Education continues to be a place where metrics and standards reign supreme. It's easy to overlook the beating hearts and vibrant souls that fill our classrooms. We become consumed by test scores, attendance records, and behavior charts, forgetting that behind every data point lies a unique individual with hopes, fears, and dreams. Our students are not mere statistics to be analyzed and categorized; they are complex human beings deserving of our empathy, understanding, and respect.
Yet, as educators, we often find ourselves trapped in a cycle of compliance, perpetuating a system that values conformity over compassion. We enforce strict dress codes, rigid behavior expectations, and standardized assessments, all in the name of academic success. But in our relentless pursuit of excellence, we lose sight of the very essence of education: the nurturing of young minds and hearts. We fail to see the toll our expectations take on the emotional well-being of our students, pushing them to prioritize performance over self-discovery. And in doing so, we unwittingly perpetuate a culture of indifference, where students feel unseen, unheard, and undervalued.
"These kids need discipline. These behaviors are out of control."
While it's true that students benefit from structure and discipline, we must ask ourselves: how can we effectively correct or love those we fail to truly see? Love and discipline are essential components of education, but they must be grounded in a deep understanding of the individual needs and experiences of each student. When we prioritize accountability over empathy, we risk perpetuating harmful cycles of punishment and alienation. Instead, we must strive to cultivate genuine connections with our students, acknowledging their humanity and embracing their unique strengths and challenges.
When we fail to see our students as whole human beings, we overlook the conditions we've imposed upon them. We create environments where conformity is prized over authenticity, and where punitive measures are preferred to understanding and support. Our lesson plans may teach students about the injustices in our world, yet they often overlook the injustices present within our classrooms. We'll talk about Black History, and through our practices, we'll crush Black futures.
Have we gotten curious enough about why we accept these things? Who is harmed in your class? School? Who is excluded from participating? Where is there power wielded and against whom? Have you audited who is removed from your class the most? Who answers the most questions? What students bring a smile to your face, and which ones cause your stress to skyrocket? Why?
Our lesson plans may teach students about the injustices in our world, yet they often overlook the injustices in our classrooms. We'll talk about Black History, and through our practices, we'll crush Black futures.
To indeed refocus and see the humanity in our students, we must take three practical steps:
Rethink Grading Policies: Quiet as it's kept, we grade for privilege more than anything else. We take points for lateness yet ask for grace from our administrators. We must move away from grading systems that prioritize compliance over learning. Consider alternative assessment methods that value growth and progress over perfection. Are we measuring what students know or how they comply with potentially unreasonable requests?
Reevaluate Behavioral Expectations: Instead of imposing strict behavior codes, foster a culture of empathy and understanding. Encourage students to express themselves authentically and address underlying issues with compassion. If you've ever watched HGTV, you've probably seen rehab projects where they come to evaluate the conditions of a house in need of repair. What should be noticed is how contractors will look at a floor or wall in an undesirable condition yet talk about how beautiful those items can be. Here's the point: the walls and floors didn't get that way alone. The contractor knows there's value in it, so it's worth the effort to restore. Perhaps we don't like restorative practices because we don't truly value kids.
Adjust Communication Styles: Many schools claim to have restorative conversations with students. Typically, it happens with a disregulated adult attempting to regulate a child. It never works this way. Those are what I like to call performative conversations, where we want to be seen a certain way, but our voice and tone tell a different story. We must be mindful of the language and tone used when interacting with students. Strive to build positive, supportive relationships based on mutual respect and trust.
If we are to change, educators must reflect and acknowledge that they may not always see things as clearly as they believe. One powerful way to gain insight into their practices is by seeking feedback from those who experience them firsthand: the students. By actively listening to their perspectives and experiences, educators can gain valuable insights into the impact of their teaching methods and classroom dynamics. Embracing this feedback loop fosters a culture of continuous improvement and ensures that educators are truly serving the needs of their students. Creating inclusive and supportive learning environments requires us to know that our students are excellent teachers.