I've just finished reading an excellent book called Resilience by Eric Greiten, a former Navy Seal. He wrote a series of letters to a former comrade who had returned from service and was suffering from PTSD. The book is a powerhouse of timely advice on how to live a meaningful life that anyone could benefit from. I know that I did.
I wanted to write briefly today about one of the very practical pieces of advice he offered. It is to do with breathing, which is something that we all obviously do but don't probably think about too much. Here's a quote from the book that gives some basis for the technique that I'll describe soon:
“Becoming aware of our breathing and taking control of it when we need to is one of the most powerful ways to take control of ourselves, especially when we’re afraid... Of course, people who will not make the effort to control how they breathe have little hope of taking control of larger things. If you won’t exercise enough discipline to slightly alter just once in a while the thing that you do thousands of times a day, then you will not have the discipline to change the course of your life. But if you do learn to control your breathing, you will have gained experience in how to control what you can control. If you do learn to bring awareness to how you breathe, you are likely to bring awareness to how you live.”
4, 4 for 4
The technique is as follows:
Sounds easy right? That's because it is. It's simple and therefore easy to implement when you most need it throughout the day (some days you'll need to do it more than others - you know the ones!).
How does this apply to teaching? Well, I've been trying it between lessons recently. Teaching, if you're doing it right, takes a lot of emotional energy. We have to deal with a variety of different personalities, learning needs and inter-personal relationships on a daily basis. I've found that in order to ‘reset’ at the end of a lesson and to prepare for the next one, doing this simple breathing exercise has helped a lot. I feel more relaxed and have a clearer, more focused mind.
There are probably lots of things that you could do in place of this exercise. Maybe you already do. Let us know in the comments about what you do to unwind and refocus.
Also, if you get the chance I highly recommend reading the aforementioned book. It will likely change your perspective on a lot of things and I think that it has some really sound, practical wisdom to offer for us to integrate into our own lives and to hand on to our students.
If your interested in reading the book you can find a link to The Book Depository where you can purchase it with free shipping world-wide. I'm not affiliated in any way, but this is where I bought my copy.
What is the most essential ingredient for effective teaching and learning? There may be as many answers to this question as there are teachers! Is it thorough planning? Epic resources? A teacher with an A-list actor's charm and infectious charisma? Is it the implementation of an amazing curriculum? It could be one or all of these, or something else completely. But, I think that the one thing that trumps these all is relationship.
If we reflect on our own experiences as learners at any stage of our lives we can remember at least some of the people who taught us. What do we remember about them? What kind of an effect did that person's approach have on us? We could characterize our relationship with that educator as either warm or cold, close or distant. I remember my first piano teacher when I was a kid. She was a Catholic nun; small-framed, old and wizened and tough as nails. I didn't like her and I think the feeling was mutual. In all honesty, I most likely didn't practice enough and it’s probable that her solution to that was to strike fear into me and thereby push me to improve. Needless to say, that didn’t work. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I practiced less. I lasted a year and I never learnt to play properly. Should I have practiced more? Yes. Should I have been more self-motivated? Probably, but I was a 9 year old kid. I think the onus is on the educator to at least try to create rapport with his or her student. I say try, because there will always be personality differences - we are human after all.
I have had many positive with my teachers. I remember back to when I was a primary student and our beloved dog Keri died. I was pretty cut up about it but I remember my teacher's response. It was warm, and she showed genuine care for me in what was to me a sad event. It made a difference to me - to experience that kind of empathy, and I think that apart from gaining respect for that particular teacher I may have developed a greater sense of compassion through it. The way we treat our students, or anyone has a profound ripple effect on our environment and the people around us.
How can we build better relationships with our students?
Smile. Genuinely smile. It's so simple, and most of us probably do this already. Everybody likes it when we smile at them (as long as that smile is real and well-intentioned).
Show a genuine interest in each student’s life. I realized that I was so obsessed with only using English in my class that I was missing out on making this important connection with my students. For the majority of my students conversing in English about what's going on in their lives is not a realistic option at the moment. So, I have started to ask them questions about their lives in Japanese (sports events, school, interests etc.), usually before or after class. It has made a positive difference.
