Consider this list of basic student needs drawn from ideas set forth by R. Dreikurs, W. Glasser, and C.M. Charles, among others:
How are you doing as an educator, and how is your school doing as a whole, to meet these basic needs of all of your students?
This is one of the assigned topics of discussion for an online course I am currently taking. Here is how I feel my school and I are doing.
I think we do a pretty good job as a school at making students feel safe. Teachers are encouraged at the start-up of every new school year to take the time to connect and build positive relationships with their students. Consequently the students feel cared for and can trust the adults to keep them safe.
Working as part of a strong Student Services team, I feel like we also do a great job at this. Collectively, we have attended workshops on attachment theory, collaborative problem solving, and working safely with students, all of which have taught us the importance of building positive relationships. When a team of teachers share the same philosophy it can be pretty powerful! Together we have created a very welcoming and safe space for our students. Our care is unconditional, and despite some of the stress behaviour (crying, tantrums, etc.) that occur in our space everyone is always welcomed back. In fact, after an episode we will often reach out to THEM, to preserve the relationship, and let them know that they are still welcome and are still cared for. Students appreciate this and feel safe coming back. I feel very lucky to be part of a team that is so strong in this particular area. As some of you may have already read, I really feel that relationships set the foundation for everything else!
I think my school as a whole does a pretty good job at satisfying these needs. The school culture promotes inclusion and emphasizes the importance of being kind to everyone. We also organize many events aimed at building school spirit and community. There is a real sense of family within the school and the extended community. I have actually never worked in school where so many families participate in extracurricular events, so I think that says something. We do things together often!
What I feel I would like to get better at, is finding a place for those students who spend much of their day highly dysregulated and out of the classroom. I find it very tricky to find a balance between ensuring everyone’s safety, preserving the child’s dignity and ensuring that they have a sense of belonging within their classroom and within the school, despite spending very little time in the classroom. I am working at findings ways to give these students as sense of belonging and a place within the group.
I think preserving a child’s dignity is so important in making that child feel safe. When you work to preserve their dignity, it shows that you care, and it and makes them feel safe and valued. Certain steps that we take as a SS team and school to preserve our students’ dignity are:
- Taking the time to listen to them and showing interest in them and their lives.
- Speaking to them respectfully.
- Remaining calm when they are not.
- Considering their ideas.
- Helping them get to a less public place when they are dysregulated
- Valuing each of them and giving them a purpose within the school.
I am grouping all three of these together because I feel like they are all related. They are also all needs that I feel are not entirely met, not only by my school, but by public education as a whole. I think that some teachers have a natural talent for connecting school learning to the outside world and making it valuable, worthwhile, meaningful and fun. Often, unfortunately, the focus continues to be covering every page of the curriculum. I think that many students will not or do not apply themselves in school if they find it boring and frustrating. Other than to abide by the rules and obey their teacher, why would they? Would you? Who sticks to something that is boring? I am hopeful, however, that with the shift from prescribed curriculum to more student-led learning, students’ need for hope, power and engagement, will be better met. They will start to place more value on their school learning and experiences. They will feel that they hold power in what they learn, which will automatically make school more enjoyable and meaningful for them.
My school is working to learn more about student-led and project-based learning and I think as we shift more to these styles of learning, we will see much more student engagement. For students to feel hopeful, the teaching should be limited to real life problems, what is useful and what has relevance in their lives. We need to stop and think about this more often, and not do things simply because they have always been done that way. Sir Ken Robinson has a lot of interesting stuff to say about this and a return to organic learning. A clip of him came up in my Twitter feed today. Have a look here.
I feel that the need for competence is possibly one of the toughest needs for a teacher to satisfy for all students. Since the shift to full inclusion in the classroom, I think it takes a very talented teacher to be able to ensure that all of their students (working at different levels) are able to do many things (such as the expected school work) well. I would say that most teachers, including myself and those in my school, are working hard to differentiate learning, in order to allow students to feel competent while working and progressing at their own pace and level.
How about you and your school? How are you doing at meeting your students’ basic needs?