As adults we crave the stare of our partners, the acknowledgement of our employers the acceptance of our peers. This parallels with the world of a child, a teenager. Replace the word partner with parent, employer with teacher.
I often have colleagues say to me, “I can’t believe little Johnny does Drama. He doesn’t say boo in my classroom.” Meanwhile, ‘little Johnny’ is never quiet in Drama because for the first time he feels visible. Teachers also say, “Oh little Annie is a ‘drama queen’. I bet she does Drama.” I want to let those teachers know that little Annie is never a ‘drama queen’ in Drama because she doesn’t have to fight to be seen or heard.
As teachers we are spirit builders. We have the power to build the spirit of a child and we have the power to knock it down. The most significant way we can be builders is by quenching the thirst of our students to be seen. We must let them know that we see them and provide them with opportunities to become visible.
There are many ways we can do this as teachers. The first step is by identifying the students that possess the invisibility cloak.
Which students were invisible in your class today?
Which students kept their head down?
Which students misbehaved?
Played the class clown?
Which students fought for your attention or completely avoided it?
At the end of each day as I drive home from work I run through these questions in my mind and I begin identifying those students that lack visibility.
The second step is letting them know you see them. I purposely go out of my way to have a conversation with them as they enter my classroom, during the lesson or as I pass them in the corridors. I call on them in class when I know they are able to contribute. I say things like, “I think the class really needs to hear what you think about this topic….”, “I know you spent a lot of time on this task can you share your awesome work with everyone…”. Common sense huh? It may be, but it is so easy to pass them by or only call on the keen hand risers in the class.
Let’s take it one step further. How can we make these students visible to others?
I started making this my personal mission. The kid with no confidence but all the potential in the world would get the lead role in whatever production I was working on. The boy who every other teacher had written off as ‘trouble’ or ‘a waste of time’ would just about be guaranteed to play Jesus in the Easter Liturgy. Shakespeare was my ally. Every kid that was known as ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’ would smash out soliloquies in front of large audiences changing others perceptions almost immediately. I make kids that can’t perform for whatever reason film directors, assistant directors on the school production, team leaders, stage managers, designers or writers. I work to find their strengths and give them an opportunity to remove their invisibility cloak and shine.
Regardless of which subject or age group you teach, there are always opportunities to move the spotlight onto each and every student. You just have to seek them out and be willing to take a risk on these kids.
We, as teachers, can make the invisible visible.
We can turn ‘no confidence’ into ‘flowing with confidence’.
We can take E’s and turn them into A’s.
We can transform the bad egg into a 5 star dish.
We are spirit builders.
And we begin building the spirits of our students by really, truly seeing them.