I must admit, I have neglected my blog this year. Life gets so busy and most people that actually know me can tell you: by “life” I mean work… they are really one in the same for me, my passion. Today I wanted to welcome any and all that are part of my internet, regional, or school community.
My recent teaching experience and new leadership opportunities have encouraged a great deal of reflection regarding my thoughts on education. As I worked the weekend before a state conference, I stopped, looked out the window, and asked myself: “What is my classroom philosophy? What do I truly believe is essential for my students?” I had been toying with an idea for a few weeks, but only at this pensive moment did I realize that my classroom philosophy and personal philosophy really do blend into one Japanese ideology prominent in the business world: Kaizen.
- a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc.
This entire conjoining of my personal and professional belief occurred to me in what felt like one of those wind-rushing moments where the entire world grows quiet while you balance in timeless head space. Kaizen. The act of making constant, small, positive adjustments to increase your efficiency, productivity, and success.
As I continued to reflect on this head rushing moment, I thought about how this philosophy applies to the classroom. Our focus at school, arguably the focus of the education nation, is student growth- not just quantitative growth through test scores and grades, but the growth of student character and soft skills that make students industry ready.
Here are a couple of those beautiful opportunities where a teacher, if their true interest is student growth, can take a deep breath, create a positive opportunity, and activate Kaizen in their classroom:
- A student is chronically off task during independent work. A teacher’s immediate response is to grow agitated and think, “How dare he not respect my assignment. How dare she distract other people in my classroom.” You think about yanking the kid out of the room and letting them have it in the hallway. Stop. Rather than going with that gut response, try setting a smaller goal for your student. Can they get through a third of the work in the time given? This question alone starts a conversation about why the student may be off task AND you have now approached your student as a facilitator rather than a punisher. No one likes a punisher-type teacher. Your willingness to customize their goals also shows how you, the educator, care about the small, obtainable successes. You are acknowledge that any attempt is better than no attempt. The kid might not pass the assignment, but any progress is better than a zero.
- A student is verbally aggressive with other students and picks fights in class. Again, the hallway is the traditional option, and on this occasion, I tend to agree. Aggressive behavior is always a sign of a deeper scar that the student refuses to share, particularly in front of other students. There are many teachers that, this juncture, would say, “My kids never act like that.” You may be in a school that has less scars than others, your kids may already have that relationship of trust with you, or you may have suffocated your students’ selves so much that they no longer are willing to engage in any moments of your classroom; no matter the answer, at some point a kid will be in your room with scars worth healing. So, use this moment of Kaizen to begin building that relationship. Rather than berating the student, ask how they are doing. Do not be surprised if they look shocked. Talk with them about their day, their home, their family. It takes just a moment to switch what could be a devastating meltdown into a positive, small change for the better of your classroom culture. This does not mean that you do not write the kid up, if they earned the punishment, so be it; however, by the time the slip arrives in the kid’s hand, not only will they be aware of their fault, but they will look at you and indicate that they totally understand why the punishment was well earned. If this does not happen, your clarification and relationship foundation is not there. Take the time to talk to your kids.
Many will say that this is being soft on kids. Compared to the regimental punishment dealt out by many… yes, this is a softer side to teaching. More importantly, this is the path of least resistance. This is the way to teach kids to work for and respect their selves, rather than just respecting their boss. They learn to think rationally about their attempts instead of turning into mindless drones working for someone who holds their grade or paycheck ransom. This stops teachers from becoming bitter “yellers” in their classrooms. This is the way to get under the skin of your students and become infectious, a healer of broken homes and broken hearts. This is an opportunity for growth. Kaizen.