and yet too many students are disengaged, merely entertained, or so miserable that they couldn’t be engaged no matter what you did. However, fear not: all is not hopeless. There are a number of things we can do as educators immediately, tomorrow, to shine your own brand of light into the darkness where some students continually dwell.
And We’ll Keep on Fighting ‘Til the End
As a my friend and preacher reminded me recently, to have compassion, you need to SEE & ACT. It isn’t enough to just see the problem and then form committees, look for curriculum, and hold meetings. We must see AND act. A curriculum, no matter how good, will not reach those students who are in desperate need of some hope. The reason we can’t buy a one sized fits all miracle curriculum is that the lack of hope for each student is widely varied. Some are survivors or are surviving trauma. Others struggle with self- regulation. Some are stressed by their workload for a variety of reasons. Some don’t want to be at school at all, and they certainly aren’t interested in whatever content you are bringing them each morning. So what can we do? Well, a lot with just a little bit of effort, as it turns out.
We Are the Champions
I’m a firm believer in the power of positive self talk, so indulge me here. Take some or all of these and absorbed them into your mantra to finish the year strong. Find the dark corners in your students’ lives and shine a light. It may seem like a dim or non existent light at times, but keep it going. Our students are worth it. Here are some flashlights to use when you find those dark places:
I am so glad you are here today! Mark them tardy if you must, but there’s no reason to belittle them or chastise them for it. Enquire from a caring standpoint to get information.
Just breathe. Stop and take a deep breath. Count to 4 or 5 as you inhale, hold it for a second or two. Now count to four as you release that breath. Good. Do it again. Life gets overwhelming for all of us. We can’t know everything that goes on with our students when they leave our rooms. We can’t know how they process and internalize things that are said to them or done to them each and every day. Telling a kid to “suck it up, buttercup” if their reaction isn’t what you feel appropriate won’t help them get a handle on the issue. I am guilty of saying this with a smile, but I will be careful going forward in how I use that or the sentiment behind it when dealing with my students.
Let’s Move. Some students and adults feel stress and anxiety manifesting in the need to move. Littles may show this through a need to get the wiggles out. Older students may roam around your room, fidget, disrupt with tapping their feet or objects in their hands, etc. So do everyone a favor and let them move. Build a few transitions in or activities that will require movement. It beats constantly getting on to or having to raise your voice at your students for not being in their seats and working. I feel my stress level rising at times like that and have to remember to take a deep breath, then get them moving.
Smile. Genuinely smile at each student as you greet them or before you begin class. Look the student in the eye and smile. It’s amazing what that simple act can do to students and adults who are desperately trying to navigate the dark.
Contact. The need for human touch doesn’t go away once we are no longer infants. Our brain needs that contact in order to thrive. No, I’m not telling you to do something that will land you in a lawsuit. Please don’t do anything that will make a student (or adult) uncomfortable. High fives, fist bumps, handshakes, and things of that nature help students get the human touch they need daily. Research suggests that our need for human touch affects our compassion, health, bonding, and more.
We Are the Champions
Those are just the tip of the iceberg on ways to ACT on needs you SEE in your classroom, hallways, buildings daily. Our job is not to judge but to love. Our job is not to punish, but to teach. Things aren’t the way they were when we grew up and they never will be again. There’s no sense in being upset that we have a lot more on our plates because today’s students need a lot more from us, the educators who spend hours with them daily. If a student needs a pencil, hand them one. It won’t be the end of the world, and you haven’t ruined that child’s chance of becoming a responsible adult. We often feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, but it’s okay. You gave a student what he or she needed in the moment though, and if you smiled and were happy to give them that pencil, then a little more light has pierced their darkness.
Arm yourself with as many social emotional learning strategies as you can. Become trauma informed so that you can help students find that sense of having their needs met enough that they can now absorb your content. Just making them feel safe and not despised will go a long way. Everyone of us has a flashlight that can pierce the darkest places that our students walk into our rooms with each day. Even set on the dimmest setting, you can make a difference. My challenge to you is to up the brightness setting on that flashlight during these last weeks or months of school. Don’t forget to turn it inward as well. We need that light of hope too. Deep breath. Let’s do this.