It’s a fine, fine line between coddling a kid and being too hard on them. At least I’ve always thought so.
When I first started, I was too caught up in getting my kids to like me, and not caught up enough in creating structure in my room. While my heart was in the right place, it didn’t create the culture that I had hoped to. In fact, it created something quite the opposite of what I wanted. It created a room where I was the sole authority figure, and it created a place where children were not resilient enough to help themselves. What I realized, though, was that I could have created the classroom I envisioned, without having to worry about whether the kids liked me or not.
Instead, I’ve realized that it is important to foster a “can-do” attitude in students. Not only will this help them to be independent and resilient problem-solvers, but it will also help them to respect you for that same independence, resilience, and structure that they so desperately crave. Check out a couple ways I’ve fostered a can-do attitude in my classroom over the past few years.
(1) Build routines. Kids find safety in structure. Even though it sounds counterintuitive, if you give them structure, you’ll give them freedom. They will find themselves able to make mistakes, not because they’re doing so frivolously; rather, they’ll make mistakes because they know they’re in a safe space.
(2) Make assessment transparent. Assessment should be empowering, not defeating. Helping kids see the path to learning through assessment helps them see that we’re providing feedback to help them, not hurt them. Show them your intention and your rationale behind giving a “grade” or giving “feedback,” and they’ll be grateful for it. Trust me.
(3) Teach strategies and learning practices. While it’s tempting (and honestly, sometimes easier) to just show them how to get the right answer, teachers who do so are doing a disservice to students. To empower kids, it’s important to give them the strategies and tools necessary to solve problems in the future, not just get the right answers on a test. Strategies allow for the cross-cutting ability that fosters creativity and innovation in students, and after all, isn’t that what we want for them?
(4) Help them use each other. Kids have the capacity to be each other’s most valuable resources, and denying them the chance to experience this isn’t helpful for them. Refer them to buddies, encourage them to turn and talk (ALL THE TIME!), and create projects where they are simultaneously allowed to utilize their strengths, but also put some work into their challenges.
(5) Let them know you don’t know everything. It’s important to level the playing field in order to empower kids. In the Modern Classroom, students are the primary producers of knowledge–not the teachers. Because of this, Modern Teachers need to know how to teach kids to access resources on their own, instead of providing them resources. This mentality is extremely empowering for kids and begins to teach them to advocate for themselves and their learning. In fact, one of my favorite discussions to have as the year starts is to ask the children what they expect from me, as their teacher. Having this discussion helps to, once again, level the playing the field, allowing students to feel like they have a stake in the classroom.
Of course, fostering a “can-do” attitude doesn’t stop here. Keeping this going requires constantly monitoring attitudes and feelings and constantly reminding students about the routines and strategies you’ve built into your classroom. Above all, though, it takes a modeling of this behavior by the teacher. Our students watch our every move, and if we show that we think they “can,” then they most certainly “will.”