At one of our professional development meetings last August, we spent a significant amount of time as a faculty and staff talking about what matters most. We knew we were entering a year that might be one of the most challenging of our careers, and it was an important time to reflect on our most basic values as educators. Dave Mochel, an expert in neuroscience, education, and the foundations of well-being, who has worked with us for many years, shared a concept that has stuck with me ever since.
In order for our students to learn and grow with us, every single student must feel three things. They must feel safe, feel that they belong, and that they matter. In fact, all humans need these three things right after food, water, and shelter.
Feeling safe has taken on a whole new meaning during the pandemic. This past year has helped me as a teacher realize how dysregulating it is to be worrying about my health, the health of my family, and the health of my students. I know I am not alone. It was incredibly overwhelming at times for teachers and students alike. It helped me understand how hard it must be for a child or adolescent to learn in an environment where they are scared. I have spent this year asking myself and my colleagues, does each of our students feel safe?
Feeling like we belong. This has also been a little tricky this year. Sometimes all a human needs is to be smiled at, and our smiles have been undercover. We are a social species. Whether we are an introvert or an extrovert, we need each other. Connections with our peers, friends, and family members remind us that we belong to something bigger. These people need me, and I need them. We are all different from one another. Am I accepted for my differences, or do the things that make me unique make me feel like I do not belong? Do my students feel like they can have a unique voice? Do they use that voice?
Feeling like we matter. I believe that it is a goal of every educator that they help their students make work that they are proud of. As students grow and mature, we hope for them that their work will start to make a difference. Their work matters. They can make our world better. They matter.
When you feel like you are juggling too many balls in the air, and some balls have actually dropped and are rolling away as you watch, remember what is most important. Our young people need safety, belonging, and mattering, in order to learn and grow.