Some months ago I had the privilege of attending an education conference for educators from the south central area of Pennsylvania.  I have found that education conferences held in the beginning of the school year usually extend the hope-filled message, “This year is going to be great!”

The newness of beginnings and the energy that it creates can get easily forgotten as the “work” of teaching quickly becomes apparent. The mud wrestling that teaching involves includes how to engage students that seem uninterested, how to get them to cooperate in the workings of the classroom, and how to prevent them from disrupting others. If one spends any time in front of a class trying to teach, this challenge becomes very apparent.

ImprimirHearts in our hands

When I was a classroom teacher, I was very conscious of the fact that I often held the hearts of my students in my hands. Each finger could press a “heart string” of that young person in order to encourage and uplift and allow them to discover the passion that lies within. Even the most hardened student has a passion that is embedded within their soul. Do educators really realize the tremendous responsibility and honor it is to be in such a relationship with their students?

I came upon an article written for ASCD by Larry Ferlazzo entitled, “Eight Things Skilled Teachers Think, Say, and Do which got me thinking about the influence educators have on their students. As I reflected on Ferlazzo’s message, I came up with my own eight aspects.

My 8 aspects

A collaborative team, not a dictatorship – When I was a teacher of 45 mostly Hispanic students in an inner city school in New York, I reflected during the first week of school: “Why are these students actually listening to ME? Who am I really? An expert? No way! I am a learner just like them. I am just an ‘older kid.’”

I was not brought up in the city and I’m not Hispanic. As I result, I needed them to teach me how they thought, what challenges they faced, and what their passions were. I found myself asking them and myself, “Why do you think that way?” This began a wonderful discussion of perceptions that allowed me to understand their hearts. And I became a better teacher because I understood them. I found that even though this approach meant it took longer to establish who was “in charge,” they would wind up doing anything I asked them to do.

We all are learners – I am an educator who has a learning disability. I have come to realize that my dyslexia is a gift. Because I learn differently, I teach differently and as a result, I can reach students who also have a difficulty in learning.

My learning disability has given me the core belief that everyone, no matter who they are, can learn. It is up to the teacher to discover the HOW of teaching that student. It reminds me of an old fashioned radio that you had to tune to find the frequency of the station. There are no students who can’t learn, we just need to help them discover the frequency in which they can.

The classroom is a ship This nautical image of a classroom always gets me thinking of the importance of being a “captain” as a teacher. A captain understands the course the ship has to undergo. He understands that the real steam comes from the people working to get the ship moving. The captain just steers the boat.

Learning is hard – When we admit to ourselves that learning is HARD and requires much energy on the part of the student, we are able to empathize. They need to recharge, just like we do. Recess is the child’s power nap!

warm-heart-tree-200Warm fuzzies, not cold pricklies – I am indeed a product of the 70s. There was an urban legend story that was the rage of this era.  The story of Warm Fuzzies not Cold Pricklies as well as the Nibble Theory were ways to illustrate that positive words and actions from others can support an individual in remarkable ways – discovering hidden and unknown talents.

Support of a hesitant learner can assist that individual into venturing out and doing something new. I challenge myself constantly to be positive even when approaching a difficulty. Negativity is like a poison that thwarts any new growth. Being positive in the face of negativity takes practice and a definite decision to behave in that manner. But it’s worth the energy!

Being wrong – As a technology coordinator in a high school, I worked with high school (student) lab aides who assisted me to help teachers and students throughout the school. I found that my aides did not only help me with technology but also called me out when I was wrong. I treated the aides who worked with me as mini “colleagues.” On one occasion, after I corrected a student for his behavior in the lab, my aide remarked, “Boy, Sister! That was harsh!” I responded, “Really?”  Upon reflection, I had to agree with my aide. I went over to the student that I corrected and apologized to him.

Another teacher was in the lab at the time of this occurrence. He pulled me aside later and told me how much he was struck by my ability to apologize to a student. It reminded him of the dignity that each student intrinsically possessed and challenged him to do the same. You just never know who is watching!

Creating culture Recently, I came across a YouTube video called, “Giving is the Best Communication.” A warning: find a box of tissues before you listen to this video. Even though this video is not about teaching, it reminded me that an educator never really knows the good he or she does. When we create a positive culture within our classrooms and schools, we influence the future. The students who sit in front of us today will be the men and women whose characters were shaped in part by events we had  responsibility for.

Teaching the integrity skill – There is a plethora of blogs and tweets all about the different skills that today’s learners need to achieve success in the 21st century workforce. One that you don’t hear as often, but that I have a real passion about, is integrity. Personal integrity both in the face-to-face world and the virtual world makes an individual a key player in any team. Aren’t we educators teaching students how to become team players? Are we modeling integrity?

So, these are my eight. Can you add to my list?

About the author
Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, is the Wide Area Network Coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA). In her current position, she is responsible for Professional Development for teachers regarding “all things techy.” She has been a high school tech coordinator and graphics design teacher who's also taught middle grades math and science in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City.