In my experience, for a child to learn and develop in confidence and self-awareness it’s important they feel safe, both emotionally and physically. However, in the classroom a whole host of things are going on – not just the child’s relationship with the lesson in hand.
Children are very aware as they are feeling everything, all of the time. They can feel what is going on outside the window in nature while they are colouring in or doing their maths. They can feel the rest of the school and what is going on in other rooms. They can feel how the teacher and the other children are feeling and what is going on at home for them and so on, all whilst getting on with something, and yet this is not recognised or honoured by the system.
Instead the education system reduces the child to a prescribed way of doing things in a very linear way. They have to face the front, sit in a certain way, do things in a certain order, not talk, not look out the window – not be themselves in other words – which squashes their spherical awareness by not allowing them to acknowledge or articulate what they are feeling or how they are responding to what they are feeling.
When we do not give children permission to express what they are feeling, they learn to dismiss the truth of what they know, second-guessing what is asked of them and ‘playing it safe.’
Over time this false configuration of expression becomes deeply embedded in the body, feeling so familiar it eventually becomes ‘normal’ and what is perceived to be true, but the true knowingness remains unexpressed and lies dormant and buried. It is not totally forgotten however, which creates a constant underlying tension, which of course plays out slightly differently for each of us.
These insecurities have the same root cause though because the current model of education suggests that who the children are isn’t enough and that getting things wrong is bad, and therefore they have to try harder, be better etc. In learning that it is only by what they do and achieve that gets recognition, a stress is created by over absorbing ‘knowledge’ and regurgitating it. This generally causes a lifelong, un-admitted issue with making things look good at the expense of how one is really feeling.
It is clear that underneath the façade of doing things ‘right’, children do not feel wholly safe to be themselves, learning instead to hold back their natural expression for fear of not being accepted for who they are. It is interesting to note that as the child becomes an adult this becomes normalised, and so the whole cycle is repeated as they send their children off to school and encourage them to value their self-worth through what they achieve, not because of who they innately are. As a consequence, and in my experience, children very quickly learn to self-bash when they don’t understand something or find something tricky, as underneath they are looking for recognition through being a ‘success’. Nowhere is it in their lexicon to even possibly articulate their value beyond what they perceive themselves to be good at.
As a teacher therefore, my main aim, on which I base all my lessons, is to build relationships with my students. This comes from my relationship with myself first before I connect to my pupils as they can very much feel where I am at (as nothing can be truly hidden from them – their not expressing it doesn’t mean it isn’t a known!), and so a genuineness, openness and honesty needs to be there from the start. I have found that the children I teach really appreciate this and if I am feeling fragile then it is perfectly ok for this to be communicated, as in this communication my students are treated as the equals they are. Often asking them for support when I need it confirms this too.
Not only is all of this in itself incredibly powerful, but also to accept my students for where they are at is also deeply registered by them and supports them to feel safe. Ultimately what I am teaching is not beyond their scope, even if they appear to be struggling. I know that this struggle comes from the self-imposed blocks and inner tension they have created by falsely believing they are not good enough and so I hold them in a quality that communicates the truth.
Ultimately, trust in the teacher is the cornerstone of true learning for a pupil because their bodies need to feel safe to be open to learning. For example, observing year 2 children playing with Lego recently I could feel that they didn’t mind their designs falling apart because they weren’t under any pressure to get anything right – they were relaxed, having fun, simply learning as they were playing – and the great thing was they were working out what worked and what didn’t with ease.
As teachers, through developing trust we can support our kids to feel at ease, to ‘have a go’ without fear of getting things wrong because they feel valued as a person first and foremost, not judged according to outcomes or results.
By Michelle McWaters, Bath, UK
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