What if you were given permission to reduce expectations (if needed) so that you could address a child’s well-being first? Could you do it? I’ve had some very interesting conversations around this topic lately.
As many people know, I’m very passionate about education. I love to teach, and I’m committed to helping students learn. I actually enjoy delving into curriculum documents, and thinking about the front matter as well as the expectations. I spent a lot of time doing so with the Kindergarten Program Document a few years ago, but as an educator that’s taught every grade from K-6 in some capacity, I’ve had lots of opportunities to read Ministry documents. All of this being said though, a few years ago, I had an epiphany: sometimes academic expectations need to come second.
We may want to focus on academic goals. We may have grand plans around activities, provocations, projects, and presentations, but what if our kids are not ready to learn? As classroom educators, we’ve all seen different behaviours, and we’ve responded to them in various ways. In the Faculty of Education, I learned all about the importance of classroom management. Thinking now about Stuart Shanker’s Self-Reg, I wonder if classroom management is still presented in the same way in the Faculty of Education. Or is this a self-control paradigm when a Self-Reg one may be better? I know that I see “management” differently now, especially when it comes to addressing various student needs. If we enter into a battle of wills with a dysregulated child, are we ever going to win? Maybe at times, we need to step back.
- Why is that child so angry or upset? What might make him/her feel better?
- Why is that child so loud? What might help him/her calm down? What is this child telling us that he/she needs?
- Are academic expectations triggering the behaviour? Why might that be, and how can we change this?
- Does this child just need time? How can we give this child this time, while also supporting the other students in the class?
- What impact might my tone and actions be having on the child? Am I increasing or decreasing the stress?
Shanker often speaks about being a stress detective, and more and more, in the past couple of years, I find my teaching partner and I trying to do this detective work. This helps us see behaviour differently. It also helps us put student well-being first: realizing that for some kids, we may need to spend even more time addressing other needs before academic ones. I’m now okay with this because I know that in the end, this child will be far more successful in school and in life.
But it was not always easy for me to see teaching and learning in this way. I wanted to make school all about expectations. Meeting benchmarks mattered to me (to a degree, it still does). Aren’t I in teaching to teach? Sometimes as educators, I wonder if we see ourselves as failing, if we don’t have all children meet with the same academic success as we hoped. I’m curious though if these same students actually came farther along than they would have by us waiting until they were ready to address different expectations, and then addressing them in ways that worked for them. My recent conversations have helped me see that teaching is about more than academics, and we know this in theory, but what about in practice? This has been a good reminder for me that we don’t just teach expectations, we teach kids. A fundamental difference, I think.