Use appropriate physical contact. You will likely know what your boundaries are for you and your students. I tend to not hug my students but often high-five them during and after lessons. My younger students also like it when I throw them up in the air. Just watch out for the ceiling!
Be honest and fair. This doesn’t mean that we have to treat all of our students in the same way. Every student is different and therefore has different needs. But, if you have expectations of behavior in your class then make sure you maintain them consistently.
Treat your students with respect and dignity. No yelling! In the past this has been a common and accepted means of “class control”. However, there is no reason that a teacher should ever need to yell if he or she is doing an effective job. If you've ever been yelled at, and most of us probably have, then you will know that it is an awful experience and counter-productive to developing a positive relationship. We as teachers should have our emotions in check even when under stress, and also make sure that we are a positive role model to our students.
Grow in empathy and practice it in the classroom. In spite of how busy or stressful our classroom life may be, we need to make an effort to show empathy towards our students. We may not know exactly why a student is upset about something, and it's easy to brush some things off as inconsequential even though they are real to our students. It's important to know our students’ backgrounds as best as possible and to be able to look behind their behavior in order to understand why they act the way they do. What we see is often the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is going on in a child's emotional life.
Building relationships with our students is both a means and an end. Our ultimate goal as teachers is to make sure that students learn, no matter what our subject is. Having a positive relationship with our students will help us build trust and students are most likely going to listen to and follow the example of somebody they trust. Also, being able to build and maintain meaningful relationships is an integral skill for every person to learn and practice. What an amazing responsibility and privilege it is to be able to lead students in this way!
Do you think that it is important to build relationships with your students? Why or why not? What have you done in order to help build positive relationships with your them? Let me know in the comments.
PS. I wish I'd kept learning the piano. Anyone up for the challenge. I promise I'll practice!
Oh yeah, and get your students' names right!
This is my first blog post on this site in English. To be honest, I'm not sure where I'm going to go with this. I have ideas, and I want to start writing them down. I love teaching and I love learning how to be a better teacher. As I take this well-trodden road I will write down reflections and ideas that have been helpful for me, and hopefully they'll be helpful for you as well. If you do find anything useful, let me know in the comments! I love talking to people about teaching as well and am interested in what other people think and do. Here we go.
I want to write today about an extremely important, simple and often forgotten strategy for getting kids (or any learner) to improve in whatever you're teaching them (and they're hopefully learning!) - wait time.
What is wait time? It's just as it sounds. It is the purposeful action of giving students time to think when we have asked them a question rather than either rushing to tell them the answer or moving on to the next one. There are a couple of reasons why this is important. The first is that when we give our students time to think we can find out whether they actually understand what we have taught them or not. It's a type of formative assessment whereby we can determine the student's current understanding. Secondly, often students do know the answer or will at least search for an answer if we just give them the time they need to find it. Furthermore, there is often more than one answer to any well-formulated question. So, the potential amount of valuable cognition that can take place in that created thinking space increases with the amount of time that we allow our students.
It seems so simple. Just wait. But, we teachers are human and therefore there are other factors to consider. My experience is that when I am not feeling confident about something that I am teaching is when I am most likely to move a student along faster than I should, possibly because I don't want to face the fact that my student doesn't know or understand something that I have taught. It can be tied to our own insecurities as educators. It is, therefore, important to have everything else in place such as planning, class control and effective presentation of that which we want our students to learn. A second reason is that it can be really uncomfortable - that awkward chasm of silence between the question and the answer. Sometimes we feel like 'rescuing' the student from that discomfort, which is natural because silence can be uncomfortable. But what we perceive as kind can also be the worst thing we can do for somebody else.
How do we implement wait time? You could use any strategy that you like, but I simply count in my head (to make sure that I'm actually doing it), usually to ten. Like I stated earlier, that ten seconds can seem like a long time, but it's important. I think it's worth noting too that when we get to know our students better we can modify the amount of wait time we give depending on their needs as learners. Every student is different and therefore some will need more time than others. Like almost everything in teaching - it depends.
How good are you at waiting? Is it something that you are good at, or something you feel like you could improve? Let me know of any strategies that have worked for you in the comments!