Today I ran into the counselor for the school I worked at last year. Her expertise is in non-violent communication, which centers around teaching children to identify then express their needs, and how to meet their needs appropriately. Communication is the centerpiece. We talked for a bit about the major difference between the school I am at now and the school I was at last year; namely, the level of trauma. Nearly every child in my class underwent some kind of traumatic or unusually stressful experience at some point during the year. Divorce, CPS interrogations, adoption, restraining orders, abuse of all kinds, the hospital, abandonment, and deportation all came up at some point. I solicited her advice on teaching students that have undergone trauma or have experienced high levels of stress. She said a few things of interest I want to remember:
- Instead of the director at my last school, she, the counselor, is going to start handling all disciplinary issues. I like this because it acknowledges behavior concerns as something requiring counseling and connection rather than punishment.
- Students that have undergone trauma need consistency and structure--no surprises.
- They need everything in the classroom to be calm and even. An even voice and no anger.
- If they aren't having fun, they can't learn.
A student's heart must be cared for before we start trying to shape their minds. Sure--you can care for a student amidst the teaching process, but I think there is a proper order here. If a student doesn't feel safe, they aren't going to learn. For this reason, I think counselors should have more jurisdiction and influence in the school. Their emotional and social health takes precedent over their intellectual growth.
We also arrive at the question of "What is it we want our children to be learning?" We have the traditional idea of "learning" that included math, writing, science, and so on. The core curriculum. But wouldn't it behoove us as a society to give equal weight to children learning about themselves and how to interact with others? Do we want whole people or just knowledgeable people? Maybe my student grows up to discover a smaller division of an atom than a quark or a new element in the periodic table. Great. Win for education. But if when they get home and mistreat their spouse because they aren't able to identify or express what they are feeling or they start coping with alcohol because they don't feel able to face whats going on inside themselves, can I still be happy with that? Does that still count as a win for education?