Many years ago, I read a quote which changed my approach to teaching -- and to life. I read it in a book called Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen. I no longer have my copy of the book. It's one of those good books I lent to someone, never to see it again. The quote was simple, yet profound: "You have to touch the heart before you can reach the mind."
Over the past twenty years, I've been asked to facilitate several workshops for teachers on the topic of Classroom Management & Discipline. In every one of those workshops, I shared Nelsen's quote. When teachers make a connection with their students, when they touch their hearts, they not only reach their students' minds, but they are able to do so with a minimum of behavioral issues in the classroom. There's a tremendous payoff to this teaching strategy.
Other voices reaffirm the validity of this practice. The quote above from Maya Angelou makes it clear that touching someone's heart is a powerful way to make a positive difference in a person's life. More than anything else, it is what people will remember. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, also shared his thoughts on the subject: "One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings." Clearly, making an effort to connect with my students is time well-invested.
Every teacher has a tremendous influence on the environment in his or her classroom. And not surprisingly, the classroom environment contributes significantly to a student's ability and desire to learn. Child psychologist Haim Ginott reflected on the role of a teacher in creating a learning environment in the classroom.... or not:
"I have come to a frightening conclusion that I
am the decisive element in the classroom. It's
my daily mood that makes the weather. As a
teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make
a student's life miserable or joyous. I can be a
tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all
situations, it is my response that decides whether
a crisis will be escalated or deescalated and a
student humanized or dehumanized."
Powerful stuff! You have to touch the heart before you can reach the mind. I'm pretty sure this is a good recipe for relationships outside the classroom setting, as well.