Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Change Agent #7: Develop a class culture of caring.

In one survey, only one in four students thought their teachers and fellow students cared about them. Developing a culture of caring models character as well as creates a fertile learning environment. Here are some helpful articles on our site about developing a culture of caring in your class.

Fifty Ways to Show Kids You Care

Article on improving the school climate:

Article on developing compassion in students:

A specific way to show caring is to avoid overtly or subtly putting up the “A” students and putting down the “D” students. Some studies show that if you believe your students are smart, they tend to make better grades. The key here is to realize that all kids are smart in their own ways. Some act disinterested and detached because they don’t learn well in an academic setting. Thus, being peer-driven, they’ve got to decide, “Do I continue acting like I’m trying, but keep making poor grades, thus proving that I’m dumb? Or, do I act disinterested so that I might be perceived as smart, but just unmotivated?”

In the final analysis, we don’t really know what those students will become, do we? Dr. Stanley found that most of his highly successful businessmen and accumulators of wealth had a “C” average.

Discussion: Why?

  • Perhaps they have a higher emotional IQ, which is an asset to any business venture. Thus, many of them major in extra-curricular activities.
  • Perhaps they are more “outside of the box” thinkers, which is not generally rewarded in education.
  • Perhaps they are more independent thinkers. They don’t try in a class just because a teacher said it’s important and their parents say it’s important. If they can’t see the benefit of understanding irony in classic literature, they might rather spend the time programming their I-Pods.
  • Perhaps academics for academics sake is simply not their interest. In school, my son Benji was singularly unmotivated, constantly pleading sick, always late, etc. But once he began studying auto mechanics he made all A’s and upon graduation from tech school, went to work at Acworth Automotive promptly at 7:30 each morning, working 55+ hour weeks and then on his own car, making big investments with his paycheck. Just because he tended toward being a slacker in school said nothing about how he would perform once he found his niche.
  • Perhaps they have styles of learning that don’t work as well in an academic setting. Here’s a scary thought. Dr. Keisha Hoerrner, a personal friend and a professor here at KSU, told me that in a graduate course for educators at UGA, they took a test to discover their learning styles. Interestingly, they discovered that they all shared the same style of learning. That’s more than interesting; it’s scary. It means that they’ll tend to have difficulty understanding people who learn differently.

So let’s rethink our use of the word “smart.” It seems to me that the language of smart hasn’t kept up with our understanding of smart. We now know that “emotional IQ” is very different from the IQ we typically measure, yet is perhaps more important for a successful life. We also know that some people can be great memorizers, and thus perform well on tests, but have little ability to apply those facts to real life.

Example: Paul Orfalea, the founder and driving force behind Kinkos is both dyslexic and hyperactive. Because of this, he never learned to read. Yet, he refuses to think of his learning style as a “deficit.” He sees it as an asset. His incredible appetite for getting ideas from his stores, his customers, the competition and wherever he could find them proved to be a successful learning style to run a successful business.

Here are some of the people I graduated from high school with:

  • “George,” the biggest goof-off. He’d yell “Wake up!!!” in the hall during class. He seldom did homework and came to the school dance drunk. Now he can speak four languages and has been doing humanitarian work in sub-Sahara Africa for the past 25 years.
  • Deborah, just another “flag” in the band. She went into broadcasting and has been host of the Today show and since 1995, Inside Edition. She’s a two-time Emmy award winner and has authored three books so far.
  • “Bart,” the biggest hippie. Last I heard was designing helicopters with NASA.
  • “Ted,” the biggest nerd. Today he’s with a big-time law firm in Atlanta.
So to build a compassionate classroom, avoid mentally dividing the class between winners and losers, smart and dumb. We really have no idea where each of these students will end up.

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