Each year I see more and more students coming into my classroom that have social and emotional barriers. Due to this, I see students who are missing school more, less engagement, and lower achievement. The figure below comes from an article on the connection between missing school and health concerns.
How can I combat this in my own classroom? Gone are the days that teachers can just teach the academic subjects. If I am going to reach all my students, I have to include social-emotional learning as part of my instruction. Yikes! I am not a school counselor nor have ever been trained on this. How can I do this? For the next several blogs I am going to dive into how we can try.
One easy thing to consider is using positive teacher language. Positive teacher language is what we say to a student and how it is said. According to the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, it is one of the defining instructional practices that supports social and emotional learning.
So what does positive teacher language look and sound like in the classroom?
Be clear in your expectations. If you want students to be in their seats, tell everyone, “Please be in your seats.” Oftentimes we praise the students who do what we expect, but you must make sure you state directly what you expect at the beginning. If you are indirect, a student who doesn’t get praised might not realize what they are doing wrong and this can lead them to feeling embarrassed or feeling insecure and wanting to shut down emotionally. This is also very important for our ELL students. They learn to communicate by direct speaking.
SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
It is important to make all the expectations known, including the small things. If you don’t want a student to go to the bathroom while you are teaching, it is important that you teach this expectation, but then follow through consistently by not letting students leave to the bathroom while you are teaching. Students get confused when you say one thing, but then allow something different. It is then important to know your non-negotiables and follow through using, kind, consistent language to enforce them.
KEEP IT CLEAR AND SIMPLE
I love the KISS acronym for this. Keep it simple silly. Don’t lecture or go into a long winded speech on things. Kids will zone out. How often do we zone out when sitting in a long winded speech or staff meeting? Shorten your directions and add in visuals. Have your directions written on the board or pictures of it what is expected along with saying it aloud. I have a morning slide that is up on my screen every morning. It is a simple list of bullet points that says exactly what to do. It is not in sentences, but just keywords (make sure that you teach what these keywords are at the beginning of the year). If you are including academic vocabulary as part of those keywords, make sure that those are also taught. Once all my students are in the classroom, I read through it with them. Student misbehavior often occurs when students don’t understand directions or instruction. This is very important especially in an inclusive classroom. Students with special needs, ELL students, or our underserved populations should be able to understand it just as easily as any other student.
Another aspect to this is making sure students know very simply and clearly what their learning target is. Do they know why learning that specific skill/concept is important to them in life? If we make it too complicated, we’ve completely missed the boat there.
SAY THE AFFIRMATIVE
Tell them what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to. This is a tried and true rule. Most of us probably used in when creating our classroom expectations. Pay attention to this throughout the day. How often are you correcting a student by saying what they shouldn’t be doing?
DON’T ASK, TELL
Make sure you aren’t frequently asking students to do something that you should be telling them to do. We often will say, “Can you pick up that trash?” rather than, “Please pick up that trash.” Students need support navigating a world of choices and many times choose to just not do something and then don’t learn accountability.
Direct language is not harsh. It creates a culture where the boundaries are clear.
EXPECT THE BEST
It is so important that students know that you believe in them and that you have high expectations for them. Make sure that you often communicate that you believe in them and that you know they can do it.
So many students who struggle require this relentless belief that they can meet expectations. This comes across in what you say and the way you say it.
Have the expectation that students will participate, follow directions, and work together. How you word it matters.
Show me how we line up for art.
Tell me three ways we can be good partners in group work.
This also includes students’ interactions with others. Take yourself out as the only source of help or information. Encourage students to work together and help each other. I tell me students that if they are stuck, to always ask their friends for help first before coming to me. Doing this also helps build classroom community that shows students that everyone is a learner and together they can achieve more.
Don’t say something that you don’t mean. Kids will spot a fake right away. This will be hard when you have those students who push your buttons, but you can do it. In fact, if you start looking for the positives, it will amaze you at the connection you make with that student and how your attitude might change towards them. This will in turn, change the way your student reacts to you. Just don’t fake it. It is not worth it.
WATCH TONE, VOLUME, AND BODY LANGUAGE
I will be honest, this is the hardest for me sometimes teaching 6th graders. There are some days that the kids just get under your skin or push your buttons. As the quote goes, don’t join in their chaos. Instead, keep your tone kind, your volume controlled, and your body language relaxed.
I have found for me, that if I do a mindfulness activity with my class (I participate too) that this helps center me and I can then continue on the way I should be.
KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR
I love having fun in my classroom. Humor is something that past students have said they love about me. But it is also a struggle. By nature, I am very sarcastic. I have to make sure that my sarcasm is only ever used to build a student up and never to knock them down. When used correctly, humor can build relationships, change attitudes, and just make the classroom fun. If not used correctly, it can be very damaging to a student’s self esteem or can make a situation worse. Be aware of the age of your students and use humor that is appropriate.