Smile

Doesn’t a smile directed towards you make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve not always been the one to look to for a smile. I recall a time, I was young and knew everything, when I was too cool to smile. I was hip-hop. We didn’t smile. Besides, when I’m not smiling, my “normal look” looks kind of mean (I’ve been told). Needless to say, I grew out of that period and make a conscious effort to smile.

How about the person that is always frowning? I know a book can not always be judged by its cover, but we have to make a conscious effort to not “catch” the frown. Sometimes it’s contagious or downright unwelcoming.  Think about young, impressionable people such as kids. A frown can make us look so uninviting that a student (or even another adult) is too afraid to ask a question or even approach us. I hate to admit, but I’ve had second thoughts about approaching someone because of a perceived scowl.

I’ve been through rough stretches in my life when strangers have brightened my day merely by smiling and speaking to me. They may not have realized the impact their nonverbal expression had on me…perhaps it was intentional. Either way, my heart was given a much needed hug. We can have the same impact on others. Smile and lift the spirit of others. I believe smiling in the midst of adversity lifts us as well.

Emoticons are so popular because of the emotions they emit. Send smiles and hearts and you usually get smiles and hearts back. Send a pile of crap, well that usually gets laughs, but you know what I mean. Smile!

Relax…and breath easy

As an educator, I never thought I would be so invested in relaxation techniques. Early on in my career, I began to see how paralyzed students became when stressed over their academic performance. The fear of getting a bad grade caused such a mental block, that the student generally got a bad grade as a result. I introduced tai-chi into the classroom. I always gave students the option to participate or not, however; if they did not participate, they had to sit and meditate or visualize themselves performing well. Interesting enough, most students participated. To set the atmosphere, I generally play a zen spa/meditation video that creates a beautiful scene. As it plays, the calmness begins to set in. I begin with slow and calculated movements as students mimic my every move. As I model what they should do, I’m speaking to them in a very calm voice. I tell them how wonderful and smart they are. I explain that they are stronger than their fears. We also do a series of movements that require them to balance. I tell them the focus it takes to balance is the same focus it takes to answer questions on their assignments/tests. I let them know that a low grade is nothing more than an opportunity to learn from. We all make mistakes. As long as they gave their best efforts, I am proud of them. I’ve introduced them to cleansing breaths. We inhale slowly while moving our hands up. As we inhale, I tell them to breathe in, positive words like, “I can, I’m strong, fearless and loved regardless of the results.” As we exhale, our hands are slowly coming down. I tell them to breathe out their fears, anxieties and negative thoughts that make them feel inadequate.

I’m sure tai-chi and meditation in the classroom seemed more like a novelty to some of my students…at first. Then, slowly but surely, they began to “buy-in.” It became an expectation. The students, rightfully so, held me to a higher level. They looked to me to bring the best out of them. My hope is always to empower them to tap into the greatness within. I nor anyone else can bestow greatness upon them. My intent is to show them they are great, faults and all…they just have to receive it. Namaste.

Fear not

As students show up on the first few days of school, not only are they bringing their questions and school supplies, they are also bringing their fears and anxieties. Fear can be a disabling emotion that stifles even the simplest of actions. Testing anxieties, low grades and negative comments by peers as well as adults can create fear-based performance which only exacerbates the anxieties. A student can very easily become stuck in this vicious cycle. Adults in the school and classroom can help students ease their anxieties by creating a positive environment that welcomes mistakes.

How we (teachers and other adults) respond to students’ mistakes can determine how they interact with us. While growing up, do you recall getting yelled at or embarrassed for making a mistake? How did that make you feel?

I recall a writing assignment I had in the seventh grade where we had to write about our goals and aspirations. I wrote about my goals and aspirations, but explained how it could appear that I wasn’t trying to work towards them because of family issues that were going on at home. It was during a time when my grades had dropped and it seemed that I had no motivation to do anything about it. I vividly remember the relief I felt to be able to talk about this with someone…so I thought. Much to my surprise, in front of the entire class, the teacher began to chastise me about my grades and reveal things I had written in the assignment. She finished off her tirade by telling me that I wasn’t smart. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Of course some of the students were giggling. I had never felt so embarrassed and ridiculed in my life. I couldn’t just walk out, my mom would have killed me. I was taught to always respect adults, so I just sat there taking what felt like body blows. I don’t recall what happened after that because I went numb. I’m sure I didn’t hear a word of the lesson. I was mummy like until it was time to leave. I was so ashamed that I never told anyone what happened, but it affected me for what seems like a lifetime. My already weak confidence was now in the gutter and I began to see people differently. I was always a dreamer, but suddenly the dreams were filled with constant sadness. My point (yes I have a point) is that we have the power to uplift or to crush. We should ALWAYS CHOOSE TO UPLIFT.

When students make a mistake in your classroom, simply ask the student how he/she came up with their response. A simple conversation can reveal: misconceptions, a sheer genius way of thinking and it gives students voice. Encourage students to participate even if they are not sure of the answer. Don’t make such a big deal about the wrong answers. Redirect the student and help the student problem solve. For struggling students, try and put them in situations where they can experience success. Laugh, have fun. Rather than always focusing on mistakes, celebrate what the student is doing write…in front of others.

School should be about great experiences students are able to learn from while thinking critically. Create assignments that allow students to use their gifts and talents. Get out of the classroom and learn outside. Use calming colors and positive words around the room. Try something in the class you’ve always wanted to try. I would love to hear about “the magic” that you’ve created or plan to create in your classroom. As always, I appreciate your dedication to our youth and education.