Wednesday, January 1, 2014



It's been easy for teachers  to dismiss the importance of emotional intelligence because their idea of it makes them uncomfortable, or it's been misunderstood or misrepresented.  Neuroscience is leading the way in helping us understand the scope of the importance of the emotional brain and its connection the the thinking brain.

As teachers, we have a relationship with every one of our students. How teachers and their students define this relationship is vital to understanding the psychological environment within each class.  We as teachers tend to teach to our strengths, which is usually around the subject we're teaching, how we're teaching the subject,  plus our management style.  What we lack sometimes is the willingness to teach to our weaknesses as well.

What I mean is,  let's face it, most of our relationships are superficial ones.  Superficial relationships actually make the rest of the world work more efficiently. Because we're engaging that way everyday, we're actually comfortable living like that.  As a matter of fact, we are encouraged to keep the ever-widening circle of superficial relationships growing.  How many 'Likes' do you have?  You get my point.  And we don't have to wonder why this is, we just accept it and leave analyzing it to the sociologists.  It's living in a modern industrialized, internet connected world.  We're all 'Friends' aren't we?.

This conditioning, this socialized conditioning and normalization of superficial relationships, sometimes leaves us ill-equipped to develop deeper relationships.  However, I have good news.  Even though we generally bring to the table only what we're given in terms of our own emotional development and intelligence, even if we're not good with relationships in general, we can still be good with them in the classroom.  And sometimes better.

Because in the classroom, it's different.  You're with the same faces for 40 weeks, 170 + days out of the year.  And you 've made the commitment to teach.  You already know teaching is a relationship business. Now comes the degree to which you are willing and able to engage in meaningful and academic relationships with your students.

Many teachers are going to dismiss what I'm asking you to consider.  And, it's true, as veteran's, we've been in the trenches for so long, we've developed some thick skin and thin patience.  We sink into a funk instead of rise with the groove.  And that general malaise is well-worn and uninspired, more cynical and narrow, closing, closing, closed..  The fire's going out.

But I'm not talking to that person.  I'm talking to you.

The balance comes when we embrace the importance of an individual and collective emotional intelligence as an energy force within the classroom.  Some teachers find it easier to just deal with the consequences of disruptive behavior and bored, daydreaming students.

By acknowledging the power of a developing emotional intelligence within each student, and therefore within the classroom at large, teachers are at an advantage in making more meaningful and more powerful relationships.  Relationships that not only channel disruptive behavior into more focused and positive efforts, but also relationships that reinforce the importance of what you're doing together.  Yes, that's a fact.

As a teacher, as the adult, you set the example in your class. Students are eager for a safe classroom environment that is conducive to learning, a teacher who sets strong boundaries, controls the class, and yet who is also sensitive to the individual human condition.

Always keep in mind, you're teaching human beings first.  And, you're on the same team.  This is not you versus them.  This is you AND them.  As the adult in the room, you've got to check your ego at the door.  Otherwise, you're going to get your ego bruised.

This is not all about you thinking 'see how smart a teacher I am?' (that you know your subject is a given) this is 'let's see how we can be the best learners we can be.'    The goal is not to flunk children, the goal is to connect, guide and inspire.  Teachers are actually doing this every day.  And in a variety of ways.

Why not you?

The overall goal is for teachers to play a small part in their students journeys to becoming life-long learners. Teaching them HOW to learn is more valuable than teaching them WHAT to learn.

A first week objective is to begin to establish an emotionally-connected academic classroom foundation. Keep in mind, you're teaching human beings first, with your subject matter simply a part of the vehicle you're dedicated to drive toward excellence.

A teacher's mindset is crucial to understanding that this foundation-building is not a one-off.   It's not simply something you do the first week and forget about it the rest of the school year.  Just like you and your students should take little brain breaks,  foundation-building must be reinforced throughout the semester with academically rich activities that are supported by and enhanced by the positive emotional climate. Along with a fine-tuned teacher-learner dialogue, framing and fulfilling objectives,  utilizing prompts and eliciting responses,  as well as supporting an atmosphere of open communication and active listening, will guarantee a more involved and dynamic classroom.

That's right.  Guaranteed.  I did it.  You can, too.  Especially if what you're doing now ISN'T working as well as you'd like or even if you think you're failing.  Pick yourself up because I'm going to show you a way through.  Be open and pay attention.

After all, most teachers would love an alert, engaged and appropriately participatory classroom.   Establishing a sense of safety, of trust, of connection, will enhance a teacher's sense of enthusiasm for their students as well as the subject being taught and learned.

How does a teacher establish, reinforce and maintain this emotionally connected academically charged foundation?

That's the million dollar question I'm going to try to answer for you.  It's exactly what I did for all those years. And because I approached teaching middle school by addressing a student's emotional brain, their thinking brains did better on all levels.  They were more deeply connected to me and our mission together and they WANTED to please me and do well.  They took greater pride in their work and more consistently met deadlines.  Bear in mind, we're ALL works in progress if you're living life with purpose and growth.  Being patient and sensitive to the human condition in your classroom is a big plus.  Maybe you don't want to make that commitment, but for those who do, the rewards are many.  As I've said, I love teaching and I loved all my classes.  Humans aren't perfect, we make mistakes.  If we err on the side of loving what we do and loving who we do it for, we can soften the hard edges of imperfection and embrace the human condition in all its colors and expressions.  I want that for you because I want you to know how amazing you can be and what an amazing classroom experience you can share with your students.

Learning is a journey you and your students take together.  Knowing your subject is simply the ticket to the train. Knowing your students will take the train where it needs to go.  I want you to always keep in mind, the importance and power of the emotional brain as a direct link to the thinking brain. Accessing that power will enhance your teaching experience and your students' learning experience.  This perspective has the power of a locomotive and knowing your students will take the train where it needs to go.

Again, because we're all human beings on this third rock from the sun, for some, it may just be the next stop; for others, your classroom could be that transformative experience elevating the spirit and reinforcing the value and importance of life-long learning.

Your classroom should be set up to help reinforce the idea that for both teacher and student, this is going to be a transformative experience.  And that's what I want to help you do: become a positive, transformative force for learning.  To become unforgettable means to plant seeds of love.  And if you love learning, love teaching, and love people, then the seeds will be spilling out of your pockets into the fertile soil of imagination, wonder, and achievement.

IF you're open to it.  So, BE open to it.

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