Whether we realize it or not we are always learning something everyday. Sometimes the learning is small and may seem not worthy of mention. But even small bits of learning and relearning stimulate our growth and development into the people we are or hope to become. Over the years, my students have taught me many things.
• My students have taught me that I will never succeed at teaching them new content if I don’t develop positive relationships with them first. How many times have we sat through professional development workshops where we felt disconnected from the presenter? We’ve all experienced situations like these where we eventually shut down and stop listening no matter how important the content may be. One of the ways I develop strong relationships with my students is by taking the time to really listen to them. I listen to their stories and I respond thoughtfully when they are experiencing pain or joy. I let them know that I value them as individuals and that I care about what they think.
When our students believe that we genuinely care, they will trust us!
• I’ve learned that children learn best in an environment where they feel safe to take risks; where they will not be criticized, ridiculed, demoralized or condemned for feeling or thinking in a certain way. In small groups, students are naturally more comfortable about sharing their thoughts. But I also emphasize our good conversation behaviors where respect for everyone’s thoughts is the foundational premise.
• I’ve learned that children will start to open up and share their thoughts and perspectives when they realize that they are important and that their voices count. One of the greatest impacts I’ve had on my children in my pull-out reading program is that I gave them room to think and reflect, verbally and in writing. The students I work with do not usually have these opportunities in the regular classroom. As such, they embrace the chance to talk and share what’s on their minds. At first, they were resistant and maybe even fearful about sharing and revealing their inner thoughts. Some were intimidated by negative criticism or reprimand in the past when they questioned authority. However, I alleviated these reservations when I took the plunge and shared first. They soon realized that I am human like them with fears, anxieties, and experiences when I felt vulnerable. When reading, I pointed out that it’s absolutely acceptable to question the author and ask questions and extend their thinking; that it’s okay to ask questions or disagree with someone respectfully as long as you support your claims with thoughtful reasoning.
• I learned that we all need to adopt a growth mindset; that we are all part of a growth-oriented learning community. I let my students know that it’s fine to fail and not be on target as long as you learn from your mistakes and you keep on learning until you achieve success. With that in mind, my students started asking questions and thinking more creatively to reach their goals. They were more open to criticism and suggestions for helping them improve and progress.
• I learned that kids live up to the expectations we have for them. If we value their thoughts and perspectives, then we need to provide our students with ample opportunities to participate in dialogue where they not only share their thoughts but learn from the thinking of others as well. These conversations are the gateway to true learning because they invite children to think about their thinking, to inquire, and to explore the topics of discussion further. If they feel that what they have to contribute to the conversation is relevant, children will be motivated to learn more and take risks as they apply that learning in their writing and reading.
As teachers, we have a critical role in establishing that safe space for all students to share their thinking and perspectives openly and freely without repercussions. My students have taught me that we learn best when we are not afraid to be ourselves and be willing to share our emotions and thoughts in a positive, learning environment.