Labeling Emotions In Kids VS. Feeling Empathy

I was sitting in my economics class in high school, it was finals week. This class was a college credit for me so it was important that I did well. I studied the material and came prepared to get a good grade on my test, I knew the content and was prepared to show it. 

My teacher walked around the quiet room passing out the tests. He placed a one on my desk, and then put his hand on my shoulder. 

“You seem anxious,” he whispered, “Do you want to take this test in the resource room where you can sit in a quiet corner and focus better? It may help your anxiety.” 

Right away, I started to panic, was I anxious? Did I need a quiet room to test in? I was confident in my testing ability before, but this went out the window faster than my thoughts could finish processing. He told me I was anxious, so obviously I was. 

I truly know that my teacher meant well and that he never wanted to cause me more harm or anxiety. He was looking out for me, as well as other students, and tried feeling empathy and create genuine relationships with his students in order to teach us how we needed to be taught. 

But this experience made me think a lot about labeling a child’s emotions for them versus feeling empathy. What’s the difference? 

Labeling emotions is telling kids what they are feeling before they have the chance to tell you what they are feeling. 

Feeling empathy is giving a child the chance to process their own emotions, tell you what they are feeling, and then helping them feel those emotions. 

Emotions must be taught and understood so that students can label their feelings themselves before we create unnecessary labels for them, even if we are doing it out of the goodness of our hearts. 

Looking back on my experience of having a teacher label my emotions, I have thought many times about what a better approach might have been for him to take. 

Instead, he could have said: “How are you feeling about this test?” and waited to hear if I was confident, or worried. 

He could have also given me affirmation about my testing ability by saying, “I know you have worked hard in this class and to study for this test, especially when you came in during lunch to ask further questions on material you didn’t understand. You will do great.” 

It was a learning moment for me to watch what I was saying to my own students so that they can feel and process their own emotions, instead of me placing the burden of what I thought they were feeling on them. 

It took time, practice, and dedicated effort, but the results were worth it. 

What do you do to make sure you are genuinely feeling empathy instead of labeling emotions in your students? 

The Importance Of Students Having A Global Perspective

We have our neighborhoods and communities that kids are aware of. 

We have schools that they know very well. 

The towns they grow up in are a part of them. 

Sometimes even the cities neighboring can be important in their lives as well. 

And of course, our own state has an impact on them. 

But what about moving beyond our states? Or even our nation? What is the importance of giving kids a global perspective? 

Teaching students about global affairs in an authentic way can teach them acceptance and understanding of cultures and others. It can allow them to feel more empathy as they learn more about the various types of living styles. It can open their eyes to see that their lifestyle isn’t how someone else lives. 

They might even have the chance to say, “Hey! This kid is just like me.” 

Having a mindset that our world goes beyond the walls of our schools or the lines of our states gives us millions of minds to collaborate with and help with finding solutions. We can start asking the important questions like, “Why is Singapore’s math curriculum working so well and how can we use it too?” 

There is a better chance they will end up in global careers by learning about them now. 

Students won’t just know about the Great Wall of China, they will understand the history and importance of it, as well as the impacts it has on China’s residents today. 

So start introducing other cultures in your classroom. Give your students the opportunity to interact and collaborate with other students across the globe, through email, skype, or social media. Break down the four walls of your school and the limits of your cities to show our future leaders what a global perspective looks like. 

Featured Image: Pexels.com

The Powerful Purpose Of Books About Other Cultures

Let’s talk about different races and ethnic backgrounds. It’s something that is a growing topic in our schools, as it should be. Why are these conversations important for students? Studies have shown that kids as young as 3 years old can start showing signs of racism, which can stem from the TV shows they are watching, the toys they play with, and the books they read. 

A few of my favorite books to expose children to these different cultures do not explicitly teach how to be tolerant of others, instead, they give you a peek into their worlds and what makes them special. It can be so powerful. 

CROW BOY is a book about a young boy who attends school in Japan that walks to and from school by himself every day for years and years. By the end of the book, his classmates see just how special Crow Boy is and what a mistake it was to ignore him all of those years. 

I, DOKO: THE TALE OF THE BASKET a story told by the basket a family uses for various purposes over the years, from carrying grain to carrying a baby. This book can become confusing with the different generations of family members, it may be beneficial to write or draw a visual of the family tree to help students understand who is who in the story. 

