But is that enough? Should we applaud the fact that 19% of students in the United States fail to graduate from high school? Sure, it’s better than 35-40% of students dropping out, but is that enough? To put it into perspective, if you tried a new medication that touted that only 19% of people died after taking it, would that be okay? I guess that’s up to you to decide, but I sure wouldn’t!
Why are students failing to learn? Think about the children in your classroom. How many of them have gone through some traumatic, transformative event in their lives? Perhaps one of their parents are in jail, or their dad died, or their mom is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or no one is ever home with them, or something unspeakable has happened to them. Sometimes we don’t even know what goes on in the lives of our students because they’ve not yet trusted anyone enough yet to tell them. Let’s face it. Our students are not in the best shape emotionally and they need our help.
Why worry about emotions? Our brains do not separate cognitive and emotional thoughts when it comes to processing information. It all gets processed the same. Further, it has been shown that social rejection impacts the same areas of the brain that physical pain effects with one very important distinction. Social rejection also makes the prefrontal cortex of the brain less active. This part of the brain is what helps us make moral decisions but it also has to do with executive functioning, intelligence, memory, and language. In other words, if a child in your class feels threatened by his or her peers or otherwise rejected, it may have a serious impact on his or her ability not only to relate to others but to even learn and retain new information.
So what do you do about it? One of the most important things a child in your classroom can feel is trust. Students need to feel emotionally safe to do the kind of thinking expected of a rigorous classroom environment. They need to know that making mistakes is okay, that they are cared about, and that someone is glad to see them.
How do you accomplish this? There are several things you can do to proactively create an emotionally safe classroom environment.
First, remember that equality and equity are not the same thing. Strive for an equitable classroom, where students all get what they need. Equality means every child gets the same thing. Equity means every child gets individualized (differentiated) education to optimize learning.
Next, build relationships in your classroom. Create instructional tasks that allow students to learn from each other and emphasize the importance of drawing from personal strengths while appreciating that everyone also makes mistakes. Make teams based on what you know about the strengths in your classroom to help facilitate team-based learning.
Finally, show gratitude. This takes practice to make it a habit, but find a way to compliment your students for the little things they do to help you throughout class so that you can thank them at the end of class. Before they come in, greet every student that comes through your door and let students who were absent know how glad you are to see them.
All students can learn. Sometimes it takes a little extra caring to get them where you want them to go. Emotions matter. Let’s not let 19% of our students kill their educational opportunities. The time is now! Reach out to your students, make them feel valuable, and see how far they’ll grow!
There is more information on this topic at ASCD.org if you want to know more.
And if you want to help out my students, please visit my Donor’s Choose page and help fund one of my projects.