Bryce Courtenay wrote a great book called "The Power of One" which was a favorite of my son. The main character in the novel, Peekay, talks about his own battles through life and decided his approach must be "first with the head, then with the heart". He was not prepared to open himself up to the hurt that came with letting others into his life. I believe as educators we need to look at this the other way around. We need to have our students know we care about them first and the curriculum second. I have found this to be the most effective practice with all students and especially so with those who have baggage they sometimes bring to school.
As I think back on some of the biggest challenges I have faced with students in my career I can say with confidence that the potential severity of the issue was always lessened by the time and energy I had invested pre-conflict. This is not to suggest I always got it right or that my human emotions didn't sometimes get the best of me. But here's the interesting part. If I had spent any time building relationships with my students, even when I got it wrong and lost my cool, they were remarkably forgiving. In addition to helping during the tough patches, having a positive connection with students also provided me enjoyment in my role. It was an added bonus to being an educator. I know that the relationships I have with many former students today were built on a foundation established when I was their teacher, coach, or Principal/Vice-Principal. A previous post (http://umakeadiff.blogspot.com/2011/09/its-all-about-relationships.html) talked about a recent example of these connections.
Daniel Goleman’s (2006) study of students identified as being at risk found that those placed with cold or controlling teachers struggled academically—regardless of whether their teachers followed pedagogic guidelines for good instruction. But if these students had a warm and responsive teacher, they flourished and learned as well as other kids. These results show that quality of relationship, above all else, is the springboard to success.
A quote attributed to the late Chief Dan George provides an insightful reminder about the long term impact of connecting with the heart before the head:
"Always speak from the heart. When we get old, the brain forgets,
but the heart, the heart never forgets."