It sounds cliché, but we must honestly, “Be the change we wish to see”. Overall, our students tend to follow our lead. If we have a pattern of showing up out of sorts in our appearance and/or attitude students tend to respond accordingly.
Our expectations, whether or not verbalized, are demonstrated externally on a daily basis. Students don’t often articulate them, but in many cases, they respond to them. I cannot count the endless number of times that students have made it clear that they understood their teacher’s expectations of them, myself included. Although we are not responsible for our students every action, we do play a significant role in their self perception.
I have immense gratitude that I was fortunate to understand the difference I could make in the lives of my student’s academic success, but just as important and in many cases, more important to me was the development of their self perception. Many of my students suffered from a lack of self worth and I was determined to shatter their limiting beliefs about themselves, while setting a standard of excellence and teaching content. My students had to see, hear, feel and know that I saw the best version of them, despite the inappropriate behaviors. They had to experience that LOVE was not weak but stood tall and strong and was unrelenting in its pursuit of the excellence within them.
It is that LOVE that compels me to expel the myths that are iterated to them on a daily basis. It is that LOVE that enables me to create an environment that is conducive to respect, community, learning and accountability. I had to be first in demonstrating what I expected of them. I had to be open to their feedback of me and willing to make the necessary changes. They needed to experience that I was willing to admit when I was wrong, if I expected them to do the same. I had to build a rapport, a safe space, a sacred space.
The classroom is a sacred space where students come to flourish, which means the whole child. The classroom had to be a demonstration of my expectations of them. I taught 7th and 8th grade English and my students appreciated and respected the environment they learned in daily. Of course situations arose, but they were not extreme, nor were they the norm. Clean, organized, warm, welcoming and esthetically appealing, those were the basics. I knew if I wanted my students to take ownership of their learning I had to create an environment that would support it.
Besides creating “Classroom Responsibilities” and “Accountabilities” together, I ensured that every strategy and/or concept I taught and my students would need to use throughout the year was written on large chart paper and posted in the room where every student could see and utilize as needed. Additionally, students were provided handouts with specific strategies/concepts they would need to apply frequently. Students were also required to write them in their notebooks so they could refer to them at home and parents could support their child when they knew what strategy/concept needed to be applied. This was one way that I needed to set the standard, that I expected my students to take ownership and apply the learning to future tasks. It required advance planning, creating structures that supported its efficiency and tools for monitoring outcomes. Of course, applying every strategy/concept was modeled explicitly, scaffolded when needed and reinforced throughout the year.
For me to set the standard I must sow the seeds first, in order for my students to reap the harvest.