Sometimes educators fall into the trap of viewing their ‘class’ as a unified being. It’s not. There are no ‘good’ classes and ‘bad’ classes. A class actually consists of many entirely unique individuals who tend to be roughly the same age, at the same place, with a similar purpose in mind.
But behind the face of each of these young individuals is a lifetime of stories that we, as educators, can never fully appreciate.
If we use some major Australian and international research studies to help us think about the composition of a ‘class’ statistically, we might recognise that, in the course of the year, a typical ‘class’ of 25 Year 8 students looks something like this:
- 4 students are experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition (only 1 of these will seek professional help);
- 2 students are self-harming;
- 2 students will seriously consider a suicide attempt;
- 2 students will be experiencing some form of family breakdown at home;
- 5 students are unsure of their sexuality and 3 will end up being LGBTI;
- 5 students don’t make friends easily at school;
- 7 students feel that they “don’t belong at school”.
…and many of our students are happy and engaged.
But it is these kinds of statistics that help remind us that our job is not to teach science or geography or Grade 5, and it’s not to teach our ‘class’. Our job is to compassionately guide, nurture and teach each unique child.
[Sources: PISA 2015, Australian Human Rights Commission, Beyond Blue]
At one of the most pivotal points in my schooling, when I was a 14 year old boy struggling through a low point in my life, there was a teacher who knew me and knew the challenges I was facing. At one point, about half way through a lesson, when the whole class was working busily, he must have sensed that I wasn’t at my best. He walked over, put his hand on my shoulder and quietly said to me: “It’s going to be okay.”
It was a tiny gesture of support, empathy, compassion, understanding, and connection. It was layered with wisdom, kindness and hope. It renewed my confidence, made me smile, and became etched in my memory.
This was not an ‘intervention’. It wasn’t a tool or a strategy or a ‘coaching’ technique. It’s just part of what great teachers do day in and day out as they lift up their students.
If you had to distill and identify just two, simple guiding principles that underpin the most successful school corporate cultures, it may well be these:
- Continuously expect the highest standards of integrity, authenticity and professionalism from yourself and your colleagues.
- Be compassionate. Behind the face of every one of your colleagues, is a personal struggle that you will never fully understand. The struggles of some are bigger than others’, but we all have them. Whilst we aim to be at our best at all times, because we are human, we cannot be.
Successful cultures don’t rely on us being at our best – all the time. They rely on us turning up and doing our best – all the time – despite our struggles.