Extinguish Shame And Cultivate Compassionate Classrooms

Teachers are quick to judge students. It's human nature. We see students every day, and we make assumptions about them based on their appearance, their behavior, and their academic performance. We may think that a student is lazy, disruptive, or unintelligent, but these judgments are often unfair and inaccurate.

Most of us are well meaning and would never intentionally hurt a student by shaming them with our words or actions. Classrooms are by nature potentially shaming places where students are subject to judgment, evaluation, assessment, grading, scoring, comparison, criticism, and scrutiny for how they perform, behave and stack up against the rest, and what they say, do, and reveal about themselves on a daily basis. That makes schools the ultimate in vulnerability communities and students continually at risk for shaming and humiliation.

We need to reframe our thinking and acknowledge students' vulnerabilities. When we see students as human beings and not their actions, grades, and participation, we can start to build a positive school culture with compassionate classrooms. 

The truth is that all students, no matter their age, grade level, academic ability, or apparent self-confidence, come to class feeling vulnerable. When we acknowledge them as human beings, with complex emotional lives like our own, we are equipped to help them prepare to open themselves up to real learning.

To help students be okay with their vulnerabilities we need to shed light on areas of potential shaming. By shining a bright light on what students may be worried about when they come to class as well as what they most wish for, we can normalize their feelings of vulnerability and begin to treat them with respect.

Let your students develop a list of things they wish for in the classroom. This would be a list of 'do's and 'don't's that students create for things they do and don't want to happen in the classroom. Underneath that list would be a list of worries. This would be another list of 'do's and 'don't's, but this time pertaining to things they are worried may or may not happen in the classroom. This idea from Angela Stockman allows educators to assess students' interests, needs, and fears, and help them understand that they are not alone in their feelings. 

A positive school culture also leverages students' strengths and not their weaknesses. Taking a strengths-based perspective helps us see our students for who they are, rather than for what they produce, create, or achieve. A strengths-based approach assumes that each of us are already good enough, since the goal is to cultivate our character and put our strengths into action.

Give students the opportunity to use their strengths in the classroom. This means providing opportunities for students to collaborate with each other, to share their ideas, and to be creative. Doing so will create a sense of community where students are engaged in learning. 

Another way to cultivate compassionate classrooms and build a positive school culture is to reframe the feedback we give students and prompt positively. Teachers can prompt students positively by using language that is encouraging and supportive. This means avoiding negative words and phrases, such as "can't" and "never." Positive prompting can help students to feel confident and to believe in their ability to succeed. It can also help students to develop a positive attitude about learning.

It is important that we as teachers model compassion and share our own vulnerabilities with students. Show your students you are vulnerable to being judged and shamed, just like they are. If you reveal yourself to them, they will open themselves up to letting you know them. When we admit we are all vulnerable, and reframe our vulnerability as an opportunity for authentic human connection, we have the potential to form healthy, positive teacher-student relationships of trust that foster learning on all levels—academic, social and emotional.

Teachers play a vital role in the lives of their students. They can have a positive impact on students' learning, their self-esteem, and their future. By creating a positive classroom environment, focusing on students' strengths, prompting positively, and cultivating compassion, teachers can help students to reach their full potential.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Hacking School CultureRead more on developing compassionate classrooms and building an effective and positive school culture today. 

Main post image from Canva

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