Superheroes among us...

With the start of a new school year, as always, I find myself reflecting more than usual. Normally, I reflect on the day, the week, a lesson, how I could go back and reteach a concept, how to improve a procedure, etc., but the last few weeks has left me reflecting about more than just day-to-day occurrences. My mind has been overwhelmed with thoughts about the extreme amount of power teachers possess.

I think we, as educators, are so bombarded with responsibilities that we sometimes forget why we walk into our school building each day. Unbelievably, it's not to increase test scores (I wonder if I'll think that when April rolls around!). Nor is it to "make kids learn." It's to use the power we have at our fingertips in ways that will help children succeed.. not just in our class, but in life. It sounds so simple.

Teachers have a power like no other profession. We, single-handedly, have the power to help children see and value their own worth. We have the ability to increase self-esteem, celebrate differences, guide children in their thoughts of themselves, the world, their peers....I could go on and on. The amount of power we have is immeasurable. Yet, I don't often see teachers using their power to its full potential, if they're even using it at all...

Meanwhile, children have a superpower of their own and they're using it constantly-like superheroes in the flesh. Children have the uncanny ability to detect authenticity from deception. Think about that. As adults, we often worry about whether or not someone "likes" us based on something they said, something they did, how they spoke to us, et cetera. And kids are figuring all of that out within a matter of minutes.

Usually, when people talk to teachers about this idea, they say "reach before you teach!" Reach before you teach? It sounds like reaching a kid is something you can easily do at the beginning of the year and call it a day. But reaching students is an ongoing process... something that has to be cultivated over time. I'm no expert, by any means, but I've started to compile a list of ways to help establish a positive teacher-student relationship that has worked for me so far:

1. Mean what you say. 

This can range from something as simple as "I'm so happy to see you this morning!" to "If you do that again, you won't have recess for the rest of the year." If you really aren't excited to see the child, don't even say it. They know when you're lying. And the recess comment speaks for itself. Don't give consequences that don't match the behavior, and don't say something if you can't follow through with it.

2. Be consistent.

This has proven to be extremely difficult for me due to the simple fact that different children require different things. However, children need consistency. They will respect you for it.

3. Allow children to be their caring, loving, energetic, naturally curious selves.

Kids will be active. Kids will make poor decisions here and there. They are children! Scolding a child for a bad decision they made should be for exactly that: the bad decision the good person made. Decisions don't define you as a person- they define a choice you made.

4. Only say positive things about kids around other children.

I am a firm believer that what a child hears an adult say about them becomes the voice inside their head. If they "overhear" you saying good things about them, they will believe they are good. They will glow from the inside out. Overhearing adults say degrading things about them (or another child), plants a poor image of themselves (or the other child) in their mind. It happens at a young age, and it happens fast.

The other day, I walked down the 4th grade hall and stopped to read some of my old babies' writing. In the paragraph describing themselves, for all of the kids I taught, was adjectives I used to describe them so often last year. A child I often referred to as "caring" listed that adjective first when he was describing himself. Kids will identify with what you tell them (as long as they know you're telling the truth).

5. Use your power for good.

The Atlanta Speech School made this wonderful video that, I feel, incorporated all the thoughts I've had about ways to speak to children. It still makes me cry every time.

Seeing adults misuse their power has really taken a toll on me this year. But at the end of the day, I find peace knowing that my kids aren't going to remember every lesson I taught, but they (hopefully) will remember how I made them feel.