The school my husband and I teach at has an unofficial motto, “Everyone Matters”. We encounter situations and behaviours daily that can challenge this credo. Recently, Bearded Husband wrote a journal entry for a course he is taking. He was asked to respond to his quote:
“Creating a non-threatening environment in which students are emotionally and physically safe has a significant impact on student learning and achievement.” Marzano (2003)
I’m proud to teach with this man and to have his words shared here. Thank you to my fellow teachers for the dedication you bring to your job, even when it’s tiring, even when you want to give up. You matter.
It can be a tough process in life. We all have a basic need for it. Identity issues or a negative sense of self can arise if we don’t have a deep sense of it. Without it, we don’t function as we were meant to – we fall apart; we ache; we hurt others.
A sense of belonging.
If one lacks a feeling of belonging, it can negatively influence who we are, how we act, how we treat others. As educators, we are called to ensure that students in our care feel safe, secure, and valued. That they belong. We want students to have the courage to be authentic and put themselves out there. To feel like they’re allowed to be imperfect, that they don’t always need to be right. To realize that it’s okay to struggle, to feel imperfect. That’s important. We foster that attitude through our actions, words and beliefs.
Teachers matter to student achievement more than any other aspect of schooling. Us. We matter. Our knowledge, our skill, our leadership, our commitment to students. We develop students’ potential to become contributing citizens of our society by modelling care, trust, respect, and integrity. We are called to ensure our learning communities are safe. We want students to see themselves as an important part of a diverse community of learners where differences are valued – where it’s okay to display our strengths and needs. We all want to feel included. To belong.
Coming to this realization has made me a better teacher. It’s a tall task to meet a child’s basic needs. I encounter children daily who may not feel safe for several reasons: they are bogged down with problems related to financial distress, family dysfunction, health and well-being concerns, and neglect. I’m proud to say I’m part of a school team that does our best to alleviate these worries by providing programs beyond the call of duty. Attendance is a real issue for some. But we know that students are less likely to miss school if they feel safe. A big part of that is up to me.
Through reflection and dialogue with colleagues I continually refine my teaching practice. I try to be sensitive to the factors that influence student learning. As a teacher, I do my best to provide a non-threatening environment to relieve students’ anxiety and tension. I encourage students to take risks, to speak their ideas, to feel like they belong and are valued. I foster this through my actions and words – by modelling it. We engage regularly in class meetings, we set fair but firm expectations together. We seek ways to put others first by volunteering our time and effort. But ultimately, it’s up to me to set the tone. So I establish high expectations and insist they be met. I treat students equitably and with respect. I take time to establish a sense of trust. I ask students to focus on what we can do for others rather than on what we can “get” from doing something. I find effective resources to plan for and respond to the needs of individual students and learning communities. I provide whatever accommodations necessary to enable them to succeed. I do these things because I want my students to grow and learn and achieve more. I want them to have a chance to succeed in life. So I do what I can to create a sense of belonging.
We’re all in our own little communities with people who aren’t the same. Being different needs to be seen as a good thing. We all have strengths and needs different from each other. Everyone matters.
We are all worthy of belonging.