It is no secret that being a teacher is hard work, but what is also becoming more and more talked about is that quality teaching also involves a lot of “heart work,” maybe not those words exactly, but that is what I like to call it. I actually believe that ” heart work,”if I can say the word heart this many times without too many eye rolls, is at the heart of teaching (hence the name of my blog) and that it should be top priority, in order for everything else to be successful.
If you think back to the teachers that left their mark on you as a kid, I can bet that they were also the teachers that took the time to connect with you, and to get to know you. They were probably also the ones that made you feel good about yourself. I can still remember my Grade 2 teacher, Mme Hiscott (now Ferland), calling me over to her desk to tell me how perfect my cursive letter ‘z’ was in our practice books, and the day that she let us (a bunch of 7 and 8 year olds) decide whether we wanted to work on the vowel ‘o’ or ‘e.’ She understood the power of making kids feel good about themselves, and of giving them a voice and choice throughout their day. This same teacher also welcomed us lovingly every morning, regardless of our poor behavior or mishaps the day before (
never rarely mine of course)! She just naturally understood the importance of social and emotional learning and connection, and this long before any of us in the teacher world even knew what SEL stood for.
Now as a teachers we see SEL pop up everywhere. SEL and the importance of relationships has come up in almost every pd opportunity I have taken part in in the recent past, and across different topics in education too. Here are but a few examples.
- Chapter 4 of the Innovator’s Mindset, titled Relationships, Relationships, Relationships, in which George talks about the importance of connection and building team trust in innovative education.
- Gordon Neufeld’s talks on Making Sense of Anxiety and Working With Stuck Kids, during which his main focus is on the importance of healthy attachment and creating a sense of belonging.
- Block 1 (Social and Emotional Learning: Developing Compassionate Learning communities) of Winnipegger Jennifer Katz’ Three Block Model of Universal Design Learning and the fact that she states we “have to teach to the heart as well as to the mind.”
- Giving kids a voice in a collaborative solving approach.
- The stages of the DTORF that emphasize things such providing recognition, adult connection and connection with peers.
- The less than optimal brain development of trauma victims and the supreme importance of working on building trust with these victims.
- The ability to connect with others, and collaboration being important leadership skills.
- the DIR Floortime Model when working with kids with autism, and the importance of findings ways to connect with them on their level.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point! The importance of relationships and social and emotional learning is everywhere and there’s no pretending that it doesn’t matter. The reason for all this talk about SEL and relationships, is because it is backed by some pretty interesting brain research.
We now know that the outermost part of the brain, the neocortex (or social part of the brain) in humans, is much larger than in other mammals our size, making us creatures of attachment. Because of this, we have a strong desire for belonging and social interaction. We like to be surrounded by friends and share our experiences with them. Our brains feel a sense of reward when we have these positive interactions with others and when we feel we belong. Not surprisingly, this is also when we thrive as people, when we want to work hard, when we make good decisions. A well connected family can work together to over come life’s challenges. A socially connected professional team working together is more successful. A classroom with a strong sense of belonging and community is always abuzz with learning and fun.
We also now know that the brain develops from the bottom up with the neocortex developing last and well into our adolescent years. This makes the teachers job of
including prioritizing social and emotional learning in the classroom that much more important. Believe it or not, we play a part in shaping our students’ brains! Woah! That is an important job, and excuse me for being dramatic, but one that I think we need to take seriously!
So even though I rarely write in cursive these days, and I don’t remember the specifics of what Mme Hiscott taught me from the Grade 2 curriculum, what I do know is that she played a part in shaping my brain, and taught me something way more valuable than anything in the curriculum, and that is the importance and power of heart work as a teacher!