We have all spent time as students, and our teachers had their opinions of us. Some of those opinions may have been based in fact and some of them may have been based in their own prejudice and bias. As an educator, you have to practice what I call, “RAT”; Respect, Acceptance and Tolerance. We have to accept students for who they are, where they come from, and the circumstances of their life. We have to keep our personal bias and prejudice out of the classroom. If we do not we will, even if we don’t realize it, treat them in a way that may have a negative impact on the learning environment and their learning.
It is known that in order to learn, we have to take a risk. You are all taking a risk by enrolling in this class. According to Erikson’s “Stages of Social Development,” if the circumstances were positive, we developed a sense of autonomy during our toddler years. Autonomy is the feeling/belief that we can do things, we can take care of ourselves, and we can do for ourselves. The next stage which we enter around 3 is where we develop initiative. We try new things, we explore, and experiment. It is during both of these stages that we take many risks. These two things are major foundations for the learning process.
In order for us to feel confident and secure in taking risks, we have to feel safe. We have to be both physically and psychologically safe. Our students have to be relatively sure that their physical being is not in danger. Equally important is being psychologically safe. Students have to feel they will not be laughed at, made fun of, ridiculed or humiliated for their learning endeavors. Do you remember teachers who used some of these techniques in their teaching or allowed classmates to engage in these behaviors? If you look at Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” you will see that safety needs are the next level above basic food and shelter. It is up to us to make certain that we create this type of environment for our students. As a student, if you do not feel psychologically safe, you will eventually stop engaging in learning activities because it is “safer” that way, especially if you are student who struggles with academic endeavors. When this happens, learning fails to take place.
A major factor in feeling safe, and being willing to take risks lies in the relationship between teacher and student. Teachers have to work to develop a respectful, trusting relationship with students. The lack of this relationship is the cause of many difficulties in the classroom between teacher and student, as well as the lack of motivation and willingness to take learning risks. I can’t stress hard enough how important it is to respect your students, and develop a respectful relationship! Too many students are not spoken to in a respectful tone, and they are not treated in a respectful manner. I have been in countless classrooms and I listened to the way teachers have talked to students and I knew immediately why there are discipline issues; it’s because students were reacting to the way they were treated. We can’t expect them to cooperate, be kind to others, complete requests we make, and treat adults with respect if the adults in the room are not treating students the same way. I would hope you don’t go into the classroom with the “I’m the boss” attitude, and “You will do as I say”, because it will cause you some issues, I promise.
Part of treating students respectfully is listening to their ideas, concerns, and thoughts and being willing to compromise with them. Everything doesn’t always have to be done your way; sometimes they have better ideas. If you are willing to listen and make compromises, or change your ways based on what students say, you will find they will respect you and will be more productive members of the classroom.
Our goal is to share power with students. If we share power, we will create more self-sufficient, responsible students and we will discover there are less behavior problem to deal with. Children in the school age years have a great need to be productive, as well as have control over themselves and their world. Sharing control in the classroom fulfills this developmental need, and again, will help our classrooms run more productively. It also connects them to each other in many ways, and feeling connected is one of the pillars of a successful learning environment.
While human growth and development follows predictable patterns and stages, every human goes through the stages at a different rate. We may have a room full of eighth graders who are in various levels of development. This is particularly challenging for teachers in the elementary years. When I taught kindergarten, it was not uncommon for me to have children in three different levels of cognitive development and all in different places within those three levels. It’s important that we know the characteristics of each cognitive and social stage. It is only with this knowledge that we can truly understand our students and provide the best possible learning environment for them. Be sure to include a growth and development class in your education studies!
Our current knowledge on a subject forms the base for future learning. As educators, we take students where they are at and build on their current knowledge. When you are working with students, I want you to keep this idea of building on strengths and knowledge in mind. In education, we tend to look at areas a student is deficient in and try to “catch them up” or “bring them up to speed.” I would challenge you not to look at the weaknesses a student has; look at the strengths and build from there. The change of perspective will change what you do with the student and it will make a difference in how the student perceives themselves. If they have a more positive perception of their skills and abilities, you will find they are more willing to take risks. For example if we tell a student, “Your paragraphing skills are poor and we need to work on improving them”, we start the conversation with a negative and the student feels inadequate and this impacts self-esteem, and confidence, as well as motivation. However, if we tell the same student”, “Your writing contains new insights and ideas that are not often considered by others. One way we can improve on the understanding of those ideas, however, is to work on improving your paragraphing skills. We can work on that together”. You have now set a more positive tone and greater confidence in the student. Try not to get into the mindset of trying to “fix” what’s not working and work from the idea of “This is where the student is strong, and this is where I want to take them.” It will make a big difference in the student’s willingness to work hard, and in their success.
