Yesterday a post by Seth Godin was making the rounds in the blogosphere. In that post, Seth asserts that caring raises the bar in an organization and that people would rather do business with someone who cares instead of someone who doesn't. Well, that makes sense, doesn't it?
I was thinking about caring in the classroom. I can have the best learning environment and equipment but if I don't care for the kids, their well-being and the learning will suffer. I can even care about the kids, but if they don't see it or know it, what does that care matter?
I've written before that relationships are key to learning. Some kids even learn best through learning with others. Knowledge is not as important as connection. I should focus more on interaction as information (or at least as much...but I think more). Kids should feel that I care about them...as they are not as they "should be" or "could be." How can I show care?
Accept each child as he is, as the individual he is. My kids are all in the same general stage of development but each one is in a different place in that stage. Some can sit and focus for a time; others must be moving almost constantly. Some read at a good level; some sound out letters and can determine words; some pick out letters they recognize but cannot read at all. Some like drawing, some like building (most!), and some like pretending. And these preferences can change from week to week. As a caring teacher, I prepare for what I know they enjoy... look for ways to build on their interests... and stay prepared and flexible to adjust if they have changed their minds.
Know and use the kids' names. I've posted about names before. Names are powerful and important. Caring is communicated when I use a child's name; I make an immediate connection. I've been having some struggles with one child in this area. I have Hannah and Anna in my classroom. Too many times, I call Anna by the wrong name. I know what her name is; my brain just popped out the other name too quickly. I've made it my mission to get through each class time and not call Anna the wrong name. It's hard (for my old brain) but the effort is important.
Listen as much (or more) than talk. Listen to what the kids say... and what may be lurking behind the words. I strive to remember what kids tell me. When they talk about their pets or siblings or whatever, that is important information. Remembering shows caring. Often I'll note recurring themes in kids' drawings and paintings. I can say something like: "I know you like to draw pictures of your baby brother. Is that who you are drawing now or are you drawing someone else?" Now I know what you're going to say. I shouldn't label drawings or guess what is being drawn. I agree with that and I usually encourage the child to talk about what she's doing. But if I get the same answer repeatedly over the course of several weeks and this picture looks remarkably like previous ones, I'll offer this comment to show that I've been paying attention. Then, regardless of what's being drawn, I can encourage and listen to conversation about the baby brother - making another vital connection.
Sometimes I think the social and emotional learning environment is almost more important than the physical environment. Okay, the room must be clean and have something in it for engaging experiences. But the atmosphere of the room--how the room "feels"--is tied to the relationships that have been forged and the emotional state of the adult. Kids feel welcome in a caring space.
Do you care? Can they tell?