TUKI AND MOKA: A TALK OF TWO TAMARINS this book is sure to capture your students’ love with two monkeys that follow a little boy around in Ecuador as they collect Brazil nuts to provide for their family. Later, the monkeys and other animals are captured by poachers and the protagonist must take action right away. 

Not only do these books explore the lifestyle of different races and cultures, but they also teach vocabulary words from their language. This can be engaging for students and fun for students to learn these new words and names. A word of advice, before reading these books out loud in class, practice a few readings out loud by yourself to know the words and names pronunciation beforehand. 

Books are powerful. Whether read aloud in classrooms or left for little hands to explore, having ready access to different ethnicities through text and pictures will benefit them, our classrooms, schools, and our society. Our students and teachers can make or break someone else’s school experience based on their cultural awareness. If you don’t believe me, watch this Ted Talk by Melissa Crum. 

What are books you use in your classroom that expose children to different races, whether directly or indirectly? 

Featured Image: pexels.com

What Matters Most to YOU About your Child’s School Experience? #TeacherMom

Much of what I write here comes down to this question. But when it came down answering it directly for an interview for my cousin’s class, I was surprised at how difficult it was to decide.

What matters most to me? Really, no less than a preservation of my child’s humanity. Her empathy. Her creativity. Her curiosity. Because only when she finds meaning for herself will the learning follow.

Cultivating humanity exists in the small details. Non-examples include choices such as:

  • assigning worksheets that are excessive or developmentally inappropriate and then faulting children for being inattentive
  • focusing more on the data and products than on the child
  • consistently depending on extrinsic incentives instead of choosing to have the harder, ongoing conversations about broader, more intrinsic values

Examples include:

  • honoring students’ agency by inviting them to the planning table for their own learning
  • proactively working to communicate with families, not because we want behavior conversations to be less awkward, but because we want families to know we truly care about their children
  • trusting students to monitor their own bathroom use

These are the kinds of approaches that send a clear message to students: you are valued. Your voice matters. You bring something unique to our group that cannot be replicated.

These messages matter not only for the sake of individual wellness (which is a worthy goal in itself), but for the sake of our collective future in an increasingly automated world. Realizing that “human beings are our most valuable resource” (as referenced in the recent article, “Educator: In Finland, I realized how ‘mean-spirited’ the U.S. education system really is”) should be of utmost importance in meeting the needs of the individual and the whole.  (see also the great video Adam Hill shared in his post, “What are Soft Skills & Why do Students Need them More than Ever?“)

Going back to that interview, other questions posed included:

  • What matters most to your child when they go to school?
  • What is the most important quality for a classroom teacher to possess?
  • What makes you the most nervous about sending your child to school?
  • If your child misbehaves, how would you hope the teacher handles it?
  • What rules are the most important for teachers to have?
  • How should teachers best communicate with parents in regards to their child’s behavior?

What might happen if we use these kinds of questions as conversation-starters between teachers and families? How might collaborating to figure out what we hope school will accomplish impact our communities? And most importantly, how might seeking for understanding and connection help us cultivate humanity on the scale of the both the individual and the whole?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Opportunities When We Let Them Teach

The first portion of my 8 year-old’s parent teacher conference a couple weeks ago was student-led, during which she was able to share her desire to be given serious responsibilities. As a result, her wonderful teacher allowed her to teach a math lesson.

She came home brimming with pride–and with a new career aspiration. And I’ve been reflecting on the this ever since. I know that when I was teaching myself, I did not often provide these experiences, which is why I greatly admire teacher like:

I’m looking forward to implementing student-led workshops and lessons more frequently when I return to the classroom! Meanwhile, some benefits I’ve been able to see just from my daughter’s experience include the following.

Opportunity #1: Helps take down “secret teacher business”

The idea of dismantling “secret teacher business” has been thrilling and fascinating to me ever since my introduction via Edna Sackson’s blog. Allowing students to teach gives them insight on the bigger picture of school–the curricula, the planning, the constraints–which in turn can bring greater ownership and sense of purpose.

