Friday Focus!

January 29, 2016

Each of us is called to make the world a better place. To do so, our lives must be creative.” Father Edward J. Lavin, Jesuit priest

How do we manage our students’ learning and behavior on a continu­ous basis? Each day, I find myself questioning how I am relating to our students, both on an academic level and on a personal level. How can I improve the exchange that takes place between us? How can help teachers pose questions to make students want to think for themselves? How can I show students how to communicate their needs effectively? How will that impact the exchanges they have with their peers, with people in the community, and with family and friends? Consider the exchange between a principal and students below:

Running in the hallway, Mrs. Elchamaa notices two children running towards the gym. They are happily running and horsing around. They are so involved in their “sport,” they don’t notice the adult until she demands that they stop. Just as she is about to launch into lecture mode, she decides to try out the Responsive Classroom approach to language (Horsch, Chen, & Wagner, 2002) she is learning in workshops.

“Remind me,” she asks one of the boys, “how do we walk in the hallway in our school in a safe way?”

“One step at a time?” he says.

“Okay. Show me how it looks when you do that,” she tells the other boy. He demonstrates how they should be walking in the hallway.

“Exactly,” she says. “And why is that important?” “So we are safe.”

“So we keep others safe.”

She nods her head in agreement. “Think you can do that now and keep yourselves and everyone else safe?”

They nod in solemn agreement and set off, one step at a time. Seeing them in such good control, she thinks to herself, “I like this. It works.”

What Mrs. El Chamaa above is referring to is using language to encour­age and empower students. How often do we merely direct students to perform a task or complete an assignment? So much of what our kids learn from us is modeled behavior. The importance of students learning how to express themselves using language is monumental and is oftentimes much longer-lasting than the specific curriculum objectives we teach.

There are three basic tenets according to the Responsive Classroom philosophy (Horsch, Chen, & Wagner, 2002) for showing our stu­dents how to use language that will empower them and provide en­couragement. These are called the Three Rs: Reinforcing, Reminding, and Redirecting. I hear many of us using language that accomplishes this, providing our students a strong foundation for making good choices in school and beyond on a daily basis. Some of the general characteristics of encouraging and empowering language include the following:

  •        Be specific and direct. (“We will start when I see everyone’s eyes on Ali.”)
  •        Speak to the students rather than about the students. (“Leila, I no­ticed you stayed in your seat while I talked to Tarek. Thanks for your cooperation.”)
  •        Stress the deed, not the doer. Describe actions and deeds rather than making judgments. (“I notice a lot of paper on the floor. We can’t leave the room until it is clean.”)
  •        Give students the opportunity to follow through with appropriate behavior. (“Show me how you can do that appropriately.”)
  •        Frame a positive action and choice. (“You can walk slowly and qui­etly with your friends, or you can walk next to me.”)

In a perfect world, we would use constructive language (and meth­ods like the Three Rs) during every exchange with our students, yet I still find myself sometimes reduced to “Just do it because I told you to!” Reality dictates that we do the best we can in each and every situ­ation we encounter. We have the most dedicated, professional, stu­dent-oriented staff imaginable at Almadina all do a fabulous job managing the interactions you have with your students. Keep doing what it is you do best exhibiting passion for our kids and their learn­ing!

Have a relaxing, restful, and rejuvenating weekend!

Jamal