By: Jim Hambel
I would like to dedicate this article to the memory of my maternal grandmother, Bernice Lefkowitz. She passed away before the new year began. I am very fortunate to have known her in my life. Although I didn’t meet her until I was 10, she had a big impact on my life. My parents divorced when I was 10. While I am now a calm person, as a child, I was so angry. One time I was disrespectful to my grandmother, and she made me miss a basketball game in 5th grade. I was sure I could never forgive her. Over time, I realized she had made the right choice. I learned how important respect is.
My grandmother always loved the song “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. I was thinking about how influential that has been in my educational philosophy. Respect is a two-way street. Educating students about respect and giving them chances to practice skills for mastery of physical education content has yielded many amazing discoveries. Students are going out of their way to help and assist each other. This can take the form of making sure each child gets a turn, using kind words for praise, and showing peers how to do a skill correctly. All classrooms need to be safe spaces. This year, I have taken that further and created a “Brave Space.” Using the “Brave Space” philosophy has been beneficial because it allows students to use their voices in ways they know best.
“Wait, Jim!” you’re probably thinking. “How does Brave Space connect to equity, social and emotional learning, and student voice?” A Brave Space is a classroom environment that acknowledges the challenges that both students and faculty have when attempting to discuss difficult and/or sensitive topics such as race, power, privilege, and the various forms of oppression for the purpose of learning. Brave Spaces are created when students and faculty commit to actively engaging in the 6 Pillars of a Brave Space. According to CASEL.org, “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” When students have access to many opportunities, you never know what they will like and want to pursue. You can appeal to all interests.
Is it just enough to allow students to use their voices? Some may be English language learners or don’t have the means to express themselves verbally. If our goal is equity, it has to be sustainable and consistent for all learners. In physical education, students express themselves through play, movement, and exercise. This year, I aim to have students use appropriate vocabulary and write and verbalize answers to questions. As I started thinking about RESPECT (find out what it means to me), I want students to listen to me as I would listen to them. I feel that the golden rule is especially applicable here. Treat students the way you would like to be treated. Children sometimes shut down or feel disrespected because of classroom rules and expectations. A goal for all classrooms is to incorporate student choice. Students have the right to use their voices. As I reflected, I thought, “Am I really hearing what they’re saying?”
As a teacher, think of the times students say, “Can I help?” This is a kind gesture; we often decline it because we don’t usually need help. Have you heard of the 5 Love Languages? This would fall under the category of Acts of Service. “Different people with different personalities give and receive love in different ways” (5Lovelanguages.com). I’ve spent all this time setting up a classroom to encourage students to express themselves and use their voices to ensure they are heard and impact their learning. For the students who thrive and do best with a simple act of helping others, we’re doing a disservice. They are using their voice in their own unique way.
Look at my results. My first category is Quality Time. Take this a step further and read in the description: “full undivided attention”. Are you the type of person who gets upset when someone is slightly distracted when you’re talking to someone? This could be why. This doesn’t justify letting students talk and being distracting. Suppose someone is actively listening but maybe not looking at you. Is that enough to warrant a response and think, “is this person being disrespectful?” Knowledge like this is useful because it helps you to understand how YOU act. We want students to think and act critically. Shouldn’t we know how we do that as well? Each person has their own triggers in relationships and the classroom. It is important to realize what our triggers are and how to work around those to meet the needs of all learners.
My second category was Words of Affirmation. Sometimes, a simple “Way to go, Jim!” can make me smile big after a hard day. Words of Affirmation are more effective when you acknowledge what someone is doing AND why they are doing it. Don’t just say: “wow, great job!” or “I’m impressed.” These are vague, and the second saying could be interpreted that you didn’t believe in them in the first place. Try: “I notice you’re having much success using that jump shot technique we learned in class today.” Knowing what you would appreciate in this situation also can help you understand how someone positively or adversely receives your feedback.
It all starts with the teacher, I believe. Try phrases like this: can you fix the problem, or do you need my help? Sometimes I’ll even say give someone a chance to make the best choice. If you treat someone like they are unsure, but really, he/she has a lot of confidence and knowledge about what they are doing, this could be offensive. You offer help, but the student does not need it. This can make the child doubt themselves. This brings us back to questioning students and allowing student voice.
I love the resource Comchi. It was co-created by my friend, Bo Shappell. On one side is a nature picture, and on the other is a prompt and color. There are so many ways to use the cards. From light to vigorous levels of activity and community building. Early this year, we played it such that one player held the card facing away from them, and the others had to give clues to guess it. Students absolutely loved it, and they learned to respect each other, me, and the classroom community. All students participated and needed to be heard.
Aretha Franklin spells out what respect means to her, and I hope these ideas I presented assist you in creating an environment of respect in your classroom.
Prioritizing Mindsets: What New York State’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework Gets Right (2019) PAMELA D’ANDREA MARTÍNEZ AND EVAN M. JOHNSTON R (LINK)
Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Multiple Authors (LINK)
How to apply love languages in the classroom (LINK)
Why is student voice important in education? (LINK)