Originally this installment of Teach it Forward was going to offer my take on how to foster independence and promote stamina in the classroom. Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot from teachers about these two topics and the challenge they present. The struggle to create a classroom filled with autonomous students who can sustain purposeful learning seems to be universal. As I captured my thoughts about how to help teachers, I came up with a list of creative strategies that worked for me over the years. Along with my repertoire of ideas, I sprinkled in lots of encouragement and upbeat advice such as “Look for what you want to see in your students… the rest will follow.”
However, after sitting with my words for a few days, I realized that my attempt to simplify such a complex undertaking would likely only make matters worse for teachers. How could one brief article adequately address something so perplexing and yet so essential as fostering independence and stamina in the classroom? The answer to this predicament came from a wise colleague who recently chatted with me about the distress teachers face when it seems impossible to develop self-driven and engaged learners. She suggested we all do a bit of soul searching by starting with the heart, not the head, to find the answers to these questions:
- What are my beliefs about how my classroom should operate?
- What is my “why” for being a teacher?
- How do the kids know that I care, that I am passionate?
The Little Prince reminds us of the important role the heart plays in understanding what lies below the surface. We must be willing to be vulnerable with our students if we want them to be vulnerable with us. As mentioned in the column “Food for Thought” a few months ago, I believe reaching the heart is a prerequisite for reaching the head. Before we can enable students to be independent learners for extended periods of time, it is crucial to convince them that what is invisible to the eye is what matters most.
It starts with the first of four components from Culturally Responsive Teaching (Teaching Tolerance), referred to as The 4 Rs, which is relationships.
From there, we strengthen connections with students by bringing realness, the second of the 4 Rs, into our lessons.
Next, we consider the relevance of what we teach to make sure students see the “why” of what we are asking them to do.
And, finally, we infuse rigor, the fourth and final “R,” into our teaching as we strive for high expectations of all kids.
Which favorite teacher comes to mind when you think of The 4 Rs? I easily return to 6th grade and fondly recall my very best teacher, Mrs. Frett. Although I cannot remember one standard or learning objective that she taught me, I can easily recall several meaningful conversations we had more than 40 years ago. Her secret was simple: she focused on our hearts before going after our heads.
In the words of beloved poet and writer, Maya Angelou, “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”