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As a teacher we have many responsibilities. There was a time when I thought, first and foremost, our job was just to teach: to deliver the content standards of each academic subject to our students. That’s what I signed up for, anyway.
Over 20 years ago, I was excited to start my career: diving into a new curriculum, developing plans, collaborating with others and learning about the kids and how to reach them.
Nothing has changed, really and yet – it’s ALL changed! I still do all those same things, but the order of importance has been rearranged:
Learning about the kids and how to reach them is now the #1 thing that drives all the other parts.
Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up, had kids of my own and matured in my approach to teaching. But that’s not the only reason why… kids’ needs have changed!
If you are an educator who has been in teaching more than even just 5 years, you’ve probably noticed this as well. Kids are different. They need so much more. And their needs are much more than academic. They are emotional!
So, how can being a SEAL teacher make a difference for your students?
To answer this, I refer to the 3 Cs: Caring, Connecting, and Creating.
Now, I’m sure you already care about your students. That’s probably a major reason why you became a teacher, but now, more than ever showing you care isn’t just about being a great deliverer of information. Instead, you need to go a little above and beyond to help your students understand that you do, indeed care about them.
Students don’t know that you care just because you take home a bag full of papers to correct. They don’t notice you care because you spend time prepping materials for an amazing science experiment. They don’t think it’s a big deal if you painstakingly formulate detailed comments on their report cards. Those things don’t actually make an impression on them. In fact, they (and their parents) may just assume you need to do those things….it’s part of your job after all.
In this case, I’m talking about doing the extra things, things that are going to show your students that you indeed are interested in them, their learning and their success. That you CARE about them.
For example, if you take the time to listen to your favorite music with them and discuss what it means to you and how it makes you feel, that’s giving them a piece of you – caring enough to do that is a very special thing to your students. Then, if you go even further and ask them to share something similar, you probably just made a lasting impression on a few of them.
Caring involves understanding and patience. It means you will take the time to know the students’ interests. Doing so will help you to see your students in a different light.
Connecting is the next step beyond caring. It’s when you get to really put your care into action.
For example, remember when I mentioned sharing some music you enjoy with your students? That’s part of connecting too! And taking it to that next step when you allow them to share with you is when you complete the cycle of a true connection.
There are many ways you can connect with students. In SEAL, we call these Connection Sessions. It’s a great SEAL Tool!
Remember, implementing any social-emotional learning will take time. Relationships take time and the student-teacher relationship is very important to build. These Connection Sessions can help you build those relationships with both quick activities and larger, longer ones.
For example, a simple and genuine greeting at the door is a great start. Some teachers, like the awesome music teacher at my school, always asks her students for a connection as the kids leave her room (a wave, a fist bump, a high five, etc.)
When you take some time to really connect with your students, you will begin to see your students in a different way. And your relationships with your students will change for the better.
Want more suggestions for a Connection Session? Click for a great freebie with 14 suggestions to fit the time frame you want to work with.
The final C of a SEAL teacher is for creating. This comes with two lines of thinking. One is that you need to create WITH your students. The other is that you ALLOW your students to create. Let’s take a closer look.
Creating with your students is important! This means you are working with and through the creative process. Studio Days are probably the best way to do this. In fact, using the Studio Day framework is a wonderful way to bring in some of the (free) SEAL lesson plans into your day. Studio Days involve three stages: Create, Reflect and Discover.
Studio Days allow for a large chunk of time to be given to a project so that students can really dive into the Creative process, time to Reflect on the work they did, and a chance to Discover something new about themselves.
For a teacher, being able to coach your students through that process is priceless. You will learn so much about your students as you watch them create. What’s more is that when you do create together, you are also showing you care (taking time to create with them) and you will naturally be connecting with them as well!
For more information about what Studio Days are and how to implement them, go to theinspiredclassroom.com/studiodays
The other part of creating is that you ALLOW for creativity to occur in your classroom. This goes much deeper than having students do creative projects in your classroom. Real SEAL teachers honor and respect students’ desire to be creative.
This is a bit hard to explain at first, so let me give you an example:
I have a student that loves to build. I’ve learned this over months of having him in class because I allowed him to keep some, well, what you might consider, trash on his desk. He had a little collection of eraser pieces, paper scraps, a Lego guy and a few other things that he kept in the top corner of his desk. And in transition times he would keep coming up to my desk for tape; lots and lots of tape. I would watch him from afar as he’d tape paper and scraps together. Sometimes you’d find him coloring on his creation with marker. Well, after weeks and weeks of slowly adding to his creation, he proudly showed us teachers his (quite elaborate) boat, complete with Lego guy. Boy, do I wish I had taken a picture of it to share with you!
Now, I’m sure that, in a different situation, this boy would have found his messy collection of things thrown in the trash. But being a SEAL teacher means that I had to recognize how important this collection was to him. So, I let it go (within reason, of course) and allowed him that little bit of freedom to be creative.
There are people who stifle creativity. That comes from a lack of understanding that each person, each student has a different way to be creative. A SEAL teacher is open-minded and understands that students need a little freedom in order to express themselves and find their mode of learning.
Hopefully, you already realize what an important adult you are to your students regardless of what age they are or how many other teachers they have. Educators in all capacities have an immense impact on a child. It’s your choice if that impact is going to be positive or negative. And depending on the child, you may have to work extra hard to make that positive impact.
(And you probably also realize that the harder it is to make that connection, the more the kid needs it.)
You may already know the story of the starfish. Whether you do or not, you may want to follow up this article with this one about starfish because we teachers are like the boy in that story:
We teachers have the opportunity to change students’ lives – one starfish at a time.
And that mindset is the key to being a SEAL teacher.
- This post’s FREEBIE!
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- For resources for SEAL (Social-Emotional Artistic Learning) go to teachSEAL.com
- Get your hands on some FREE SEAL lesson plans!
- Who is Your Starfish? (article)