Sometimes we forget what it was like being a child, and specifically, being a student. For most of us, we barely remember what the day to day experience was like and most often, we have no clue what we learned in school. But we NEVER forget the teacher who made a difference in our lives. And that’s why, the first of three “New Three Rs” is RELATIONSHIP. Likely, the most powerful impression developed, the one teacher that made a difference in our lives, was the teacher who created an indelible mark through a connection; heart to heart. Picture in your mind the one teacher who you felt actually “got you” and seemed to care about you from an authentic place of concern, care, and loving kindness. Most of us who go into teaching, do so with the idea that we hope to make a difference in our students’ lives. And if our heart is in the right place, we often do.
Also, there are a number of times when our kids experience a remarkable connection to instruction and learning. However, it’s truly a secondary connection compared to the relationship factor between student and teacher. In fact, many students go day to day, and year to year, with few meaning-centered connections to their lessons, activities which capture their full attention. This is pronounced today with many more students identified with ADD/ADHD, Autism, and other sensory-related symptoms.
Current research on learning and brain development highlights the need for bridges to be built between one’s experiences & interests with new learning to create an ever-lasting impression. By this, lessons and learning need to be relevant to create meaning and ultimately, engagement. Too often, students are asked to follow-along the Common Core curriculum path with little understanding how these skill sets or lessons are related to everyday living. As a result, boredom, lack of interest, or classroom disruption unfold. So our best-bet as teachers is to use meaning or relevancy as the foundation for instruction. For example, I’ll never forget the 7th Grade Social Studies teacher who taught us about “Sir Thomas Crapper”‘; it was like a Mad Magazine article coming to life within the context of the classroom: A memory that will never fade for me. For a slightly obnoxious junior high school boy, this was like the ultimate fart joke and it was presented by Mr. Myers; who looked more like Rush Limbaugh than Alfred E Newman. Something I will never forget. Mr. Myers was masterful at using humor, interest, and a natural sense of curiosity, inherent to the middle school experience, as a foundation for his lessons. This is something that we all need to remember: In the context of easy access technology, over-the-top videos, and real-world television being broadcast 24/7, 21st century classrooms require meaning and relevant bridges toward learning to hold our students’ interest and attention. Or our schools will feel more like prisons with inmates and guards. And medication will NEVER serve as the basis for good instruction.
Finally, the best teaching practices tend to support the development of resilience skills; what we often call today as “social emotional learning [SEL]”. Within the context of a school-based curriculum, we are doing our kids a true service when we take time out of core academics and prepare our kids to navigate through the ups and downs of a never-changing, topsy-turvy world through SEL . Building a set of resilience skills. such as emotional self-regulation, grit, executive functioning, and perseverance, may be the best tool kit we can offer our kids through their K-12 experience. Ultimately, as life unfolds, and change continues to be a major force in our children’s lives, the ability to cope with these changes holds the key to success. And doing so with confidence in one-self may present the best set of life lessons available. “Today, because of rapid economic and social change, schools have to prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t yet know will arise”, states Andreas Schleicher, OECD Education Directorate, one of the leading institutions addressing policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. Simply, as life continues to change faster than ever before, we will provide our children the most powerful set of essential learnings, through inner guidance and self-resiliency, as they face these changes head-on.
So as we move forward with another new school year, I propose to my colleagues, parents, and others who take interest in educational matters, to rethink our educational decision-making through a fresh lens, the New Three Rs: Relationship, Relevancy, and Resilience: the core fundamentals for 21st century children*.
Happy New Year!
Larry, Author of “Love, Understanding, and Other Best Practices” [Amazon]
* In contrast to traditional classroom and instructional models which have been embedded in our schools since the early 20th century featuring compliance, fear, and control.