Many educators fail to recognize the driving force behind a student’s education: emotional health. Every interaction you have with your students will have an effect on their emotional health. When you stop and think about that, the power you have in your position as an educator becomes clear. This is the reason why making connections with your students and building positive relationships is essential for the learning process
There are certain things that must take place in our schools to support the emotional health of our students. We all need to evaluate our schools and classrooms to make sure that students’ needs are met. Luckily, students are resilient and your adjustments in supporting and developing their emotional health will have a lasting impact.
When students walk into school, they need to feel safe. They must be in an emotionally safe zone to be able to branch out and take educational risks. This does not mean we need to baby our students. It means that we need to provide students with the tools to allow them to react positively to situations. We must eliminate negativity and sarcasm in our classrooms and promote productive collaboration among students and teachers. Modeling the learning process will show students where learning can break down and allow them to see that mistakes are part of the process. If students can see that, they will ultimately learn from their mistakes—and if teachers allow them the opportunity to do so, true growth will take place. Supporting the process and focusing on what students have done correctly will give them the emotional strength to continue their learning on a deeper level.
In the traditional school setting, it is easy to ignore students’ abilities to rationalize, analyze, and create. By ignoring these critical components of education, we are taking away our students’ voice. When students feel they do not have a say, they might have trouble seeing the value in learning. This is typically when students become disengaged. In your classroom, do you want compliance or creativity? Compliance has minimal real-world application and can put undue stress on students. Creativity, on the other hand, allows students to demonstrate their knowledge to create something new. This shows students that their learning has value and allows them to have a vested interest in their education. What’s even more powerful is that students will experience a sense of true accomplishment. The boost that true accomplishment adds to their emotional health is so valuable and will have a lasting impact on them.
Positive Approach to Discipline
I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a bad child. A quick look in the dictionary will show you that the word bad is defined as “of poor quality; inferior or defective.” I cannot accept that any child is of poor quality, inferior, or defective, and I will not allow others to accept that belief either. When approaching discipline, whether at the classroom or administrative level, we can never default to the notion that a student is simply “bad.” If we accept that, we have failed as educators. Students make choices; I will even agree that students sometimes make “bad” choices. But punishing students for bad choices is not productive if we don’t understand why they made the choices. Rather, we should take these bad choices as opportunities to help develop and support students’ emotional health. Many “behavior” situations are just expressions of reactions their emotional well-being. By understanding their emotional health, we can begin to help them understand the choices they make and realize the impact these choices can have (whether good or bad). By modeling good choices, and having real conversations with students, we can support their emotional well-being and begin to develop them into learners who are self-aware. We must celebrate students’ good choices and let them know that they are responsible for their choices and that we are proud of them. Sometimes we underestimate the power of telling a kid that we are proud of them.
Bringing It All Together
Individual teachers cannot do it alone. To fully support the emotional health of our students, school communities must have collaborative, trusting cultures. Teachers, parents, guidance counselors, and administrators must work together to meet the emotional needs of each student. Communication is critical in making this work. The more information we have about students, the stronger the support system. By working together, we can play off our strengths to have a greater influence on students. Our goal for education must be to create critical thinkers that are willing to take chances and know where to go to ask the questions to help them succeed. We will only reach that goal if we create authentic, trusting relationships with students and continue to develop and support their emotional well-being. If we want emotional healthy students, we cannot remove the emotion from schools. Emotions drive all human interactions, so as educators we must celebrate and support the power of emotion.
Mike Janatovich is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. He is currently the assistant principal at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio. Janatovich believes that educating the whole child is critical to ensuring academic success and is an advocate for supporting middle-level learners. Connect with Janatovich on Twitter @mjanatovich.