Love in the Classroom

Love can be our most practical teaching super power.

I was a teacher for 20+ years, and in that time I discovered, beyond any possible doubt, that  love must be central to what we do and who we are with our students.  I hope you agree, but if you don’t, or if you’re on the fence about bringing love into the classroom, I hope you’ll keep reading.

First, though, a quick story.  I was born and raised in California.  And to make me even more of a Californian, after my parents divorced, my time with each of them was divided between the San Francisco bay area – with my father, and Los Angeles, with my mother.   My California roots go even deeper.   I’m a 5th generation Californian, and my two sons are 6th generation Californians.   All that to say, when a great career opportunity presented itself to my husband, several decades ago, we enthusiastically moved our growing family to a small town in the midwest.  Talk about culture shock.   WOW !!!

  I am NOT proud to say how obnoxiously proud I was of my heritage, my upbringing, my ever-so-cool California, big city roots.    

I wasn’t overt about my pride of origins when I shopped for groceries or perused stores for my children’s needs, nevertheless  people were palpably  hostile towards me.   Why?  I smiled. I asked how clerks were, and answered with a friendly tone when they asked how I was.  It was mysterious and  weird, and really uncomfortable..

After a couple of weeks of life in my new surroundings, the unfriendliness was really getting to me.  Didn’t these people “get” how cool I was?  How much I had my (bleep) together?!!!

Then one day, after another icy and incredibly unsatisfying interaction, a fresh thought popped into my mind.      (Don’t you love it when those ‘fresh thoughts’ happen?)    

What if I changed my mind set?  What if I wasn’t so full of myself and my self-proclaimed  California-ultra-coolness the next time I walked into a store?     What if I opened my mind and heart to the possibility, just – for starters – the possibility that the locals were just as valuable and interesting and worthwhile and lovable as I was so sure that I was?      

I thought … well, maybe.  I mean, how could it  hurt to experiment with that concept ?    I wasn’t going to say anything, because – really – what could i say?    “Hi, I’m not going to be all full of myself any more. Instead, I’m experimenting with the concept that you might be just as valuable and interesting and lovable as any other person from any other place on this big beautiful planet.”   

NOPE.  Definitely wasn’t going to say that – thankyouverymuch.

But I was going to own that concept, but there couldn’t be any half measures with this experiment. Right?!  What would be the point of that? 

Bottom line:  everything changed.  I mean:  every interaction. Every.   To this day it blows my mind.

That experience, taught me that, in a sense, we’re all mind readers.  You. Me. OUR STUDENTS.  Oh, yes.  Very definitely our students. 

Feelings are communicated wordlessly.
NEVER underestimate children’s sensitivity to what we are truly feeling about them.

So, when I brought into my classes the mindset that each of my students was  valuable, interesting and a person worthy of love (no matter how un-lovable he or she might sometimes act), my classes ran so much more smoothly …. NOT because I told the kids that I thought they were valuable, interesting, worthy of love and respect, but because that was the GROUND ZERO from which I taught and interacted with them…. even when I had to lay down the law, even when I gave them tough assignments, even when I entrusted them with projects that required a lot of independence and self-motivation.   Over and over again, their ‘mind-reading’ skills served them and all of us incredibly and constructively well.

So what’s my point?  Well,  I’m still trying to work out the details so that I can explain how all this works – internally / on the inside – so the impact can be seen – externally / on the outside – but an important and immeasurably practical piece of all this is that we teachers need to, we GET to, explore and discover what love looks like when it’s put into action within all our classroom interactions.    

For me Love looks a lot like respect.   Love also looks a lot like trust … genuinely trusting that the best within our students actually WANTS to express itself, even though their best sometimes can’t actually be expressed without our respectful facilitation efforts on their behalf … which sometimes takes patience.    

When I failed at all this Love stuff … it hurt, but I learned, and I learned how to fail a little bit less the next time.  I keep learning, because I keep trying to pay attention to the ‘signals,’ if you will, that the mindreaders around me are picking up on.

Does that make sense?  Does it ring true for you?  Share your thoughts, your successes, and your challenges around this topic.  I’d love to know what’s going on for you.    

Here’s a link to the associated podcast.

Feeling More ‘Visible’ = Feeling More Valued

Consistent quality (not quantity) of attention matters.
Consistent quality (not quantity) of attention matters.
We all need to analyze the quality of our attention on children.

We consistently observe that children love attention, but have we ever analyzed what’s underneath that obvious fact?  Since the answer is in this brief article’s title, I’ll say no more on that. I will, though, emphasize the need to analyze the quality of our attention on children.

When our attention is complete and undivided, how do we imagine the impact will be on children’s feelings of being valued?  If the answer to that question doesn’t come straightaway, can you reference your own childhood, and the quality of attention you received, to gain insight? 

For uncountable reasons, attention on others cannot always be pure and undivided, but moments (yes, just moments) – every day – can and do have deeply nourishing impact … especially when those moments have nothing to do with situations that require corrections which, unfortunately, are the most common times our attention is undivided. Let’s see if we can stretch our pure and undivided attention ‘windows’ to include neutral, happy and constructive moments.

A few more important elements: words aren’t necessary. In fact, they’re sometimes a distraction, with their labeling and ‘boxing’ effects.  Just be consistent and uncomplicated, then notice the effects over time.

Mindfulness Practices Change Brains for the BETTER

Mindfulness practice creates positive brain changes that influence the quality of behavior and emotions.
Mindfulness meditation re-routs counter-productive reactivity.

Source: How Mindfulness Meditation Permanently Changes Your Brain | Big Think

Mindfulness practice creates positive brain changes that influence the quality of behavior and emotions.
The amygdala, without the benefit of consistent mindfulness practice, dominates the pre-frontal cortex.

Mindfulness meditation nurtures the brain by decoupling regions that have tended to function together… and generally not very helpfully, except when being chased by tigers and bears, oh my!

Mindfulness meditation, regularly practiced for a just a few minutes a day, creates new neural connections and changes how different regions of the physical brain relate to one another… most specifically the amygdala (the center for fear, anger, and ‘knee jerk’ emotional reactions) and the pre-frontal cortex (the center for logic, reason, executive function responses).

Teachers don’t have to figure it out on their own

There are so many quality resources for bringing mindfulness into the classroom – even for very young students. Consider Thich Nhat Hanh’s many clean and concise offerings.

Mindfulness meditation decouples amygdala (fear+anger) from pre-frontal cortex (exec. function). Everyone benefits.
Mindfulness, regularly brought into young children’s classrooms improves brain function and emotional well being.
quality resources for bringing mindfulness into the classroom
Gentle resources are abundantly available for everyone’s benefit in and out of the classroom.

Although the KIDS’ OWN WISDOM approach does not, specifically, teach mindfulness, there are many parallels in approach and benefits:

  • Providing opportunities to increase students’ awareness of their own (and others’) inner and outer experiences.
  • Recognizing that thoughts are not set in stone – that other options are available, based on free will and best judgment.
  • Engaging in peer group discussions for collaboratively re-evaluating situations and responses, which often, spontaneously, results in impulse control.
  • Increased internal freedom to consciously choose actions and responses over unconscious reactivity.

Regular practice, with either or both approaches, provides measurable short and long term benefits. In other words, Mindfulness practices and Kids’ Own Wisdom shared-thinking experiences are highly compatible and complementary practices for supporting young children’s well-rounded social, emotional and cognitive development.