By Michael Chellman, Middle School
What's the most important word in the Bullis Middle School? Connection.
The root of every successful student is emotional engagement with the coursework. That occurs when the teacher connects with the student. In this high-tech age, such an approach might sound soft, but strong relationships have timeless value. Here are six ways I we strive to build them.
- Kindness. In a scene from the Sean Connery film, Finding Forrester, Jamal is a black teen and literary prodigy attending a mostly-white private school. Mr. Crawford is a white English teacher and failed author. He is arrogant and belittles weak students. Jamal submits extraordinary essays in Mr. Crawford's class and defends bullied students. Mr. Crawford expels Jamal from class. Mr. Crawford's behavior suggests an enduring truth: Who we are is how we teach. In our Middle School, we challenge in a compassionate way, seeing each child as an individual. Why? "Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness" (Lau Tzu).
- Respect. Our Middle Schoolers know we value them. If we treat them as immature, they will act immature. Discipline? Of course. But we also respect their right to be singular. Watch my colleagues each day: There's no place they'd rather be than working with their students—fully present, sincerely attentive. Holding students to high standards is our way of respecting their potential.
- Patience. Middle School teaching often requires deep breathing. Our students are sometimes frustrating. We strive to hone patience. Likewise, students must learn patience—the ally of perseverance. Adversity refines both of those qualities. Young people may want their problems solved immediately, but solutions can take time. Helping students take small steps forward requires mutual forbearance. "Patience is a powerful warrior" (Tolstoy).
- Humor. "It's always funny until someone gets hurt," said a comedian. "Then it's just hilarious." Bullis teachers disagree. Humor relieves tension and promotes engagement in a challenging course. But we abjure humor that is merely poorly cloaked unkindness. While laughter is no surrogate for thoughtful, innovative lessons, one word our Middle Schoolers often use to describe themselves is "happy." Learning and fun can be great partners.
- Truth. We lead students out of error into truth in a forthright, yet compassionate way. If a student fails an essay, for example, she is beating herself up already; she doesn't need more fault-finding from us. Instead, we help her become more aware of how she prepared for the essay. When we guide students away from self-judgment, the truth of what worked—and what didn't—reveals itself in a non-threatening way that the student accepts.
- Hope and Direction. We can spot students who are discouraged, tired, or adrift. Often, being noticed is enough to refresh a student's efforts. Even a brief observation as he leaves class can be meaningful ("Thanks for sharing your opinion today.") Most of all, we in the Bullis Middle School must be great leaders. It's our responsibility to shine a light on students' path ahead. As Helen Keller said, "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision."