Perspective: Game Changer in the Classroom and in Our Lives

Perspective: Game Changer in the Classroom and in Our Lives

What is perspective? What does it have to do with teaching, leadership and learning? Perspective defined by Oxford Dictionary is: “A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” Blending this definition into our instruction, classroom cultures and relationships; perspective drives all we are and do in our classrooms. Perspectives are bundles of beliefs; a mindset that we each embrace determining how we see one another, experiences, and possibilities or lack thereof. Our perspectives directly impact student emotions and their learning in our classrooms because emotions are contagious.

How I feel, understand or interpret any situation always determines the “perceived” outcome and collective disposition experienced and acted upon with a group of students, colleagues or an event. When we are feeling any kind of negative emotion, our perspectives narrow and we spin in repetitive conflict cycles, reacting and subconsciously creating more negative emotion. Under negatively experienced stress, we feel bound and limited in our choices of responses. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s innate ability to structurally and functionally change with every new experience. Our perspectives hold the power to create more of what we desire to experience.

Michael shared these notions. “I am considering…perspective changes with a “felt experience” that allows one to re-consider an assumption that they did not know they had. To gain a different perspective requires humans to be able to witness what it is they are seeing, feeling and thinking and this requires some “space” between the stimulus and the automatic response. Have you had a felt experience that has changed your perspective?”

Michael McKnight and I have been dialoguing about the power of perspective and have gathered the meaning of this concept from many educators across the nation. We want to share some of those thoughts with you as these teachers work tirelessly to shift the lens when working with children and adolescents who dare you to teach them!

Educator Dawn Fable Lindquist talked of perspective as a living force in her classroom. “I think the teacher’s perspective makes all the difference. Are my challenging students “bad kids” or are they young people who are dealing with pain I don’t know about in their lives outside of my room? Do I have to put up with them for 70 minutes, or could these 70 minutes be a time to make a connection and be one adult who is happy to see them and thinks they have something worthwhile to contribute? I love my honors students, but my joy often comes from seeing growth and love of learning in the children known to be behavior problems or disruptive or unreachable.”

Trevor Teter, middle school science teacher explained, “Perspective is like the turning earth. We start with deep understanding and in the course of our “day,” we begin to turn away from the sun our guiding light only to find stars above us; again we are guided by our position. What is our purpose in this situation (here and now)? Perspective determines if we are connected today, at this moment or not.

Walt Nordstrom, special education teacher shared his thoughts on perspective and teaching troubled youth. “Perspective is the lens through which we see everything. My students’ experiences are markedly different from mine. As such, although we are looking at the same things, we see them very differently. The ability to see things from another’s perspective is an advanced mental function that not everyone commands, and many of those that can, don’t. Teaching perspective takes a careful approach that must involve the student’s specific individual likes, beliefs and experiences. Often, realizing that the person next to them MUST have a different perspective than their own is a surprise, but also is often a powerful starting point.”

When we change our perspectives, we are provided with a novel view through a lens that ignites a growth mindset, defined by Carolyn Dweck as: a belief that emotional and cognitive intelligence can change based on our desires and plasticity of thought processes.

What can we do to shift perspective in our schools and classrooms? From my experiences, these three practices might assist us in approaching a relationship, instruction and even assessments with a novel working lens and increased learning.

1. Write down your two or three of your greatest teachers in your classroom or building. (These are the individuals who trigger hot emotion inside of you.) Your triggers could also be a particular routine or a procedure that feels stale and oppressive, simply not invigorating anymore. After you identify the experiences or persons that you feel disconnected and frustrated with; write down two positive elements or outcomes that once upon a time, did not feel so challenging about these persons or situations. These recognitions do not have to be enormous, but they can be daily “noticings” that have disappeared from our vision because our mindset and eyes have landed on the tedious repetitive negative.
Yesterday afternoon, in fifth grade, Darren began his typical rendition of a poor choice sequence of tiresome behaviors. He was bouncing out of his seat without permission, interrupting instruction as he conversed with two or three students around him. When Darren was asked to turn around or to please sit down, there was the usual eye rolling, denying and increased anger! I decided to create a shift for both of us, and thought for a moment of Darren’s expertise and strengths. I knew Darren was very familiar with smart phones and probably knew more than I did even at 12 years old. I used his knowledge and leadership for just a moment to turn our perspectives around. “Darren, I need to respond right away to one of my students who just e-mailed me at the University but I have to prepare for our group discussion in three minutes. Could you please send her a message for me?” I pulled out my phone and called up the e-mail. I explained to Darren what I wanted to say and then asked if he could do this right away. There are no words to describe how excited he was as he crafted a perfect message to my undergraduate student, forgetting his bad mood and “felt” opposition towards me, his other teacher and class. I thanked and told him I loved the choice of words he used, and we began again. He returned to his seat as we began to discuss the students’ exhibition reports and the research they still needed. Darren asked if he could use his new phone to pull up additional research while other students moved to the computers. I said, “Yes, and I cannot wait to see what you discover and learn! Please check in with me in 15 minutes.” The rest of the afternoon felt different and pleasurable, as my perspective led Darren onto a precipice of feeling capable and successful and therefore happier.

2. Teach your students about the power of perspective. Explain that we all see, feel and behave in ways that mirror or reflect our own attitudes, thoughts and emotions. As you begin to implement the muscle of perspective, greet students at the door with a directive to move to a certain area in the room so that each student is seeing a different view. A few students could be lying down; others could be facing a bulletin board, the door, the sink, a window, etc. Explain that although everyone is gathered in the same room, each person has a different view, and that is how we can all approach experiences and relationships. After each student has recorded their view, talk about these changed views, relating this activity to a frustration or stuck thought or feeling. There is great change that occurs in groups as together we can brainstorm various ways to see a worn out behaviors, relationships or events.

3. Change up the routine for a week generating fresh methods of instruction and classroom culture. When students walk in on Monday morning, offer subjects in a different order, wear your clothes backwards, create mottos or nicknames to use for the week, based on an attribute of each student. Connect props to content and standards, wearing two different shoes, your clothes inside out or greet them sitting down by a freshly decorated entrance to the classroom that indirectly states, “You have a fresh start every time you walk through these doors. What will you choose to see and create today?”

Some people see scars; and it is wounding they remember.
To me, they are proof of the fact that there is healing.
-Linda Hogan

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