The Best Teachers Teach from the Heart

Family orientation is one of my favourite days of work. Besides the fact that I sometimes feel like a monotonous robot, I love meeting my new class for the year. I love seeing students on their “best behaviour,” watching them interact with their parents, the sense of self that they exude, and the instant first impression that’s provided. But despite all that is happening, I often think about what it would be like to be a student again. The first meeting, the nerves, the unknown.

Regardless of age, our students are kids. They need attention, boundaries, to learn lessons, and to be loved. Each student has an amazing gift to share. They all have their quirks (just as us teachers do!), their challenges, their strengths, and their blossoming personalities. As teachers, we need to unpack all of these, understand our students, and build those strong relationships with them. Despite all that needs to be learned in a school year, the most important thing is learning who our students are. If we do not provide an environment structured around trust, respect, and care how can any form of learning be possible?

As each and every one of us begins our year, remember that sometimes we need to put the curriculum, our great units and engaging lessons aside, because if we don’t have the students’ hearts, we won’t be able to teach them.

Teaching for the Student

Thinking about my class and students this year, I have been blessed to have worked with these guys for several years. I first met them through teaching them kindergarten gym, taught some of them in grade one and two, and am lucky enough to have several again in their final year at our school in grade four. I would consider this class “the dream team.” They all are incredible students who go out of their way to work together, show kindness, and embrace each others uniqueness. They really are very special!

Throughout this year, I’ve always wondered has this five year relationship with them attributed to their outstanding character? Is it true that building a strong relationship with your students is more important than anything else? I don’t doubt for a second that it isn’t, and this year has proven that to me time and time again. If I didn’t know their favourite sport, that their older siblings annoy them, the snack that they always despise, would we interact the same way? I would say no. I believe that when you truly understand each one of your students, learn who they are as a person, only then will true learning occur. This is the first step for authentic engagement for students.

Having this strong foundation of a relationship being built for the last five years, has allowed me to really understand how my students learn; what works for them and what they struggle with. They are open to communicating, excel for excellence, but support each other when failure occurs. I teach for them. Not for a test. Not for the highest marks, but for the students.

Tonight I participated in a twitter chat, #mnlead, led by a student, whose discussion focused on creating a student centered place for learning. It brought up many ideas and questions about how we get the most out of student’s learning, to be an effective teacher. Below is a brief summary of this chat:

Question #1: How should you record a student’s comprehension of a subject? Essay, test, quiz, or an in class discussion? What works best?

Question #2: How do you instill a mindset in student’s that failure isn’t an option? What motivates students to excel?

Question #3: In a classroom there are several types of learners. How do you make sure you are reaching everyone?

Question #4: Should you encourage students to take a variety of courses or focus on one that they are passionate about?

Question #5: How do you create a positive learning culture for your students where they are wanting to be there each day?

Providing a caring environment, where students can take risks, be challenged, and be supported when they fail is important for every classroom. It all begins with building a relationship. How will you discover each of your students in order to optimize their learning? Get to know them! Teach for the student.