Trust Before Teach! ( Line Leader? Not Anymore! )

Line Leader? Not Anymore!
Teaching Trust through New Class Roles and Responsibilities

We see students survive every day. We often times survive every day. We survive a class, a test, a conflict, a relationship and a challenge; and yet, surviving is very different then thriving! Many of the students that we see every day bring a degree of stress with them into our classrooms. Thankfully many of them also have supports in their lives that allow them to manage this stress in a productive manner. Our most difficult students however are not as lucky. They live in a state of chronic toxic stress. Chronic toxic stress changes the brain. This level of stress literally places their brains in a survival mode. If the brain is in a survival response; its creative, resourceful and imaginative higher level thought processes are compromised because of emotions and thoughts that feel unsafe, unfamiliar and threatening. When we feel guilt, shame, anger, sadness and any negative emotion over an extended period of time our brains begin to create neural pathways that ignite habits of feelings in response to the thoughts that call forth these emotions. Neural traits become brain states. We settle. We create a victim stance. We react rather than respond. When human beings have their developmental needs met, we unfold naturally and that unfolding guides us in discovering our natural gifts and to thrive.
Trust is the foundation of how we relate to people in this world. If the process of trust is not established as so many researchers have reported and validated, then we have challenging times with students who feel disconnected and detached in ways that grow opposition aggression, shame, hurt and hopelessness.

Can I be the kind of teacher that listens hard with interest, without judgment, with enthusiasm that finds ideas in a child she or he didn’t even know they had? We are far smarter when linked to those who accept, respect and encourage us. May my interest, vulnerability and openness be true gifts to the teaching and learning process! I have a long way to go, but my mind is pondering! Because even as adults we need that person who listens deeply, encourages and sees our potential! This is sometimes enough to change the trajectory of the learning process!
How do we establish trust where students begin to feel autonomous, masterful and maybe, for the first time sense a purpose in their days? We can talk about I all day long, but to begin to trust and thrive, as educators we need to begin creating classroom responsibilities and tangible roles and professional tasks that set students up for success.
Last week as I was driving to one of our large diverse public elementary schools to speak with teachers about trust and connection, my mind went to a different realm of classroom structure and function. I began to think differently about what “trust” looks like in our classrooms. Traditionally we give students responsibility in the classroom with different jobs, such as paper passer, line leader, errand runner, etc.; but I began to delve deeper into building trust through leadership and caregiving roles and responsibilities. These roles and responsibilities call us to explore the emotional climate in our classrooms that breeds service and compassion. When we are engaged with one another, feeling our power, compassion and service, the neural circuitry in the brain shifts and our reward system of dopamine and serotonin execration sharpen our focus, emotional regulation and engagement!
These professional responsibilities can change as often as we feel necessary. The descriptions below are only guidelines and ideas for you to explore and adapt in all grade levels. These class responsibilities and roles are vitally important in secondary school, as we are providing an opportunity for our students to show up in a much different way than being the passive recipient of rules, lecture, and knowledge dispersed each day.
Classroom Professions
1. Giver- This student’s responsibility is to give encouragement, affirmation and acts of kindness throughout the day. The Giver may use post-its, create signs, verbal messages or any means of communicating hopefulness.
2. Story-teller- This job could take so many forms. Students could discover a book to share, integrate vocabulary or content words into a story. Younger students could create a picture story and journal stories are written, shared, turned into screen plays, or submitted for publication from older students. Students would have fun developing an IMovie or blog for the class. He or she could create a class story with classmates names, school, projects, or weave any content into this context for learning standards or subject matter. The brain adheres to stories!
3. Noticer- This job is to notice what is going well and right! The antithesis to tattling or snitching!
4. Kindness Keeper- This job is a recorder of all the kind acts performed throughout the day or week. The kindness keeper will reflect on these kindnesses and share with the classes periodically.
5. Resource Manager- this is the student that suggests ideas, resources or ways to solve a problem or locate information…either academically or behaviorally.

Have fun with these new professions creating social and emotional connections inspiring a sense of belonging and service, while elevating purpose and identity. When we practice and model teaching steeped in trust, we begin serving one another as the heart and brain thrive!

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