I start every school year knowing that as my young students grow, they’re going to experience not just the joy of discoveries and achievements, but frustration and anger and disappointment as well. Learning new things take time! So on our first day, I tell them, “You are bundled with so many emotions, and so am I! There will be moments when I’m going to cry, I’m going to laugh, I’m going to be frustrated, I’m definitely going to be confused! You’re going to feel those emotions sometimes, too. That’s all just part of learning, and it’s part of being human together.”
My continuous priority is creating a culture where my students know their feelings are safe and supported. If a student says, “Something happened at home to make me feel upset,” I’ll ask if it’s okay for me to name the support they need and make it part of our day together. I’ll say, “Josiah’s not feeling well today, so let’s be super-sensitive in how we talk to him, and let’s be ready to listen in case he feels like talking.” Or if the student doesn’t want that attention, I just say, ‘Today, we’re going to be mindful of everyone.’
Students can get upset when they’re struggling in class, and if they can’t name what they’re feeling, they get stuck. Most times this is when they shut down or act out behaviorally. So teaching my students to name their emotions is a central part of my practice. I model this every day. I might say, “I’m mad we can’t spend more time on this right now.” Hearing me name my anger lets them know it’s okay for them to experience a range of feelings while we’re learning together.
We all have struggles when we are learning. If I create a classroom culture where my kids can be vulnerable enough to have emotions, then they’ll be vulnerable enough to learn. Students learn best from our transparency and trust.