March 8, 2012

Connect to Find Cooperation

I’ve written in recent weeks about ways parents can help their children with obedience. Since a lot of you are parents, I hope that’s been helpful. But I realize that many of you are also classroom teachers. And so you may be wondering how to help your students with obedience.

Thinking of “obedience” in regards to school might sound odd; after all, parents have a (sometimes legitimate) concern about some schools’ propensity to micro-manage kids’ lives. So perhaps “cooperation” is a better word. But, whatever the semantics, there’s no doubt that kids who learn obedience at home are much better equipped to willingly cooperate at school. Thus, in a very real sense, the teaching of obedience is – and should remain – a parental responsibility.

However, it’s equally true that life “in the trenches” at school is much more difficult when kids arrive without appropriate obedience/cooperation skills. In addition, the nature of institutional schooling can cause kids to feel lost – as if they’re “nothing but a number” – and those feelings can exacerbate cooperation problems. And teachers must, of course, do something, because disobedient, out-of-control children disrupt the school environment for everyone.

I taught nine years in public secondary schools, helping immigrant kids learn English. Many had good parental involvement. But the kids often felt lost and marginalized at school. And that led, not surprisingly, to various cooperation/obedience struggles.

As one teacher in a large school, I could only do so much. But, for the sake of my classroom management and, more importantly, the kids’ well being, I had to do something. And I stumbled upon one small tool – dialogue journals – that made a world of difference.

These were simple notebooks in which each student and I kept up a weekly written conversation. I awarded grades for participation as motivation, so most wrote faithfully. As a result, their English improved. But, more importantly, I developed a one-on-one connection with each student. Because of that, they stopped feeling lost. And then, believe it or not, behavior/cooperation issues in my classroom all but ceased.

Doing the journals each week was time-consuming homework for me. But I loved it and never considered abandoning the practice. You see, once each student had a connection with me as their teacher, they knew they weren’t cogs in the machine. They knew I’d listen. And they were, thus, willing to cooperate.

You may or may not be able to institute journals with your students. But I urge you to find some way to connect with them on a human level. For some kids, cooperation will come slowly and haltingly. And it may only be in your classroom. But it will come. And, even if it’s just for you, that’s progress.

Photo Credit: chris8800


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