Learners with Gaps: Social/Emotional Perspectives

Classroom management, building an empathetic classroom where all learners are invested in having their classmates learn (empowerment is a powerful idea), developing empathy in yourself so that you can identify early on students that are showing up for class not ready to learn, engaging with those students early on, find a proxy for getting their needs met. Key: early on…the longer you wait, the harder it will be for both you and the young person to forge a tie to success.  For some students it’s humor and for others it’s a private, kind word. Letting them know how important their success is to you, that they can do it (you believe in them), failure is how we learn and that you have failed (and learned from your experience).

Classroom management (did I already say that?) Never waste your students’ time, make that first 5 minutes count AND make the last 5 minutes count. Attend to fairness and justice for each student and all of the students. Be willing to admit you’re wrong and then work through with the students what your goal was and how better to achieve it. Value their feedback will model them valuing your feedback. Then stick to it.

Find mentors that will lift you up and encourage you to persevere. Try not to engage in complaining about students for the sake of getting things “off your chest.” I find that describing behavior in the hopes of generating some problem solving solutions is much more restorative and helps avoid feeling defeated.If you want your students to persevere then you will have to not give up on them. Always put the responsibility back in their court. You may design another strategy for them to succeed, but ultimately it’s their responsibility.

Major learning gaps needs major support, not an easy thing to do and is very individual. I like to try to find the tool that levels the playing field (sometimes that’s very hard to identify). Also know as breaking down barriers to learning.

Focus on engagement. Engagement and classroom management may be related inversely.  High levels of engagement in your learners lowers the level of classroom management needed.

Learn a little about trauma and its impact on students and learning. Learn a little bit about executive function skills and social/emotional skills and try to inject a few of them into the culture of your class. You would be surprised at how much success can be gained by helping a student get organized or making some suggestions about how to handle frustrations in a more normative way.

From Students to Learners

In February I left a position that had been close to my heart for about 10 years. Beginning as a teacher and then becoming principal I worked with court-involved youth order to a  residential crisis-stabilization facility on a temporary basis (less than 60 days), where youth were supposed to re-gain control of their lives. The young people who came to us were invariably suffering from traumatic stress.  Many of them experiencing ongoing, long-term trauma.  

The education team’s job was to support crisis-stabilization and to maintain the education of youth.

While that may not sound “close to anyone’s heart,” children struggling to make sense of their lives, understand their choices as well as other’s choices (parents, siblings, etc.), and put their circumstances in context, was challenging.  Helping them gain perspective, gain control of their lives, and begin to make choices to improve–challenged us all.  There were some days when your heart wrenched for the angst, expressed anger, and our futile attempts to truly help a youth.  

My hope would be to continue to find ways to advocate for students that struggle so that they may become “learners.” My hope is that I can provide some insight for educators who want to reach and help those students that struggle succeed.  Why is that so challenging–because these are the students that challenge us with their defiance, non-compliance, absenteeism, and eventually truancy.

I have been a witness to these challenging youth transforming themselves into successful learners so that when returning to public education many were able to transfer the skills and mindset developed in our education program back into school providing these students (now learners) to successfully re-engage in education.