A [new] mindset: Love at the seat of learning

May 4, 2020

 

 

“You may not be remembered by your students for what you taught them,

but rather for how you taught them, and for the feelings you engendered in them.” 

(Mackay, Jenny, 2006)

 

 

Since the night I first read that sentence, I’ve dedicated my teaching to making my students aware of my love for them, so that they could feel safe and good about themselves in order to achieve high success rates. Humans can only thrive in a loving environment, and Love is the seat of learning. So, I set out to find what true loving means, and that’s how I came to read All About Love: New Visions (2001), by the American professor and activist bell hooks.

 

She begins by defending that love is an action, a choice; thus, requiring effort and decision-making. Then, she reflects on the work of M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled, 1978) and shares his definition: “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Finally, she explores the aspects of loving, which are: affection, respect, recognition, commitment, trust, care, as well as open and honest communication.

 

But then came the question: how can we relate all of this to our role as educators? Having in mind the definition of pedagogy, “the theory and practice of teaching, learning, and assessment” (Sharples et al, 2012)”, I curated some strategies and practical tips that would help me apply this “love” mindset with my students. Below are some of my findings.

 

OPEN AND HONEST COMMUNICATION 

 

Students unconsciously assess a teacher’s ability to communicate and set clear guidelines; therefore, it is vital we learn to give effective feedback. Also, it’s a great tool for assessment for learning. Here are the basics (Brookhart, 2008):

  • Establish, from the first class, a culture of accepting suggestions for improvement by having a group discussion.

  • Give feedback students can use now and provide new opportunities for practice.

  • Focus your feedback on the qualities of the work or the process and strategies used (avoid comments such as “Great” without clear evidence – otherwise, pupils may feel patronized)

  • Prioritize – what students need to improve now to achieve the major learning goal.

  • Choose positive words that position the student as the agent.

Examples: 

 

1) This essay has more evidence than the previous one. Great! And I really liked some of your word choices, like “a major turning point” and “baffled”. Next time, how can you paragraph your text, so it flows smoothly?

 

2) Your text is clearly supported by facts and examples. Also, there are some effective use of the target language, like “on the other hand” and “In a nutshell”. Next class, I’d love to know if you agree or disagree with the main issue.

 

Why are these examples of effective feedback?

 

CARE & RESPECT

 

Another thing students assess is your ability to control and empathize. Our role is to teach them how to right their wrongs and give them a chance to do it better next time; or, to show them we see they are hurt and that we care. Blaming or criticizing will only shut off students from what really matters: learning. Therefore, it is important to choose our words wisely. Below, you will see two rubrics that may prove useful when redirecting misbehavior. Their use guarantees that you redirect your students without letting them lose face in front of the others; thus, helping you gain their respect.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication (2007) recommends we focus on Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests to foster compassion. The stems vary depending on whom educators may choose to focus.

 

 

 

Another useful rubric is one that takes your student’s feelings into consideration. Acknowledging feelings helps build relationships, but only if you can show it genuinely through body language (and repeated, consistent actions). (Mackay, Jenny, 2006)

 

E.C.A. - Empathy, Content, Action

 

Empathy - I can see that you’re very tired from your swimming classes...

Content - … but there’s work to be done.

Action - ...So, why don’t you take some time, go drink some water, and when you come back, if you need, I can help you.

 

Note: This may be done in your student’s mother tongue.

 

AFFECTION & RECOGNITION

 

Affirmative actions are crucial to boost self-esteem and foster a safe learning environment. But its scope of influence falls within the feedback field, as well. Therefore, I won’t be diving into it here.

 

Nonetheless, a few words on that:

 

● When giving feedback on the acceptable behaviour, be specific - “That’s nice of you to help your friends” (to a student who avoids offering a helping hand)

● Do not over-praise - every single student can surprise you with their achievements. If you keep on over-praising, students will take that as being fake.

● Give positive feedback on minor achievements too - if a student never brings a pencil but one day shows up with one, do acknowledge that.

 

Another way to ensure there is affection and recognition in the classroom is by peer-observation. Encourage your students to highlight something positive that their friends did during class. Model how to use the prompt “Today I saw…”, such as in “Today I saw my friend Bruno helping with the homework correction”, or “Today I saw Lucas playing fair”. Bear in mind the importance of having clear expectations established before so students can refer to them when sharing their observations.

 

COMMITMENT & TRUST

 

Students should be trusted with their own learning and that includes metacognitive skills, such as planning, monitoring, evaluating and prioritizing their learning behaviour. (Cambridge Assessment) The thing is, they are often not trained in these skills and are penalized for it. 

 

We’ve all had that student who often hands in assignments late. But have you stopped to think that she might be struggling with organization skills? Having a discussion with the whole class about the different ways of planning their schedule will be productive in the long-term.

 

Analyzing these needs will surely help you with frequent pedagogical and administrative issues.

 

There must be hundreds of other strategies out there. This is just a start. So, keep a log of what worked and what didn’t. Share the ideas with fellow teachers. If you see your students as whole beings, needing to love and be loved, I’m certain you’ll keep on building healthier and stronger relationships with them -- which will surely boost learning and cooperation in the classroom.

 

Asking your mentor for help is also essential. But the most important tips are:

 

● Love yourself.

● Students will often raise your ire: be prepared. If you ever lose your cool, that’s ok. Students will derive benefit from seeing that you also make mistakes but are ready to make things right without losing self-respect.

● Know that you’re not a therapist (or their parents). Know your limits.

 

Having these pillars (affection, respect, recognition, commitment, trust, care, as well as open and honest communication) in mind may help you plan your professional development and put students at the center of your decisions.

 

References and Suggested Readings

 

Brookhart, Susan M. How to give effective feedback to your students. (2008)

 

Cambridge Assessment International Education. Getting started with Metacognition. Accessed on May 06, at https://cambridge-community.org.uk/professional-development/gswmeta/index.html

 

Mackay, Jenny. Coat of many pockets: managing classroom interactions. 2006

 

Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., Mor, Y., Gaved, M. and Whitelock, D. (2012). Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

 

The Center for Nonviolent Communication. An Introduction to Nonviolent Communications, 2007.

 

 

João Paixão possui 10 anos de experiência em diversas metodologias, e atualmente trabalha para Cultura Inglesa S.A. em Vila Velha/ES. Como parte do seu desenvolvimento profissional, possui os certificados de Cambridge TKT (II, III e CLIL) e CPE e atualmente está na fase final de seu MBA em Administração, Finanças e Geração de Valor (PUCRS). Suas pesquisas focam em alcançar todos os alunos.

 

 

 

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