When you visualize a classroom, what are common things you might see? A teacher? Students? Desks? Aside from these things, there isn’t much you can visualize that stays consistent from classroom to classroom. You can walk in the same classroom one year after the next with the same supplies, desks, and whiteboards and the classroom would still look different. The dynamic of the classroom is in constant motion with each new school year, each new student, and each new day. Teaching strategies and learning experiences change depending on student emotions.
Immordino-Yang & Demasio (2007) state, “When we educators fail to appreciate the importance of students’ emotions, we fail to appreciate a critical force in students’ learning” (p. 196). Students who encounter emotional stress have difficulty carrying out executive functions. Cole, O’Brien, Gadd, Ristuccia, Wallace & Gregory (2005) state, “Executive functions-goal setting, anticipating consequences, and initiating and carry out plans- are very important for achieving academic and social success” (p. 31). I believe that my role as an educator is to help students develop executive functions that will help them make choices that will positively impact their success in school. Students bring different emotions with them to school each day depending on their lifestyle outside of school. As teachers, I think we play a key role in helping students feel a part of a safe community where building positive relationships and making good choices is the norm.
Immordino-Yang & Demasio (2007) state “The aspects of cognition that are recruited most heavily in education, including learning, attention, memory, decision making, motivation, and social functioning, are both profoundly affected by emotion” (p. 192). The problem that exists in schools is when the focus is on logical reasoning skills and factual knowledge because neither learning nor recall happens in a purely rational domain, divorced from emotion (Immordino-Yang & Demasio, 2007, p. 195). Immordino-Yang & Demasio (2007) state, “Simply having the knowledge does not imply that a student will be able to use it advantageously outside of school” (p.195). This is why it is so valuable for teachers to focus on strategies that help students develop positive social skills that will help them make positive decisions beyond the classroom.
Helping Traumatized Children Learn is a resource that provides teachers with effective ways to establish a safe environment for traumatized children. Cole et al. (2005) states, “One of the most important roles schools can play in the lives of traumatized children is helping them to have good relationships with both peers and adults. Positive role models and ways of dealing with peers can play a major role in the healing process and lead to strong academic, social, and behavior outcomes” (p.49). Some examples include teaching social skills lessons, establishing expectations that contribute to a safe environment and providing recognition to students demonstrating role model behavior. I think it’s important that students engage in cooperative learning so they have opportunities to build positive relationships with their peers. This artifact shows an example of skills my students are working on to build positive relationships with their peers in a cooperative setting. The skills that are helping students build positive relationships include: listening and respecting others ideas, having a positive attitude, solving problems calmly and productively, and helping the group. Students then reflect in writing on one of their strengths during group work and also an area they need to improve. Students write about one thing they learned about their partner and how they felt about working in a group. This reflection allows students to think about the purpose and skills needed to work well with others. Students have a chance to learn about peers they may not normally interact with. Hopefully, this helps students develop new positive relationships so all students feel a part of the classroom community.
Finally, it is important that all students are held to the same high expectations so they build confidence and understand they can be successful. Cole et al. (2005) states, “Teachers can use their existing expertise more effectively when they understand that many of the academic, social, and behavioral problems of traumatized children involved such difficulties to understand directions, overacting to comments from teachers and peers, misreading context, failing to connect cause and effect, and other forms of miscommunication” (p. 6). This is why it is also important that teachers understand the reasons student’s are acting out or not following expectations so they can be prepared to deal with it in a nurturing and supportive way.
Mary Helen, I., & Damasio, A. (2008). We Feel, Therefore We Learn. The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
Susan, C., O’Brien, J., Gadd, G., Ristuccia, J., Wallace, L., & Gregory, M. (2005). Helping Traumatized Children Learn: Supportive School Environments for Children Traumatized by Family Violence. Boston: Massachusetts Advocates for Children.