Several years ago, I was working with a district to increase cohesiveness amongst administrators and teachers and to improve the learning opportunities for all the students in the district. To that end, I created a survey for teachers and administrators about various issues they face. One area in the culture of the district demonstrated tremendous conflicting answers - teacher support. Administrators believed teachers were given tremendous support in instructional matters, but teachers responded there was little support for their work.
I decided we needed to dig deeper - I asked each group to define support and give examples. Our two groups couldn't have been further apart in how the idea of support was defined and realized. Administrators defined support as opportunities for professional development, plentiful resources, and time to collaborate with other teachers. Teachers defined support as personal notes from administrators and consistent and tough discipline for misbehaving students. We had a lot of work ahead of us to get on the same page.
I relearned this same lesson a couple of years ago, viewing a movie of a New York classroom at a Character Learning Lab meeting. The facilitator asked the audience of mostly teachers and administrators how they support students and show kindness. The educators in the room replied with ideas such as:
- positive phone calls home;
- accepting and respecting students for who they are;
- showing patience, especially when the student is frustrated;
- meeting families and including them in the child's experiences.
When children were asked the same question their responses were as follows:
- my teacher smiles;
- he/she has space in his/her heart for everyone;
- she took care of my hair when it was yucky on picture day;
- she gives me extra help and time when I need it;
- he/she is available to talk about anything;
- she notices my work.
Get the idea? As we pursue important work like educating children, we find that our perceptions of kindness and our students' perceptions have a pretty small intersection. What type of support fits inside the small intersection?
Our students identify with informational, instrumental, and emotional support.
- Informational support (knowledge sharing and co-processing) - extra time
- Instrumental support (tangible help, including favors or resource-sharing) resume help
- Emotional support (warmly reassuring another person of his or her worth) fixing hair on picture day
As educators, we don't want to lose sight of the important work we do, and oftentimes, it's about the small acts of support and kindness that make it possible for a child or a family to move forward one more time.