How often do you use the phrase, “You take care of yourself?” As a Field Placement Faculty member for Granite State College, I hear it all the time in the classroom, both from classroom teachers, and the preservice teachers I am there to observe. Typically, this phrase has a negative connotation – it is said after a “tattle tale” reports someone else’s misbehavior. But…let’s really think about that phrase…
I would argue that “take care of yourself” not only belongs in our classroom, but it is a phrase we should say with high frequency and a positive connotation. What do we mean when we say take care of yourself? In the classroom, especially in the younger grades, this phrase is meant to remind learners to mind their own business – to stop being concerned or distracted by what others are doing or saying. However, taking care of yourself is actually a lifeskill – a concept that all students should be taught in the early stages of their schooling career. Sure, take care of yourself could mean to not tattle, or to remember to brush your teeth and get a good night’s sleep, but I see taking care of yourself as something much deeper.
How do you take care of yourself as a learner? What skills do we, as educators, need to teach our students? How can we foster them in the classroom?
1. Determine Learning Needs
It’s important to discuss the process of learning with students. Ask your students:
- What works best for you?
- Is it helpful to have an image in front of you?
- Do you like to experiment and explore and then read content? Or would you prefer to watch a content-packed video and then apply it to real-life situations?
- Do you like working independently? Or do groups bring out the best in you?
- Do you like to ask questions right away? Or do you prefer to let the material sit and process?
As educators, we like to think we know our students and how they learn best, but there’s no better source than the student themselves. Be an active and inquisitive participant in your students’ determination of their learning needs, and help them to understand how learning about learning can help them take care of themselves.
2. Embrace a Growth Mindset
According to Dr. Carol Dweck (2016) studies have demonstrated that learners with a growth mindset “learn more, acquire deeper knowledge and do better—especially in hard subjects and in negotiating difficult school transitions—compared with equally able students who believe their intelligence is a fixed trait” (p. 36). Teach students that their brains are malleable and that learning is a process that involves making mistakes and stepping out of one’s comfort zone (check out mindsetworks for some awesome resources). Approaching school with a fixed mindset leads to frustration, fear, and a negative reaction to “failure”. Embracing and emphasizing growth, not achievement or an end-product, helps all students to change their mindset to one that allows students to take care of themselves.
Learning does not happen on an island or in a silo. Give students the opportunity to learn from and interact with others (both physically and virtually). It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes a peer’s support, listening ear, or positive inspiration, is all students need to help them take care of themselves.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Give students the opportunity to speak up for what they need. As questions not only about content, but about learning needs. Make yourself available for students, and positively reinforce their self-advocacy, even if you feel it may be motivated by attention-seeking behavior. When a student advocates for themselves, LISTEN. Work hard to understand what they are asking for and how you can support them.
Moreover, utilize whole-class participation techniques to efficiently foster self-advocacy. Perhaps this is in the form of a “how was your day/this lesson?” exit ticket, or even a simple show of fingers (5 means I’m feeling really good about this material, 1 means I’m lost and I really need help). Soliciting feedback is just the first step in fostering self-advocates; make sure you follow up with your learners as well (ex: “I saw that you felt really great about this lesson today…can you pinpoint what it was that helped you feel so successful?” or “Sara, thank you so much for letting me know that you’re having a hard time with the area model for multiplication. I found this video for you that may help, and I’m happy to check in with you before school tomorrow, but next week we’ll also learn a few more strategies for double-digit multiplication that may work better for you.”).
One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to reflect on a regular basis. Give students opportunities to think about their own learning. Pose questions such as:
- Were all of your learning needs met?
- What would you do differently next time?
- How did your mistakes help you learn?
- What successes did you have? Celebrate them (even if they’re little)!
One of the best ways to teach students to take care of themselves is to model it. Share your own learning needs with your students. Embrace a growth mindset. Provide opportunities to collaborate and join in on the fun. Describe situations in which you advocated for yourself and your needs. And always, always reflect.
Dweck, C. S. (2015). The Remarkable Reach of Growth Mind-Sets. Scientific American Mind, 27(1), 36-41.