Strategies for Building Classroom Community

These strategies are largely based on my nine years of experience with teaching juniors and seniors in Mexico. I had help with putting my thoughts and feelings into words thanks to my personal learning network. It was only when I joined Twitter that I better understood why what I was doing in the classroom was successful and how to call my practices by name.

A few of the ideas that resonated with me out of the readings and videos are as follows:

“And the brain, in order for learning and thinking to occur, must fulfill those two categories first: You’ve got to survive, and you’ve got to have your emotional needs met” (Standen, 2007). This quote reminds me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the importance of relationship building from Day 1 and throughout the course of the year. Teachers have a responsibility to develop and cultivate positive relationships with their students and to monitor and foster positive relationships between the students in their care. Students need to feel safe and cared for to be able to focus on learning. A question that really resonated with me two years ago is: “Are you a teacher of content or are you a teacher of students?” I had to start with being the latter before I could even consider being the former.

“These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them” (Ruder, 2008). This is why I think that the role of teacher facilitator works very well with teenager learners. Their sharp brains are capable of dealing with complex problems, and they need to be gently directed towards relevant, complex problems that promote a “productive struggle” and stimulate their intrinsic motivation to follow through. The more “hands on, minds on” content-related experiences that teachers can provide, the more stimulated (and later solidified) their neural pathways will be (and become). One of my favorite mantras is, “The person who does the work does the learning,” and what a prime time for the teenage brain if teachers can make that happen.

“Knowing more about the structure of the brain does not necessarily tell us more about the function of the brain” (Spinks, 2000). This quote, along with the conflicting views of two experts, Captain Obvious vs. “You Decide” (McMahon, 2015), reminds me that as much as we know about the teenage brain we do not know everything. It would be folly to rely entirely on this nascent and developing field of research without paying attention to the actual learners in our care. We should ask ourselves every day, “What did I do? How did it go? How would I change it if I were to do it again?” As long as these questions are being asked in the name of learner success and not teacher comfort we will be just fine.

References

McMahon, T. (2015, January 19). Inside your teenager’s scary brain. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/inside-your-teenagers-scary-brain/

Ruder, D. B. (2008, October 16). The Teen Brain. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/09/the-teen-brain.html

Spinks, S. (2000). Adolescent Brains Are Works In Progress: Here’s Why. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/adolescent.html

Standen, A. (2007, February 01). Understanding How Adolescents Think. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/inside-teenage-brain

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