Disruptive behavior continues to be one of the most challenging issues that schools face today. Even one seriously incompliant student can threaten teaching and learning for the rest of the class. And though exceedingly rare given the large number of schools throughout our country, incidents of deadly violence shake our confidence in school safety.
In the 1990s, amidst similar circumstances and fears, schools adopted "get tough" philosophies of discipline: increased suspensions, expulsions, school arrests and zero tolerance. By cracking down on all transgressions, school leaders hoped to send a message to students that misbehaviors would not be tolerated, and also make classrooms safer for learners that remained.
In its comprehensive case study report on socially inclusive schools, Special Olympics'
Project UNIFY identified the common factors across schools that had created a bridge from social inclusion programs to a genuinely positive school climate. The case study findings are here, and I'm also going to share with you key lessons learned that reflect my own work in fostering inclusive settings.
When collaboration goes wrong, it can be toxic for learning and classroom culture. We are all familiar with the scene: a group of students that is supposed to be completing a collaborative project has splintered off into dysfunctional factions. Maybe it's one student who has sullenly separated her- or himself from the rest of the group, or maybe the group has become two non-communicative teams with separate visions. Sometimes these conflicts lead to resentments that have the potential for long-term damage to the classroom community.
In the mid-1950s, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow created a theory of basic, psychological and self-fulfillment needs that motivate individuals to move consciously or subconsciously through levels or tiers based on our inner and outer satisfaction of those met or unmet needs. As a parent and educator, I find this theory eternally relevant for students and adults, especially in our classrooms. After studying it over the past couple of years, my graduate and undergraduate students have decided that every classroom should display a wall-sized diagram of the pyramid, as students and teachers alike place pins and post-its on the varying tiers based on their own feelings, behaviors and needs. What do actual brain-compatible strategies look like on this pyramid?
Worried about the shrinking presence of empathy in our schools? I know how you feel.
With classrooms operating more like grade factories, it's hard to make the case for school-driven empathy. Faced with an endless cycle of memorize, drill, spit back and test, teachers have become the wardens of a new educational reality that pits the head against the heart. Even if educators manage to skate past the dizzying array of standards and value-added evaluations, they must still contend with this fundamental divide: academic rigor, with its unflinching emphasis on measurable success, seems strangely at odds with emotional intelligence, a soufflé of moods and feelings. Which leaves many to wonder -- can empathy feel its way back into the classroom?
All of us have had major classroom disruptions that try our patience and push our limits. These incidents can threaten our sense of control and generate fear of looking weak to other students. We fear that other students might do the same thing if we don't take a strong stance. Couple these feelings with the possibility of taking the disruption personally, and we have a recipe for disaster. It's important that we divide our response into two parts:
Over the past few weeks, I have learned deeply. My students were paramount teachers as I was privileged to share a part of their interior worlds, their "private logic" that is a culmination of accumulated beliefs, experiences, values, thoughts and feelings. This inner world is often kept tucked away unless an environment is created that allows for feelings of safety and an untainted sense of belonging. When any child or adult enters into a space that accepts, inspires and affirms their "ever-changing personhood," we have finally found the key that unlocks the door to extravagant learning! What is that key? That golden key is connection, nothing more.
The hardest job in America? Being a teacher, so said Sargent Shriver on October 13, 1972, in a speech given as part of his vice presidential campaign with George McGovern. Forty-two years after this remarkable speech, his words bear sharing.
Blogger's note: This post focuses on the importance of integrating collaboration into classroom practice. In my next post, I'll talk about strategies for successful facilitation of collaborative work.
A Learned Skill
Sharing my rough writing with others is a miserable experience. I know that outside input is a crucial part of revision, yet I squirm uncomfortably as those I trust make comments and probe with questions. Inevitably, I begin to feel resentment grow as I am forced to reevaluate passages that I thought were clear.
If collaboration feels this challenging for me with those whom I trust and respect, it must feel even harder for my students because:
I often make a point of dividing them into heterogeneous groups that include students with different skill levels.
The projects I assign require agreement and coordination between all the members of a group.
I expect the final products to be polished and ready for a wider audience.