What Should be Driving our Teaching?

20160803_082912I am not too sure if this title does my thoughts any justice but I hope at the very least it does touch on the topic.

I was recently watching a small clip about schools in Finland. I know Finnish schools have been all over the news for the last couple of years but this clip caught my attention.

Now I know Finland is small in demographics, they are largely Caucasian and they, for the most part, speak one common language (ELL not really a factor). However, as impressive as their scores are it was what the clip said that has always got me thinking.

We try to teach them to be Happy people, respect others and themselves.

I could not agree with this statement more. I fear that we have eliminated the human element out of education. Now please do not get me wrong I think there are many great teachers out there who really strive for this and I think we are getting better but as a whole, I don’t know if we do a could enough job, myself included.

For the last two years, I have really started to focus on my students as people (again not that I wasn’t before) but really trying to get to know them, who they are, what they like and help them grow as people first, students second. It’s interesting talking to them about their past experiences. But when I ask them what makes a bad teacher they tell me, when they fake listen to you, or play favorites, or don’t make learning fun.

I want to share a story with you. At the beginning of the year, I was talking with one of my new students, who I was told was a behavior, he told me in a quiet conversation that we had.

S:”You know what Mr.So?”


S:” Last year my teachers thought I was really annoying. They hated me!”

M:”Well I don’t hate you but I won’t lie, I do at times find your actions annoying.”

S:”yeah, I can be annoying sometimes” and we had a good laugh at that. But what was scary was his perception of himself and how he felt his teachers thought of him. 5 years of feeling annoying most likely mean you will just be that.

I see it with my own daughter who in JK decided that she hated school because the teacher didn’t like her. She told me that the reason why she acted out was that all the bad girls got friends. I asked her why she thought this and her answer was well the bad girls in the class do the same thing and never get in trouble and all the kids gather around them. What she failed to notice is how those girls got friends to stay or that they may have been talked to by the teacher.

Now I know this is student perspective and I am sure that we as teachers do not purposefully go out and do these things, this is not why we got into education but I also know and hear the stories. We all have had those frustrating days. We are all human and get annoyed at behavior and kids but it does have an impact on their learning and how they perceive school.  The problem lies in the perception that students have of themselves and how long that perception stays with them. The more that they hear you a problem the more they just say, “it’s easier to be one”.

Last year I focused on Collaborative Problem Solving by Dr. Green Ross. I have blogged about this before but basically, it was bringing the students together to discuss problems and situations as a class. I found this dramatically helped. One thing that I took from his book was there is no bad child. I know this may make many of you question the statement but I will say that ALL CHILDREN want to be good. Some may need more teaching than others.

Thanks to my good friend Pete Cameron and an amazing speaker Angela Maiers, I started a #Choose2matter board this year. The board started off with students feelings about themselves. I wanted them to be able to look at it when they felt down and think about a positive thought.


Updated Pic:


This board is now filled with compliments cards from the students to each other. I don’t have to ask them to add to the wall they just go ahead and do it.

I have also been reading about self-regulation and how students who may be deemed behavior really are just overstimulated or need help to regulate their behavior. Learning about Self-regulation has allowed me to see students stressors and remove them or calm them down before they happen. It also has allowed me to stay calm and not stress as much with those same kids.

I don’t have quantitative proof with my class but just hearing the comments from my fellow colleagues and principal about my students have made me see the benefits of what I am doing. They tell me that they have really grown up and matured. There doesn’t seem to be as much behavior from your class this year as last.

I really believe that focusing on students as humans and teaching them how to be kids, role models and believe in themselves is the key to changing our education system.

Now I know this is not a new concept that I am preaching and I know that we all want our students to be successful but reflect for a moment on a couple of things:

  1. How do you interact with your students?
  2. Do you listen to them?
  3. Would you feel comfortable with them evaluating you?
  4. Would you feel comfortable with them telling you how they want to learn and what they want to learn?

It’s not an easy transition or an easy path. As a teacher, I have had to give up control and let go of that “Oh I could have used that 40 minutes to cover curriculum” feeling. It is also not an instant success. It’s not some magical cure but it does and will work. Building trust and community takes time. Yes, students still get on my nerves and yes I still lose my cool and go five steps back but the difference is that the relationships I have built with my students allow me to make a mistake. They know that if I goof and yell or break a relationship it was a mistake and that I flipped my lid.

Now I know this may seem like more of a parenting subject than teaching but I will end with this thought.

Do unhappy children learn?

Love to hear from you.


Author: MrSoClassroom

I am a grade school Teacher, promoting creativity and exploration in all of my students. My classroom is always in a state of Inquiry.

5 thoughts on “What Should be Driving our Teaching?”

  1. Jonathan, there are a lot of interesting thoughts here. This is a topic that I’ve also been thinking about a lot in the past couple of years, especially self-regulation. Stuart Shanker’s work has really helped me not just look at the students and “behaviour” differently, but also at myself differently. As much as we forgive our students, we also have to forgive ourselves. We will make mistakes, and maybe being up front with others about these mistakes, and offering a heart-felt apology, makes a difference. Learning from these mistakes too, also matters.

    Your bulletin board is intriguing to me. I wonder, are all students represented equally? How do you monitor this, or does it matter? While you find students adding to this board, do you find them reading from it? I would be very intrigued to know more about how they use it.

