“It’s important to remember that when things go wrong, keep it positive. The students are watching how you respond to the situation.”
I’m paraphrasing my colleague’s comment, which was one of those statements that made me pause. It’s such an obvious concept, yet how often do we forget in the moment that there are others who will notice and learn from our reaction. In sports, we hear about how a team reflects the coach’s personality? Or how about the athletes who lead their team through adversity to victory. They were “cool under pressure.” How did they learn to become that way? Who were their role models?
Experience is a great teacher, and classroom teachers have a huge influence on students learning to handle pressure with calm and grace. Home life has a huge impact. As a single parent with a teenage, my mom was a positive influence on me by her “zone-like” mode she’d get into when dealing with stressful situations. Every student has positive and challenging home-lives that influence their response to when things go wrong. But while some students’ lives at home can set up potentially huge obstacles, time spent with teachers has a major impact. How we deal with minor disruptions is perhaps slightly more important than the major ones because they happen on a daily basis. Sometimes I catch myself muttering under my breath, and realize that others nearby are listening. Students tend to have our backs and seeing our actions may then reflect our anxiety or response. It is a teachable moment to presume positive intent—even when there seems no logic to believe—and problem solve the issue in a proactive approach, and keep the negative out of our words or body language.
Skeptical? What are your memories of your classroom teachers? I remember my Social Studies and Science teachers who taught 7th and 8th grade. Social Studies seemed filled with calm chaos where learning was done with humor and stories about life. Science was clinical, steady, and predictable in a good way. Amid heated debates on Social Studies issues, there was a sense of respect and openness to ideas–this reflected the manner in which the teacher presented topics with openness to all viewpoints. In 8th grade Science, after a massive teacher strike was resolved, and students returned to school after missing major instructional time, my teacher laid out a plan for how we’d complete our coursework. In hindsight, I can only imagine how much the “adjustments” must have disturbed her professionally at cuts of essential content. Yet in both cases, what we saw as students was a smoothly run learning experiences. They were professionals showing a composure for responding to major disruptions and being flexible in problem solving–all handled with calm and grace.
The skills that enable someone to handle situations with a positive public face–even when the feelings inside may be completely different–can be learned. The alternative may occur perhaps as frequently through the daily disruptions that is part of life, especially schools. Educators should continue to provide an environment and an example that helps students thrive–and make their thinking process transparent to students…
Because they are watching you all the time…and learning.