“This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”
I paused this morning, a much needed stop after a week of tremendous pressure and workload. As the world passed by around me, I began to wonder about former students. Those I have impacted, shared with, and taught. How much of an effect did I really have? How often do we, as educators, see what they become? And it reminded me of a message received out of the blue before Christmas.
A young man from my time in the classroom had found me. Not only had he found me, he had taken the plunge and reached out, with words that after three months of contemplating, have inspired me to take a moment to reflect on the effect we have on those we teach.
How often do we take for granted the connections made in our learning environments? It is not until they no longer feature in our everyday lives that we begin to realise how powerful they are. Not just for the students we guide and watch grow, but for us as professionals. The personal connections and depth to which we connect to students continues to evolve and change as the locus of control shifts and the need to understand the learner on multiple levels becomes increasingly important. Emotions are integral to learning as recognised in the OECD Report The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice (2010).
“Learning results from the dynamic interplay of emotion, motivation and cognition, and these are inextricably intertwined.” (pg 6, OECD 2010)
It stands to reason that as our practice evolves to reflect some or all of the seven principles outlined in the report, and to ensure that learners remain firmly at the centre of their learning, we are literally going to change lives. But do we realise we’re doing it?
I remember the young man who contacted me very fondly. He was an incredible learner who struggled academically but connected easily. He showed more empathy than any student I have ever taught, more kindness and openness than I’ve seen in the majority of my own peers and friends. He was a genuine enigma. And I knew. I knew I had bonded with him and shaped the way he saw the world. Although incredibly grateful for his kind words and thoughts, I knew the connection we formed in a very close knit class, perhaps the closest and certainly the most challenging class I’ve taught, as it stretched my practice and pedagogy, to a realm I’d not previously contemplated or experienced, was one I wouldn’t forget. I will forever be humbled at how such an incredible student let me share his world. Perhaps, in time, I will even find the words to explain that he ‘changed MY life far more than he will ever realise.
Making time for what counts
Our classrooms are often an extension of our personality and passion. We take great pride in the displays we create to show students how fantastic their learning is. The vibrancy, colour, and time invested all directly link to the individual ethos and commitment of the teacher. One look at teacher groups on social media shows just how committed New Zealand educators are to making a difference. Whether photos of displays and excited teachers looking forward to meeting their new students, or others sharing tips and bargains knowing just how much we spend from our own pockets every year, the drive and desire to create purposeful, meaningful, and engaging spaces has never been more evident. But, in the end it comes down to the one factor: that all teachers have always been short on — time.
Our current challenge is to find enough time to spend collaborating or engineering co-operative structures so our learners can expand their social behaviours and find new commonalities. Through deliberate acts of teaching and a range of strategies, we shape students’ learning behaviours, the way they approach new situations, and even how they respond to failure. We do everything we can to create collaborative, connected, lifelong learners and we do it while expertly delivering knowledge or facilitating opportunities to explore. It takes ages, and we never feel like we’ve finished…
So, sometimes we need to stop, to take a break from worrying about achievement objectives and curriculum coverage, and just look at the effect we have. The words we use with our learners last a lifetime. We need to take time to listen and teach our students to learn from their mistakes, whilst balancing the need to let them digest them at their own pace. We need to focus on the opportunities for learning or support given to their individual inquiries. It all starts with how we connect.
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