Students expect a lot from their teachers. They expect us to teach them facts, skills, and ways of thinking specific to our respective subjects. They expect us to help them progress and succeed, achieving their personal goals. They expect us to help them develop social and emotional skills. But there is one key thing students expect from their teachers that you might not expect.
At the beginning of the year I like to do an exercise with my students that brings to light everyone’s expectations.
I give each student 3 post-it notes, each a different colour. On one colour, they write one thing they expect from their classmates. On the second they write one thing they think I expect from them. On the last they write one thing they expect from me.
They stick their notes to three different walls in the room, then go around and read each others responses, putting a tally mark on ones they agree with that were different ideas to their own.
I then take these away and read them all, reporting back to the class next lesson about what was written. We have a class discussion abut the results and how we can make sure we’re all respecting our expectations of each other, and how that translates into behaviours within the classroom. These then form the basis of our individual classroom rules for each class.
Their expectations for each other vary widely. Anything from humour to respect, concentration to fun, not picking on each other to being quiet. I make a bit point of talking about these responses, because they are the ones who will stop each other from engaging and learning in class. We really focus on the behaviours that demonstrate these expectations, and how we can make sure we’re respecting each other’s expectations throughout the year.
It’s always interesting to see what they think I expect of them. Most of the responses are similar to their expectations of each other – respect, listening, quiet, doing their work, having fun, concentrating. I haven’t seen anything too surprising from this part of the activity. I will always talk about the school rules here, and how they relate to my own expectations.
The real surprise this year came from the section of what they expect from me. A good two thirds of the class wrote the exact same word, and another handful wrote a variation of it.
That word was ‘kindness’.
These students are clearly telling me one thing – they expect me, above everything else, to be kind to them.
What a powerful word.
It came up a lot in my mindfulness course, because it is a concept we quite often push aside in the daily bustle and stress of life. We forget how to be kind, we forget what it feels like to have someone be kind to us. This is across all society, and you can tell by the stories of kindness that go viral, because they are unusual acts these days. We have developed a society that forgets kindness. We don’t even remember how to be kind to ourselves, and if we can’t be kind to ourselves, it is so much harder to be kind to others.
But these students haven’t forgotten. They want kindness. They need kindness. They want their teachers to be kind to them in class, in the playground, in conversations. They want us to be kind in the way we present content and assessments, choose students for answering questions, interact with them and their families.
Our students have no less stress and drama than we did at their ages. Anything from friendship issues, assessment stress, broken homes, family and personal illness, financial problems, acne, learning difficulties, mental and physical disabilities, social pressures, social media, abuse, sporting and academic competitions, the list goes on and on. They face no less than we did, yet we often forget that. We often talk down their issues in the sense of trying to get them to understand that others have it much worse (first world problems, right?), but that is a concept they simply cannot appreciate. Their own personal issues are the biggest, realest problems for them because that’s all they know. And kindness is such a simple way to help them deal with their issues and dramas. For many students, their teachers might be the only kind adults in their lives, the only kind people in their lives, and we owe them the chance to experience that.
So this year that is going to be my mantra. Am I being kind?
When I’m talking to them, am I being kind? When I’m designing lessons, am I being kind? When I’m disciplining naughty students, am I still being kind?
Because there’s no reason why I can’t be. I can be angry, frustrated, stressed, in a bad mood, and still be kind. I owe my students that, and I owe myself that. To be kind.
I encourage you to take on this mantra for your own teaching year too – teach with kindness, because your students need you to.