I work in classrooms where all the students are of significantly different backgrounds from my own. I am a twenty something American of European descent and from a cold mid-western town. My students are a mix of Chinese boys and girls at least ten years younger than me. The classroom is culturally monolithic but diverse. It’s an environment which is sometimes difficult to navigate. In this environment I must create a sense of caring, attempt to be culturally aware, and establish professional relationships.
I have a class starting next week. From the first days and onward I will attempt to establish and maintain a more orderly and positive classroom.
I haven’t had a problem with creating a positive classroom in the past. One of the first courses I took to become a better teacher was Dave Levin’s, founder of Kipp, “Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms” on Coursea. The Kipp model focuses on character building.
A positive classroom establishes the necessary foundation upon which learning can happen. Without a sense of security, it’s difficult for students to reach their cognitive potential. Without positivity, it’s difficult for them to reach their personal potential.
The idea of PERMA from positive psychology embodies why we need positive classrooms. PERMA stand for Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments. The idea is based around how people preform when they are happy and included in a positive environment. If we can establish PERMA with our kids then we’ll see gains in behavior and performance.
I believe that the Kipp model has a small role to play in every classroom, but, before I go on, I need to address detractors to these ideas. Wet blankets like Jeffrey Aaron Snyder at the New Republic have some real sick in the mud ideas about teaching character trait in the classroom. I have nothing more to say on dull minded views so I simply say here that I disagree. The Kipp character model is valuable in its place.
Kipp’s model mostly consists of establishing seven character traits to aim for and integrating a few them in occasional lessons. These character traits are zest, grit, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. By teaching these as achievable objectives we can help instill a growth mindset into the kids.
Strategies for making the model work include modeling and being mindful of micro moments. Modeling good charter traits simplify adds up to striving to be a better me in the presence of the kids. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin
What I mean by micro moments is every small interaction with our kids. To make these moments effective we have to maintain constant mindfulness. With have to mindful of are action and the student. In most people’s negativity bias five good interactions equals one bad interaction, but this goes beyond mere aiming for good interaction. Being mindful of micro moments means striving for meaning and character building at every opportunity with grace.
Being culturally sensitive as a foreign teacher is difficult at times, especially since my mandarin is rudimentary. I can’t pick up on every dialog or interaction which takes place in the classroom. I’m given a certain allowance to make mistakes. But, I have to be vigilant.
One thing I have to play close attention to is preserving each student’s face. Face is king in china anyway you spin it. There have been times I’ve hurt a student’s face and had to repair the relationship. This is hard to do when, at times, you don’t even know what you did or if the student is just in a bad mood that day. But even here, weather I know what I did or not, humans are universally appreciative of caring attention.
Another strategy is setting and stakes low and having an appropriate sense of humor about yourself. By allowing students to shake things off with humor, they can avoid losing face. This strategy works for me, but requires an underlying confidence and bravery to be valuable without weakening my position. I’m not always successful. Be personally and socially mindful or this double edge strategy can cut.
Last, I have to avoid social taboos here. I can’t talk about certain subjects. I try to take opportunities to point out the strengths and great people from their culture. This creates since of respect so I can deliver constructive criticism when I need to be. But I’m never critical of the CCP or their policies.
All these things can lead up to positive relationships, but the relationships require a little more from me. I must be a good leader and give my personal attention to every student. This requires me to learn about each student’s interests. Thank goodness I have few enough students to achieve that. I’m often able to personalize my approach and examples of each student. I can show I care about their individual dreams. And occasionally I provide advice on projects beyond the classroom. This isn’t very difficult for me because I have good emotional intelligence. However I have one major weakness, and I can highlight this by looking at anti-bullying.
I have a difficult time monitoring for bullying. Between my language barrier and abysmal social intelligence I’m lost when I looking for bullying. I have two strategies. First, I watch for negative emotional states following interactions, but I can’t read everybody’s body at all times. I simply lack the perceptual ability to track all these social interactions and beyond physical contact or mean tones, I can’t spot things easily. My second strategy is to communicate with my fellow teachers who are more adept than I am. I check in with them at least every fortnight to hear about what I should lookout for.
Levin, D. (n.d.). Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms. Retrieved August 11, 2015, from https://www.coursera.org/learn/teaching-character
Snyder, J. (2014, May 6). Teaching Kids ‘Grit’ is All the Rage. Here’s What’s Wrong With It. Retrieved August 11, 2015.