While our students will be at different levels of learning, they will have different learning needs and possess a variety of learning styles as well. They will also differ in many other ways. A few of these are:
- Family Structure
- Family’s beliefs on education
- How family values education
- Socioeconomic Status
- Background Knowledge/Experience
- Students receiving Special Education Services
- Students who are working above grade level in one or more area
One thing I want to caution you on is getting “wrapped up” in the bias and prejudices associated with these. If you do, you will not provide the best possible learning environment for students. Many times we have to really keep ourselves in check because these things have a way of creeping in and before we know it, they are influencing our practices. I also encourage you not to get involved in the teacher’s lounge discussions about children. It is one thing to make a statement about a student such as, “I have a student who is struggling with some of the classroom expectations. He has a difficult time keeping quiet while I am talking. Does anyone have a strategy I could try because what I have done is not working” and making a statement such as, “Max is making me nuts! He can’t keep quiet during instruction and every day it’s a battle. I am happy on the days he isn’t here!” The first statement keeps the child’s identity confidential and is seeking support. The second statement ridicules the student and makes his identity known to all. Teachers in grades ahead will be dreading Max because they know he is a problem. It also disrespectful and breaches confidentiality. Be respectful of your students, even in the teacher’s lounge and don’t get caught up in some of the negative talk that can take place.
Our classrooms will be very diverse in many ways, but one thing is almost certain, you will have students in your class who are receiving special education services. Prior to 1975, special education students were segregated into their own classrooms, or not even included in our neighborhood schools. In 1975, Public Law 94-142 created provisions for special needs students to be included into our schools. In 1990, it was amended and re-named the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” (IDEA) The law mandates that services be provided for students. Review the information on IDEA in the chapter, “School Laws and Organization”.
You may also have students in your classroom who are working above grade level in one subject area or more. The student who falls into this category, and is not challenged and given work at his/her level, may become a discipline problem in the classroom. Children who are bored quite often find themselves “getting into trouble.” Watch your students carefully. When you have children you know need an additional challenge, work with parents and other
professionals to provide the necessary experiences for them. You will add to their knowledge and skill base and you will also prevent classroom disruptions. We will look at these ideas more in-depth in coming weeks.
For many generations, we viewed intelligence as one dimensional. In 1983, Howard Gardner shattered this belief with his “Multiple Intelligences Theory.” He stated it is not a matter of “how smart” we are, but “how we are smart.” He viewed intelligence as the “ability to process information and produce ideas and products that contribute to society.” He proposed that instead of there being one “thing” known as intelligence, we actually possess several intelligences. There are nine currently outlined, and he acknowledged there were probably more that are unidentified. His theory states that we develop all of these enough to “get by” and some of them we will excel in.
The intelligences he outlined are:
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
- Verbal-linguistic intelligence (well-developed verbal skills and sensitivity to the sounds, meanings and rhythms of words)
- Logical-mathematical intelligence (ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical and numerical patterns)
- Spatial-visual intelligence (capacity to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly)
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (ability to control one’s body movements and to handle objects skillfully)
- Musical intelligences (ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timber)
- Interpersonal intelligence (capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others)
- Intrapersonal (capacity to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes)
- Naturalist intelligence (ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature)
- Existential intelligence (sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence such as, What is the meaning of life? Why do we die? How did we get here?
(Source: Thirteen ed online, 2004) Retrieved July 10, 2018 from https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/learning/howard_gardner_theory_multiple_intelligences.pdf
For more information, check out Howard Gardner’s website
The MI Theory had a major impact on education. It has been found that those intelligences we excel in are linked to our learning style. (Learning style is your preferred way to take in and process information.) Let’s look at a comparison. You have been given the task of putting together a desk. If “Verbal-Linguistic” is one of your higher intelligences, you need directions written out in word form, step by step. However, the person who has a high “Spatial” intelligence will benefit from picture directions. It’s not that either person isn’t “smart enough” to put the desk together, it’s that we each have one way that works better for us.
As an educator, we need to be aware of our students’ intelligences. If we know this, we can provide instruction that covers a variety of intelligences. This will help students learn the material in the way that benefits them the most. Let’s look at a very basic skill: learning colors. As a kindergarten teacher, colors were a concept I presented to my students. Using the color green, for example, I would design several learning activities centered on this color. Here are some examples:
- Painting with green; possibly a second station with blue and yellow so they can mix and make green
- Sorting green objects by a specific characteristic (Big or small)
- Learning a song about green
- Green play dough with utensils
- A strip of sod in the sensory table with scissors to cut the grass
- Green foods for snack
For a child who has a strong musical intelligence, the concept of green may become solidified with the song; a child who is strong in bodily-kinesthetic may have this concept solidified through the painting and play dough projects. A logical-mathematically strong child will benefit from the sorting project. If we look for ways to present information to our students that taps into as many intelligences as possible, we create a learning environment that is more student centered and will reach more students. Be aware, however, not every concept we teach will allow us to present information in a wide variety of ways. Some concepts lend themselves better to one form or another. Always keep this in mind and look to see if you can adapt, or be ready to give students the extra help they may need.
We all have our own “Learning Styles”. A “Learning Style” is our preferred way to take in and process information. Some of us are more visual learners; we have to see or read the information. Others are auditory, we need to hear the information. Our tactile and kinesthetic learners have to touch things and have movement involved in their learning endeavors. This is important information for you to know and for your students to know about themselves. If we can help our students understand their own learning style and where their stronger intelligences lie, we will be giving them a tremendous tool for all future learning. We can use the knowledge of their learning styles to design lessons that will allow them to work within their higher intelligences.
