It's winter, you look out over your classroom filled with students. Their energy is fragmented and unfocused. Some kids are groggy or depressed while others are hyper and manic. Many are staring at screens and seem to be a million miles away. As the teacher you are stressed, tired and overwhelmed, wondering how you will make it to the break. Getting all your students to focus and be "together" feels like an impossible task, but you're a teacher, so you role up your sleeves and give it your best.
How can we help our students improve their well-being in the classroom so that they can come together to focus, learn and be well? I have grappled with this question for years and used the following three strategies with positive results.
I invite you to try them and let me know how it goes.
I have been enjoying music with my students since day one of my 18-year teaching career. Music is the single most unifying force I have ever used in the classroom. In fact, new scientific research has proven what singers have known all along, singing brings people together... literally.
When people sing together their heart beats sync-up! If you add meaningful cultural content to this physical phenomenon, the results are transformational. Students forget they are in school, self-consciousness falls away and students connect with each other and with people they may never meet and countries and cultures they may never visit in person.
A wonderful example of this is the song, "La Tierra del Olvido" by Carlos Vives. The version below was produced by Playing for Change, and a diverse group of musicians from all over Colombia are singing one song together as a unified people. The result is a magical cultural and geographic exploration of Colombia!
Click the video below to see how my students connect with the song and each other as they sing. Notice their excitement when Carlos Vives sings his verse. They are yelling out, "CARLOS!"
Your students can do this too!
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Among diverse cultural groups and student personalities there are differing attitudes about singing. For some students, singing is as normal as breathing. Others are very self-conscious about singing in public. I teach my students the African saying, "If you can talk you can sing and if you can walk (move) you can dance."
I approach teaching songs like a gospel choir director, I hand out the lyrics and then we practice in a call and response style. I teach the nuance of pronunciation and require the students to "sing well." While I don't expect every child to be the next Celia Cruz, I do require effort and participation so that students build their confidence, skill and sense of community.
These tips can help all students join in the song with enthusiasm:
- Practice with the students and dedicate time to singing everyday.
- Sing in teams of two, the best group gets a prize. Students who are shy to sing alone may come out of their shell to just help their partner win.
- Grade singing based on effort. Give each students ten points and say that they must "TRY" in order to keep their points. Walk around the room with a clipboard watching and listening as the class is singing.
- Pick songs you and the students enjoy.
- Get a subscription to www.senorwooly.com. It will change your life.
With enough practice, your students will become what my friend Shannon Leonard calls, many hearts with one beat.
Language teachers can do this in their target language (or not).
Calmly invite your students to do the following.
- Sit up Straight: Roll your shoulders back.
- Breath deeply: Feel your feet solidly on the ground and breath into your belly.
- Touch the walls: (Don't touch your neighbor.) Reach out to the sides and stretch to "touch" both walls.
- Twist: "Touch" the board and the back wall. Twist to the other side and repeat. Make sure to breath as you move.
- Climb the Ladder to Heaven: Reach up with one hand after the other like you're climbing a ladder. Stretch your back as you are doing this.
- Rainbow Pull-Ups: "Grab a rainbow" and puuuuuull yourself up over the top and peak down. "Look, a unicorn! Is that a leprechaun!" (At this point everyone is smiling."
- Lower your self down slowly and finish with a nice cleansing breath.
I have been using the motto: "Juntos Podemos..." for years. It means "Together We Can..." I have a simple handmade poster on the wall that I point to several times a week. At the beginning of the school year I discuss the importance of community in terms of the classroom and my students understand that together we can all accomplish more and make the room a fun space that is safe for risk-taking and learning.
(I've also included "Juntos Podemos" in each one of my books. It's my "not so secret" catch phrase.)
During the busy days of December and the frigid months of January and February, teaching and learning can be hard. I invite you to cultivate your well-being and the well-being of your students with these three strategies.
I wish you all the best this holiday season and into the new year.
Chris Mercer is an author, life-coach, full-time Spanish teacher and the proud father of two awesome kiddos living in Richmond, VA. In his spare time he enjoys singing, working-out and bravely attempting to become a full-time vegan.