“If they had better kids, they’d send ‘em!” A long-ago speaker on diversity and differentiation in the classroom started his presentation in this way. I wish I could remember his name. I can’t recall it, although I’ve tried many times to search for the source of this phrase. I would like him to know that his words had an impact, and that I’ve let their impact inform my teaching in all the years since those words were spoken.
Those sweet children who enter our classrooms each day are the best they can be with what they’ve got so far. It’s our job to keep adding; keep offering them just a little more. We need to be super aware of where our students are academically, socially, and spiritually (not spiritual in a religious sense, but in their character development). We keep spreadsheets and graphs on all the classroom assessments and standardized testing, but how often do we keep an account of who they are at their core? How often do we give them instruction in and opportunities to show growth in who they are as human beings?
Offering opportunities for interaction and collaboration with others as frequently as possible is one way to build a better kid. Kids who collaborate a lot learn to do it a little better each time they practice. They learn good collaboration techniques by watching and listening to others. The proficient collaborators are the most comfortable in these situations and they look comfortable. It is so helpful to all students, general ed and special ed alike to be able to take part in this process often.
Building a strong teacher-student relationship beginning the first day is another sure-fire way to build a better kid. The Beatles got a lot right, in my opinion, but especially these words from “Hey Jude”: (paraphrased here) “Remember to let them into your heart, then you can start to make it better.” If those kids aren’t inside your heart, and you aren’t inside theirs, even in some small way at first that you keep building on, you can teach your heart out every day, and won’t nobody be learnin’ nothin’. We’re human beings. That’s how we were made to function.
When each of those best-they-can-be-so-far students walks through your door at the beginning of the year, or tomorrow, or next week, try to zero in on something that makes that child unique, special, and important. Use that as the connector that will bring the two of you together at the heart level. Let each one know whenever you can how talented, special, and important he or she is.
I am so aware that there are no questions on the high-stakes tests concerning the character development of the test-taker, and that those test scores will be used to evaluate our teaching abilities and may eventually determine our pay rate or even our job itself. We also need to be aware that a confident and resilient kid will perform much better on a test than a kid who feels stressed, sad, and powerless. A kid who knows that his/her teacher is impressed with him/her, and has confidence in him/her, and really cares about him/her will own that test! More importantly, yet immeasurably (at least right away), he/she will own a great life!
The next time you’re lesson-planning, want to try a character building activity or lesson, yet can’t find a standard for it to post in your room, I hope you’ll say. “I do have time for this! I’m building better kids - kids who will master all the rest of the standards because they feel great about school, about their teacher, and about learning."
If they had better kids, they’d send ‘em. Let’s send the best possible kids we can send back home each day!
You might like to print out a set of these compliment cards to get started on building a better student! They're free! Just follow the link!
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