Please don’t ever forget this statement: “ALL STUDENTS CAN LEARN!” If you believe anything else, you will be doing a great disservice to your students!! Every student can learn. Here is what will vary; what they learn, how they learn and the pace at which they learn. You may have heard teachers say things such as, “Oh, he/she struggles all the time; I don’t expect him/her to really learn this,” or some other negative statement. Right from the start, the teacher does not have the child’s best interest at heart and is not giving the student the respect or chance he/she deserves. Our students will learn at different rates, they will learn more or less information than their peers and they may learn in various ways, but THEY ALL CAN LEARN!
Never make assumptions about students. It’s easy to look at a situation and make assumptions without really knowing the truth. When we do this, we are disrespectful to students, but we also run the risk of providing inappropriate experiences for children. Here are some common assumptions we see made:
- A student is disengaged in class. She doesn’t turn work in, and doesn’t participate in class. ASSUMPTION: She is lazy. This assumption can lead teachers to punish the student, give up on the student and have little expectations for them. This does not support the child in the learning process. There are many other things that could be the problem; the student doesn’t have the skills for the assignments, lack of understanding, an issue that has their mind focused somewhere else, even a sight or hearing problem. The reality is we have to know what is going on with the student in order to assist them. We can’t assume!
- The parents of one of your students never comes to conferences. You have tried to contact them, but you never seem to be able to connect with them. ASSUMPTION: The parents don’t care and are not vested in the child’s education. Parents have many expectations on them and sometimes it isn’t easy to have the time to come to school functions, or even connect with teachers. While we may believe that parents should make their child’s education a priority, the reality is that parents sometimes have to make hard choices and their may be other things, such as working, that take priority.
- One of your students does well in class, but he never turns in homework. You have extended due dates at times, but he still never seems to turn in the work. ASSUMPTION: He doesn’t care about school, and there must be something going on at home. It is possible this student has to work a job after school to help support the family, or a younger student may be in child care after school and then to a family member for care after that. The student may lack some of the skills to complete the work and there is no one at home who can help him.
In all of these scenarios, and there are many more, if we make an assumption about what is happening chances are that we are going to be wrong. If we are wrong, then we will probably handle the issue in an inappropriate manner and it will not benefit the student. Again, find out what is happening and work with the information you gain from the student.
It would be nice if all of our students came to school with no outside concerns, worries, negative influences or having experienced indifference to education, however, that’s not the real world. For some of our students, school is the least of their concerns. How do we help students learn when they are dealing with a multitude of outside concerns and differences. The big key is awareness and “RAT.”
One of the biggest influences on a student is the family. There are a wide variety of family structures in our society today. The current state of our economy has placed a financial burden on many families. The structure of a family, the expectations they have for their children, the economic and social climate that they live under and the overall well being of the family will influence a child’s performance in school. It is our responsibility to be aware of situations and help students work and deal with them, not ridicule or punish because of circumstances. We have to respect families for what they are, accept and tolerate their ideas, values and circumstances even if we don’t agree. Here is another place where we have to push our bias and prejudices aside and look at what’s best for the student. For example, a child goes to day care every day after school and in the evening he/she is cared for by grandparents because one or more parents work. We would want to look closely at any homework we might consider sending home. Chances are this child is not going to have the opportunity, or the support, to get it done. Sending it anyway sets the student up for failure from the start. We might have to modify our practices to accommodate this child. Being a teacher is not easy! If you think it is, I suggest you look for another career. I don’t want you to be disappointed later. In order to do the best for our students, we often have to go the extra mile, change many of our practices, and look for ways to accommodate students and their situations.
The community in which you teach and the children live will have an influence on them, as well as on what happens in your classroom. The society in which we live will also influence what happens. We have to be aware of the values and expectations of the community in which we teach. Not only that, but we have to share those same values and expectations. If we do not, then we need to consider teaching somewhere else. Some of the concerns facing our children today are:
- Economic Status
- Immigration and Cultural Concerns
- Substance Abuse
- Child Abuse
- Sexual Concerns
- School Violence
- Drop Out
Our job would be much easier if our students lived in a perfect world and we taught in it as well. That is not reality. As educators, we have to recognize that our students have many outside influences that will impact their performance in school. As we move through the remainder of the semester, we will be talking more about the students in our classrooms and what we can do to provide them with positive learning experiences. Your classroom will most likely be a very diverse place, but please remember to keep your bias and prejudices out of your work with students. Take the time to know students; their likes/dislikes, their strengths/weaknesses, learning styles, higher intelligences, outside influences (family, church, extracurricular activities) and always practice the concepts of “Respect, Acceptance and Tolerance.” We have to find the best way to help our students deal with those outside factors AND help them learn at the same time. Again, it’s not an easy task. At times it will take all of the patience and energy we have. However, I will tell you, it is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have!
Modified from “Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment”, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0