Set the Tone
I really enjoyed listening to Brené Brown’s Daring Classrooms Keynote. Her message of vulnerability is so powerful. In particular, these words really stuck with me, “Make the world a better place. The revolution will not be televised, it will be in your classrooms.” These words are so powerful because they are true! Teachers really do have the power to make a huge impact right inside the walls of our very own classrooms!
Her thought-provoking message also sparked lots of past teaching moments to come to mind for me. The good thing is that I think I am doing a pretty darn good job of teaching vulnerability to my students. I think this is actually one of my strengths as a teacher. I build a loving, classroom environment that feels like one big family. And it doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes intentional decision-making skills and time.
Building a classroom community with a dialogical learning approach that is filled with humility, love, faith, hope, and critical thinking are essential to developing strong relationships with and amongst students. I set the tone for this work from day one in a variety of ways including a careful selection of read-aloud books, getting students connected through Morning Meeting, and getting students working in collaborative groups through games like Breakout EDU. The more students interact and connect with one another, the more likely they are to feel comfortable enough to be themselves in the classroom.
Some of my favorite beginning of the year read alouds are Each Kindness, Raise Your Hand, The Day You Begin, Say Something, and All Are Welcome. I choose these books for their messages. Messages of humility, love, faith, hope, and critical thinking. Messages I believe are important and hopefully, messages that students will hear and believe in, themselves.
Teaching vulnerability is done through both the big and small actions of a teacher. Doing things like taking a stance on unkind behaviors such as name-calling, using Restorative Circles, sharing personal experiences, and listening to students, all contribute to creating a classroom environment that feels safe.
Allowing Yourself to Be Vulnerable
One of the biggest ways I’ve been able to connect with my students is by showing them my vulnerabilities. By showing students that I am vulnerable, they see that I am a real person with feelings, insecurities, and fears. Students appreciate this honesty.
During a recent Opinion Writing Unit, I modeled how to write an opinion essay using my own example. This was my thesis statement and reasons: I need to have more confidence in myself because I worry about what others think too much; there are times I want to speak up and I don’t, and I have skills I could share with my peers.
Writing this essay in front of my students allowed me to share my own insecurities with them. Many of them were surprised to hear that I get so nervous to speak in front of my peers or that I am afraid to speak up at times. Some students connected to these feelings so much that they shared times when they felt the same way. Because I showed vulnerability to my students, they felt a sense of relief to know that adults have insecurities and things they struggle with just like children do.
Here’s Some Humility
Another way that I’ve been able to connect with students is by showing humility. In Paulo Freire’s Five Ideas for Dialogical Learning , he describes humility as the ability to learn from and understand students (humble approach), rather than taking a more directive approach.
This is the story that comes to mind when I think of how I’ve shown humility in my classroom.
In my classroom, students can earn team points by transitioning quickly, working together, being helpful, being kind, and many other ways. I keep track of the daily winners on a color-coded calendar in the classroom that teams fill in at the end of each day if their team won. At the end of the month, the team with the most days won gets recognized in class for their efforts. I take a picture of the team and hang it on the “Wall of Fame” along with their team flag. They also get a small reward such as eating lunch outside, extra recess, or extra tech time.
For a few weeks, I incorporated a few rounds of rock, paper, scissors in the last 3 minutes of class for fun. Students could win extra points for their teams if they won the round. On occasion, winning rock, paper, scissors could lead a team to victory for that day, meaning they got to color in the calendar square.
One student really did not agree with this strategy. He felt like it wasn’t fair; especially since his team had worked hard all day and then they ended up losing because of rock, paper, scissors. The day after this happened to his team, he politely walked up to me and handed me a handwritten 5 paragraph essay title, “Why We Shouldn’t Play Rock, Paper, Scissors for Points.”
He had obviously put a lot of thought and time into writing this essay for me. He had strong reasons and evidence, used a convincing tone, and was respectful at the same time. After reading the essay, I could see his point. He felt that I might be discouraging students from trying hard if they would end up losing in rock, paper, scissors. A game that had nothing to do with teamwork, kindness, or being helpful.
What did I do next?
I asked the boy if I could share what he had done because I wanted all of my students to see how important it is to SAY SOMETHING when they do not agree with someone, even if it is an adult. He agreed.
During our Morning Meeting, I shared the story with my students and let them know how proud I was of the boy for speaking up. I shared how his essay helped me see that my choice in using a game towards team points wasn’t the best idea. I shared how his actions were able to help me learn and grow as a teacher.
What I really appreciated about this boy’s courage to write an essay to his teacher stating why he disagrees with a choice I made, was that he felt safe enough to do so in the first place. That’s love.
I think it all really boils down to love. Teachers who truly love kids are some of the best. If you really love kids, you enjoy your time each day with them, you work hard for them; you stick up for them; you advocate for them, and you show you appreciate them. They will notice this. They will love you for it. They will respect you. They will work harder for you. This is why I teach.