Opportunity #2: Helps them develop empathy

Among all the positive aspects of teaching, my daughter also observed, “Some kids were not very respectful.” When students are given the opportunity to direct the classroom, they gain new insight on what an enormous task this can be. While this should not be the only reason we pursue student-led endeavors, it’s certainly a wonderful benefit when students learn to see their teachers as human beings, too.

Opportunity #3: Helps them process learning in a new way

My daughter taught a lesson on rounding using a variety of strategies. This was a math topic she loved, but approaching it from a teacher’s perspective required her to use speaking & listening skills, in addition to her mathematical processing skills.

Opportunity #4: Helps them learn to take ownership

Especially when students are offered the chance to teach about a variety of concepts (including offering “non-academic” workshops), they can share in the learning plans. I especially love all the descriptions of teachers who allow students to opt-in to sessions, resulting a group of learners who actually chose to be there and learn that content.

Opportunity #5: Confidence-building

I loved the student feedback in Mindy’s post linked above. Especially:

student comment via blog by Mindy Slaughter

Student-led lessons are just another facet of cultivating student agency in our classrooms. What other benefits have you observed?

To subscribe or manage your subscription preferences, click here. Weekly blog schedule usually includes Inquiry provocations on Monday, #TeacherMom posts on Wednesday, and Learning Through Reflecting posts on Friday. 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Feelings

Taking a break from my provocation series into the SDGs to write an inquiry into feelings. It was sparked by the first resource in this list, from the profound words of a second grader: “With friends, I don’t have to be happy.”

I think the best reason I can think of to stop and inquire into the nature of feelings is summed up by this quote from Brene Brown:

https://brenebrown.com/

How might an inquiry into the nature of feelings impact your students at any point in the school year? Use the resources below to find out!

Resource #1: Tweet from Hata Trbonja

Resource #2: Disney Pixar’s Inside Out trailer (also, this incredible scene when Sadness helps Riley make sense of memories that were once dominated by joy).

Resource #3: Feelings by Nate Milton

Resource #4: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

Resource #5: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Resource #6: The Heart & The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Provocation Questions: 

  • What are feelings?
  • Why do we need feelings?
  • What is the purpose of feelings? All of them?
  • How can it be helpful for us to identify how we are feeling?
  • What are different perspectives people have when experiencing each emotion?
  • What is our responsibility to honor our feelings?
  • What would life be like without any emotions?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Valuing Teacher Humanity

It was the end of lunchtime. I finished up in the teacher’s lounge and was just about to head up to my classroom when I suddenly had to run to the bathroom.

After a long journey of trying to conceive, multiple rounds of fertility treatments, and finally a positive pregnancy test — I felt sure I was losing that baby.

The details of all that followed are a bit of a blur. I managed to get someone to cover my class as my kids returned from lunch, managed to get down to the office to explain why I had to leave.

But what will forever remain clear in my memory was the compassion of my principal, Kathy Watson. She listened as I sobbed. She held my hands, hugged me, reassured me that I could take all the time I needed.

Equally precious was what she did not do. She didn’t bring up sub plans, she didn’t hint at a meeting she was probably late for, she didn’t remind me of leave policies, and she didn’t try to minimize my pain in any way. I knew that in that moment of crisis, nothing was more important than her being there for me.

In short, she valued my humanity as a teacher and as a human being.

I wish valuing teachers’ humanity is something we could all take for granted. But somehow, as we wave our banners for what’s best for students, sometimes what’s best for teachers gets forgotten. A sad recent example (with many more in the thread):

When I was a class-teacher my son was rushed into hospital. It was touch and go.

As in many instances when I’m writing about something vulnerable, I’m reminded of something author Brene Brown wrote:

What I’ve also learned from Brene’s work is that it’s impossible to be selective about our empathy. We cannot profess to have empathy for our students and then deny it for our teachers. We need to find ways to let all those around us with whom we would like to make meaningful connections that they are not alone, that we are with them in the arena, too.

I am grateful to report that after a couple of dark weeks, we found that the baby’s heart was still beating. My son is a thriving 4 year-old today. I am also grateful to have had the chance to experience such empathy from my principal. Both are precious moments I will carry with me for a lifetime.

What are ways we can show teachers we value their humanity even when especially if it throws a wrench into plans? How does modeling this kind of empathy impact our students and their learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto