Did you ever have a former student reach out and share a story from your class—a story that you didn’t even remember? The story could be about a kind word, an importantly timed smile, or even positive, constructive feedback. It is often the little things that make the biggest difference for a child.
As teachers we have the incredible opportunity and power to make a difference in the lives of our students. In addition to teaching the skills, knowledge, and literacy that will help our students become skilled and learned adults who contribute to society, we also have the ability and responsibility to teach our students to be compassionate and empathetic members of society. We can teach this by example, by being an effective teacher and demonstrating compassion and empathy in our daily interactions with our students. In my experience and opinion, empathy is a key ingredient in teacher efficacy!
Katie Lepi writes in, How Teachers Make a Difference, “Being taught by an effective teacher for one year boosts a child’s lifetime income by $50,000! And, an effective teacher has 14 times the effect on student success as shrinking class size by five students”. She continues, “On average a teacher affects 3,000 children over the course of their career”. What have YOU done to impact your students today?
Teaching with Compassion
Again, it is often the small things that you do that make the biggest differences. While you may have written an effective lesson, how have you interacted or communicated with your students? Were you kind, caring, and compassionate? Where do you stand when the students enter the room? Are you behind your desk or at the door greeting them? An effective teacher greets students at the door with a smile. These small actions have a huge impact on both learning and behavior (Wong, 2001)!
Lori Gard, blogger and parent, recently wrote “What Students Remember Most About Teachers” for the Huffington Post. She talked about how, as teachers, we sometimes get focused on decorating our classrooms, writing the most engaging and effective lessons (which is very important) and creating the prettiest worksheets. What we don’t always take the time to consider, plan, or prepare for is how we interact with our students. Gard suggests that if you take the time to think back and remember your own “favorite teachers,” it is most likely their kindness, empathy, compassion, or enthusiasm you remember, not their classroom decorations or their pretty worksheets. Gard gives us an opportunity to reconsider how we define an effective teacher. We can ask ourselves, “Is my teaching effective? Will my efforts boost one child’s lifetime income by $50,000?”
When discussing the program Sustaining Excellence, Catapult Learning reminds us that the factors behind academic performance, whether your students are struggling or succeeding, are as varied as the students themselves. Your responsibilities as a teacher are as varied as your students needs. Being an effective teacher—being a kind and caring teacher—will impact the achievement in your classroom and the achievement for your students through adulthood.
So, with all of the requirements for teachers today, how can we also become those teachers who make a difference in the lives of our students? Do you keep snacks in your drawer for the child who does not have breakfast? Do you notice when a normally upbeat and happy kids looks sad for several days in a row? When a student stops returning homework do you assume they were being irresponsible, or do you kindly probe for answers? Have you read the recent article that discusses the teacher who uses seating chart requests to ensure that none of her students are bullied or lonely?
Lori Gard suggests, “Because we want our students to think we’re the very best at what we do and we believe that this status of excellence is achieved merely by doing. But we forget—and often. Excellence is more readily attained by being.
If we expect our students to remember the skills and knowledge we are teaching, we can start by being the type of teacher the students will remember.
The Guardian states, “As educators, we have a genuine wish to contribute to a happier society. And yet, we sometimes wonder how we can keep this intention alive and make it a reality. “I suggest we start with one student and one teacher. If we can make one student happier then we can create a higher achieving student and we can be the type of teacher that makes a difference in the lives of their students.
Think about your teaching day and make note of the different things to do, to teach and offer compassion to your students. I bet there are many more then you realize. Once you have that list, keep doing what you are doing but be mindful and intentional about teaching the whole student. Next time you start class, smile and greet your kids at the door! You will be surprised at what you get in return.