My youngest child is in his 12th week of kindergarten, and I have to admit I get a bit anxious for him. This is not my first rodeo; my oldest is in 2nd grade, and I have been teaching for 12 years, but like me- he has some academic struggles. When you are a student that struggles, school can be a very scary place to go every single day. As I reflect on my years growing up, I do not have a lot of fond memories of school. I was a well behaved student (I think), but nothing came naturally to me. It was HARD! I remember being in the lowest reading groups, being pulled into small tutoring rooms, memorizing flash cards of definitions and math facts. Most of all, I remember the feeling of pure hostility that would bubble up from my stomach when we would line up for math facts or when numbering our papers for spelling tests.
School was a place where I was different from my friends, a place I had to work 10 times harder than everyone else just to be mediocre.
There were just a handful of teachers that I remember that ever made me feel like I was NOT different or dumb or a bad kid because I didn’t understand right away. These teachers brought Joy to the classroom by truly building a relationship with me, allowing me to experience the world, teaching me to believe in myself and my dreams, and valuing me as a learner.
I want so much for my son to experience teachers who really care for him and nurture his way of learning like these 5 teachers did for me. If you are a teacher or even a parent looking for ways to nurture your classroom of learners no matter their ability- here are 4 that affected me (in no particular order).
- Emotional Consistency- Positive framing and Precise Praise
An emotional consistent teacher earns a student’s trust. First, students need to be able to figure out for themselves how to behave or react without watching the teacher explode. Second, your mood dictates the room; if you are grumpy, the room will be grumpy.
School was a very emotional place for me, and the last thing I needed was a teacher on an emotional rollercoaster getting frustrated with me every time I struggled.
Positive Framing allows the teacher to narrate the world they want students to see and be in. For example, instead of saying ‘don’t run’ a teacher could simply just say, ‘please use your walking feet.’ A great way to express the behavior you want to see and NOT the behavior you don’t want to see. – keeping things positive.
keep praise differentiated,
Praise Fluently -3:1- praise vs corrections
Praise Loud, fix soft,
The classroom I remember feeling the safest in was in my 2nd grade classroom. She was warm, nurturing and positive. I never felt threatened by redirection or corrections. This was a wonderful place to learn- probably one of the last places in school where I felt that way.
2. The J-Factor- JOY
These teachers are those that express their passion, energy, enthusiasm, fun and humor every single day for their work. A joyful classroom is a key factor in high-achieving classrooms. When students feel your Joy for learning, you download that joy onto them which makes it hard to see school as anything but fun. These teachers are creative, passionately expressive, enthusiastic about the books they are sharing and reading in class, make the individual student feel important but also find ways to bring a class together, and allow laughter and fun into the learning.
I was not a reader growing up. Words on a page made my head hurt. Now, I am a collector, a reader, a passionate advocate for children’s literature. I owe all of that to a teacher who, through his passion for books, taught me how to DIG deep into a story and pull back all of its layers to find meaning.
3. Realia and Purposeful learning
Realia is the idea of bringing in ‘Real-life’ into the classroom; food, videos, people, artifacts, photographs etc…
Struggling students tend to lack the prior knowledge needed to truly comprehend. These real experiences allow for more relevant and meaningful learning to occur. Building a student’s schema through concrete experiences and artifacts allows for stronger neuron connections and mastered understanding of a concept.
Purposeful learning is learning that is applied. When students can engage in their newfound knowledge through presentations, projects, expressive outlets, etc.. they connect on a much deeper level to the information. Educators know that students learn through many different modalities- realia and purposeful application With that, students are able to master the objectives.
I remember looking forward to projects and presentations. I had middle school teachers who understood this very well. One year we created a courtroom where I got to play a lawyer, and I remember staying up late with my mom writing my Closing Statement. I also remember getting my picture on the Wall of Fame for a project I completed. These creative outlets allowed me to shine and show teachers what I was made of!
4. Normalize Errors
“Getting it wrong and then getting it right is one of the fundamental processes for schooling. Respond to both, the wrong and the right, as completely normal.”- Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion
“The Power of… Yet” has become a public school anthem, along with Grit, and growth mindset. It is within these ideas that support EFFORT in students, not only to try their best or try beyond what they think they are capable of but never giving up even when it gets hard. The best way to learn is from our mistakes and our failures- and the Champion teacher encourages this every single day, every single moment.
I had two teachers that believed in me more than I ever believed in myself. Their growth mindset FOR me drove me toward solos, toward auditions and acting roles I never would have thought I deserved. I am grateful for these teachers because they gave me self-confidence, confidence I never had in my academic classrooms.
When I became a teacher, I wanted my classroom to be a place my students felt safe; safe to learn, safe to struggle, safe to be themselves but, most of all, I wanted to be their Champion. I can’t tell you that I always succeeded, but I hope they knew I cared for them. I am intensely passionate about teaching and the HUGE responsibility that comes with it. My years in school made me the teacher/coach I am today. But, I hope that school is a place for your children (and my own) to be encouraged, to be nurtured and cared for, and to feel safe to struggle.