    I also agree with you about the importance of relationships. They REALLY matter. This doesn’t mean that curriculum should be ignored, but often, connections have to happen first. I’m not sure if students can learn if they’re unhappy, but I question how much they learn (and the value of this learning). I also think that if “deep learning” involves risk-taking, will students take risks if they do not feel loved and valued in the environment? Again, relationships matter.

    The thing is that I think as educators, we all know (at least on some level) that this is the case, but how do we move beyond just paying these words “lip service?” If we say that relationships matter most, what are we doing to put them first? Are we really okay with sometimes putting curriculum second (even if it’s a close second)? How does this belief in the importance of “relationships first” connect with the Board and school benchmarks we may also have for reading, writing, and math? Even when we WANT to do what we know/think is right, how do we feel comfortable with doing so, when we may also be concerned/worried about the impact that less time on academics (no matter how much “less” that may be) could have on student achievement? I don’t know if there are any answers to these questions, but these are things that I continue to contemplate in this relationship/academic conundrum.



    1. Aviva thanks for replying all valid points and questions is still struggled with. I think the board is getting better but I do fear that if test scores fail so will the thought of students first. However, for me, I am okay with putting curriculum second. It’s not forgotten but to me, an unhappy child isn’t learning anyways so the minutes I spend on that are minutes well worth it. I have seen a lot more growth in the last two years then I have in 10 years of teaching. The real question is how do get more focused on students first? I know we all say it but really embody that.

      As for the board, I write my own, I monitor things, I even put anonymous comments up. I think it’s integral that all students are represented equally or at the very least see themselves on that board. It is also important for them to know that they matter no matter what or how many comments are on the board. This is why they also have their own messages to themselves. Hope that helps. When I get back I will update the pic with the current board stuff. It is filled right now.


    2. Okay so to add some more thought here. I am going to be starting with a tough question:

      What was the reason you became a teacher?

      I know it’s a huge opener but I think this may help. I know for me this goal has really shifted and to be honest that shift happened when I became a parent and more importantly a parent with a child in school. If you asked me this question three years ago (which I was still a parent but Izzy wasn’t in school yet), I would have said to teach and mold students. To bring them joy in learning, to help them grow to their full potential. I loved the looks on their faces when they learned a new word, made an accomplishment in their learning and felt a sense of pride at their learning. I wanted to be a part of this. But I think deep down inside this really wasn’t driving me.

      A lot changed when Izzy went to school. A lot changed because for the first time I realized how much a teacher’s relationship to their students mattered. I saw my very vibrant, happy and outgoing daughter become a quiet, troubled and angry child. I saw her hate school because to her it wasn’t a safe place. I saw her hate learning and shut down and run the other way. I couldn’t even read with her at home because she associated that with school. I also saw an amazing teacher build her back up. It has taken some time and she still shuts down when things get hard but she is a lot happier and wants to learn. I attribute this to amazing teachers who saw my daughter for who she was. A teacher who laughed at her quirks and built a relationship so that they could develop better models for her learning. I have seen first hand what learning about self-regulation and modeling being calm can do as a parent and as a teacher.

      Now I see myself has still molding for the future but more as a guide. Someone who is there to help unlock potential. I want kids to see that learning and school are not separate things but a place to find who you truly are as a person. I want them to feel the love of learning for the sake of learning not because some 156 page document tells me I have to learn it. One thing I have really learned from Izzy, I cannot make her do anything she really doesn’t want to do. All I can do is help her see that she should learn it. The same goes for students in the classroom. We as teachers cannot force any learning on them. They have to want to learn. The only way to help them see that learning is important is building a relationship so you can talk to them about it. Just some thoughts.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for your comment, Jonathan, and for continuing this very important conversation. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you wrote since I read your comment before bed last night. If I think about why I became a teacher, it was “to help kids learn.” It’s because I believe in the value of education and the fact that every child can learn. I’m torn here, for I think that academics are a HUGE part of learning, but I think that relationships often allow us to get to these academics, especially with some of our more challenging students. Kids need to know that we care about them, that we believe in them, that they’re in a safe environment to take risks, and that we’re there to support them when needed. I don’t have my own children, and I so appreciate your story about your daughter and how she helped you realize the value in these relationships. For me, this realization came a number of years ago when I taught a student that made me see that some of my old strategies weren’t working. In an effort to help this student succeed, I was challenged to think about “relationships” differently and truly put “relationships” first. Reading Dr. Shanker’s book, CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING, around this time, also gave me some new ideas. We all need our “awakening.”

        I see the value in these relationships. I know that they matter, and I spend A LOT of time cultivating them. But they’re also what I question the most. I’m usually more reluctant to share these “non-academic” times in our day, and your post and this discussion, is making me think about this more. If this same time was spent on reading, writing, or math, I would be sure to capture it. Why the difference? Is it because I question if others will see the value in these relationship building times? Is it because, as much as we believe that “relationships matter the most,” school seems to be synonymous with academics? Maybe this thinking is changing. Maybe we need to change it more. Maybe I need to be just a little less worried. I’m curious to know what others think.


        P.S. I will cross-post this comment to your blog as well to continue this discussion in both places.


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