We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. Romans 15:1-2
As teachers, we have all seen them: the compliant, dutiful student who loves to follow rules and get stickers and the distractible, rambunctious one who just will not conform to the classroom expectations. Both are dearly beloved. Both are made in God’s image. However, managing a class with the latter, (whether they be girls or boys!) can exasperate us and cause us to respond in a less than ideal manner.
The way a teacher approaches this common scenario is one way a transformative classroom is different from one which is not. The transformative teacher will correct a student while also finding ways to establish the student as a child of God. The transformative teacher builds up all students in an honest way, recognising the God-given worth and value of each one. Just as a transformative teacher corrects the non-compliant child, helping him understand the motives behind the non-compliant behaviour and develop strategies to change his behavior, she also lovingly challenges the compliant child, encouraging him to examine the motives behind his behavior. (Is he good for the love of stickers? To be better than everyone else?)
One practical way teachers can build up and encourage children is through an exercise called “putting their name in the heart.” This exercise is effective with very young children, but can also be used with older elementary students.
When a student is observed doing something out-of-character in a positive way, the teacher draws a heart on the board and places the student’s name in the heart. The student is then invited to the front of the classroom while the teacher to honours them by explaining why they are being recognised. One child may be honoured for not calling out for an entire lesson, even though the rest of the class may never call out. Another child may be honoured for choosing not to broadcast her superiority on a recent test score. What the student did to earn the honour is completely individualised according to that student’s unique needs. The key is to recognise and celebrate all students (both those who are usually compliant and those who perhaps aren’t) for exemplifying character, perseverance, or success when the child is not expecting a reward. The goal is that students know that they matter, not because of their compliance or lack thereof, but because of who they are.
Putting the name in the heart does not eliminate using class rules or other classroom management strategies; it is used as a supplement to build up students for positive behaviors which do not come easy for them, whatever these behaviors may be.
As the holiday season—and attendant student “squirreliness”—approaches, I encourage you to look for the good in your students and honour it. Go put someone’s name in the heart!
Helen Vaughan, Ph.D.
Director of School Services