Many years ago, early in my teaching career, I was teaching a grade 5 class in what was called a core area compensatory school. Twenty-three beautiful kids. I loved it. I loved my kids, I loved the grade level…everything. I had learned early on as a supply teacher that the best tool in my toolkit was creating connection.
From day one, this sense of connection was at the forefront of our room and we practised belongingness like an artform in my class. We nurtured togetherness, tolerance and kindness. My kids were thriving, and I was joyful.
Some of my colleagues were a bit older than I was. I was twenty-four, newly married, no kids of my own and pretty fresh out of teacher’s college. I was closer in age to my students than to some of the teachers in the staff room. Many of my new colleagues had timeless approaches to pedagogy and I absorbed their advice like a sponge. Some however were distrustful of my methods and often felt moved to tell me so:
“You teach, they learn, end of story”, “It is far too enthusiastic in your room”, “Students need a firm hand and tone”, “things will spiral out of control in there, you wait and see”, You are spending too much instructional time talking instead of teaching.” “your disciplinary methods will have those kids walking all over you”, “you are a nice girl, but you won’t last long.” “Your students are not supposed to like you!”
I was so overjoyed to be teaching and had had so much incredible positive support in my pre-teaching and student teacher days that I was not dampened by this advice in the least. I knew then what I know now: kids need connection to learn. Human being need a sense of belonging to process information. They need to feel safe, cared for, connected. Why would we ever want to learn anything from someone day in and day out that we don’t have a connection with.
For very young children, it seems to be adult connection, transference of information and space from a caring adult. The work of Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Abraham Maslow bears this out. Dr. Siegel’s model of” seen, safe, soothed and secure” in his work on brain development and Dr. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs “safety and belongingness” in his work on human potential and actualization illustrate the incredible importance of connection to a developing brain.
The connection we create with our kids, students and our own children creates a framework for moving forward with challenges. Having that connection creates an anchor for rough times and a proactive approach for development and change. It is time well spent in the classroom, at the kitchen table or out for a bike ride.
New research is talking about restorative justice, sharing circles, mindfulness, growth mindset theory and social emotional learning as the leading edge of effective tools to support challenges and learning. The foundation of all these models is human connection. Let’s keep building on this. Let’s connect with our students, connect with our kids and with each other. The research bears it out and the kids and the adults in their lives will be the better for it.
Julie Fader is the owner/ director of Head of the Class. Julie Fader has been a certified teacher for over 23 years. Passionate about the needs of people as learners, Julie has pursued many avenues towards information and training regarding how students learn and supportive practices for assisting kids and adults alike to reach their full potential.