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What do you Model When No One is Watching?

The bell rings and the students exit the classroom. You're finally alone and you have time to make that urgent phone call that must be made.

Whether you're waiting on results to a health-related situation or your child's school called while you were teaching, the way we handle these situations while we are at school matters.

A personal crisis can happen at any time. It is especially challenging if you are at school when it happens. How can that emotional stress impact the relationships and learning of your students?

Recently the distraction of my personal life has made teaching more challenging than usual. I never like feeling like I'm not at the top of my game.

But it happens; I'm human.

Luckily, I need to see it as an opportunity instead of a detriment. 

Instead of focusing on my literary or writing prowess, this is a chance to show students my human side. Vulnerability offers many life lessons that make us better people and therefore better teachers. 

Already so many of our students experience challenging life events that they often don't know how to cope with as experience hasn't provided them chances to explore the depth of their own strengths.

We must remember that teaching isn't only about content knowledge; more importantly, it's about our ability to be good people and through that model specific behaviors developing deeper relationships with our students.

Earlier in my career, I kept students and colleagues far away, fearful of allowing anyone to see me "weak", but we all suffered for it. Looking back now, I have to wonder what I was actually showing students by taking that approach.

Being a well-rounded person is all about how we handle the toughest situations and if we can do it with grace and humility, then we've succeeded.

Be mindful of the messages you convey with non-verbal reactions or tonality. This is the hardest for me. When I'm off, it's evident and rather than pretend everything is okay, I don't mind saying to students that I have something personal going on without giving them the details.

Compassion is a great skill for students to practice and allowing them to know I'm struggling offers them that opportunity. It also allows me to practice accepting their kindness which can be hard for me as I was raised to go it alone and take care of everything myself.

Asking for help is really hard, but it doesn't serve me well and if I can help others see that help is necessary and good, I'd like to participate in that experience.

So what I hope I model these days is that strong people can be vulnerable and brave, without losing the qualities that make them admirable.

Takeaways from tough experiences:

  • All life isn't easy and struggles often define who we become. Honor your struggles with dignity but don't be afraid to ask for help.

  • We are never alone and therefore shouldn't try to hide in solitude during these tough times. Allow those who are close to be supportive.

  • Asking for help doesn't make us weak, it is an essential life skill that will ultimately make us stronger. 

  • Vulnerability is a strength, especially if we don't allow it to make us victims.

  • Talking about our challenges is a great opportunity to work through them, rather than pretend they don't exist.

  • Crying is cathartic and doing it is nothing to be embarrassed about.

  • Every challenging time is an opportunity to grow as a person. Focus on the positive outcomes and not on the negative. This can root us in the mire and make it challenging to move ahead. Always look ahead.

How do you teach students to embrace vulnerability and ask for help when they struggle? What do your behaviors model for them about this important lesson? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in March of 2015

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