I have been thinking. And I know! I know! I'm a philosopher- that's what I do.
But I was thinking that an indicative sign of a "good" classroom is a classroom where the students start out not knowing each other but end up comfortable with each other-comfortable enough to joke with each other about their ideas, comfortable enough to support each other when they see another classmate struggling. This is the foundation for a "good" classroom because if knowledge is supposed to come from sharing ideas, then having these criteria met would mean that the students have created a culture such that attaining knowledge from one's classmate is not only possible but it is normalized. These are good signs of a "good" classroom because it shows that students believe that it is possible to depend on each other for knowledge, to look to each other for guidance. To some extent for one to feel comfortable trusting others in this way, one must care for the other's ideas and for that person in general. They must respect each other in some way to allow for a classroom where students depend on each other to learn.
But more needs to happen. This is what I have been really thinking about. The classroom forces people to exhibit some level of respect. Learning and growing with people also works to ensure people feel some degree of care for others in the classroom. But is this care and respect authentic? I would think that we could call it authentic if students would exhibit the same level of care and respect for others inside of the classroom as they do outside of the classroom. How could we measure authenticity? So much learning happens outside of the classroom. It may be a good idea to measure the care cultivated in the classroom by looking at what happens outside of it. My question, then, is how can I as a teacher how can I help my students create a safe place for learning not only in my classroom but when they are sharing ideas outside of my classroom? To me, the ability to push one students to do this is the hallmark of a good teacher. How can I help my students develop skills that will allow them to grow with each other regardless of the setting?
Off cuff I have a few ideas.
I can show my students love. When I give love they are more likely to grow from it and give love to others to help them grow. Conversations grounded in care are more likely to be productive. When you start off making it explicit that everyone is respected, not just via verbal affirmations, but also via actions, people will positively internalize this. Students can show that they respect and care for each other via actions by paying attention to what others are saying calling on each other to explain their ideas or elaborate on their ideas. Starting a conversation where everyone feels validated, everyone feels like their voice both deserves and needs to be heard is imperative for a healthy discussion to take place.
So I can show my students love by showing each student that I value them and their ideas. If they feel valued they will be less likely to get insecure. It may seem weird to suggest that my job as a teacher is to help students through their insecurities but it is. Many students derive a sense of their self-worth by being able to articulate ideas in the classroom. They feel this way because they have been rewarded time and time again when they were the only student to raise their hand and speak in other classrooms. Oftentimes, teachers will validate their ideas without critiquing it or showing them how to make it grow. Teachers will fail to help them grow their ideas because they do not have time to focus on the one student. So students like this will constantly receive positive affirmation when they show that they understand the material or when they show that they can offer some insight to the material being covered. This, to me, seems very unhealthy. When you constantly reward students for their ability to communicate ideas a certain way, you make them feel as if their "goodness" comes from them using this ability. But it doesn't. And the classroom isn't a place where people compete to have express "good" ideas. Learning is a communal practice. The classroom is a place where people come to determine what good ideas are via interacting and learning from others.
But also, there will always be the shy kids in the class. There will be kids in the class who have been through some things. There will be students who have been bullied; students who have been made to feel as though their ideas don't matter and that they aren't capable of expressing their ideas in a "good" way. Obviously, everyone comes with baggage. I can't "fix" my students or "change" them with love. What I can do is make them feel respected. And I know, through experience and hearing other people's testimonies, that when you do this students will be more likely to think that they can grasp the material. It also increases their desire to want to learn. And when you create a classroom where the goal is to find what good ideas are, not to reward good ideas, then everyone is incentivized to find a unique way to look at things because everyone feels responsible for cultivating ideas in the classroom.
It can't just stop there, right? Or should it?
People starved for love, attention, and respect will often show will mold themselves to be a detriment to others who get it. They will often create competitive environment in which everyone is competing to be validated by their ideas. It is not enough to just say that the classroom is a classroom such that people aren't being rewarded. If people show respect via positive affirmation, then positive affirmation will be a sought after reward. During instances in which people are "finding the truth" students will seek to get rewarded via positive affirmation again because it is something that makes them feel good. I don't want a scenario to take place where students perform or engage because they have been positively affirmed that their ideas are good. I know from experience that I should not give students with "potential" extra attention. I know from other's experiences that I should pay attention to the students that others might sleep on. So how do I both show that I am not giving attention to certain students and show some students that I recognize their insight, while simultaneously showing the whole class that no one is special? What do I do? Am I thinking about this all wrong?
I began this discussion concerned about helping students develop the interpersonal skills necessary to have productive and loving and insightful discussions in and outside the classroom.I said that pushing students develop these skills require showing students love, attention, and respect. But how do I do this? What does it look like?
I don't know but I think that we need to do more than show a general respect for people. Each person needs to show a high regard for every individual and really notice and appreciate what all of their classmates (including themselves) bring to the table. Each person must feel responsible for helping each other grow their ideas. They must feel responsible for their own ideas. I'd like to think that to guide students to feel this way, one is in the business of teaching students to love. I'd like to think that in teaching my students to love each other and themselves in this way, they will build their self-esteem in such a way that they won't feel the need to express ideas to get affirmation or silence themselves because they think their ideas aren't good enough. I'd hope that teaching them to love in this way, to feel responsible for each other's growth, especially their own growth, will enable them with the tools necessary to cultivate the same care and respect for others outside of the classroom. I would think that it would make them feel less boggled down by low self-esteem or tainted by an warped idea of what should go in a conversation (in the sense that they don't see a conversation as a competition for the best ideas.) Instead, the process would help them to begin to think about what it is that they can bring to the table and begin to feel secure in developing those skills. The goal is that they wouldn't just feel secure in the classroom, but they would also begin to feel secure in their every day lives. But who knows? Maybe this is a pipe dream? Is my head a little bit too above the clouds?