In my last blog I challenged myself, and probably meant to challenge you as well, by asking, “What am I going to do about my character development that will have a positive impact on my students?” In this blog I will explain one example of how I have attempted to answer this question in my classroom.
As I mentioned in my last blog, gratitude is one of the virtues that I personally want to strengthen. As I reflected on how I could bring my experience of personal development into my classroom, I thought about gratitude, my work, and how to link them. In my experience as a teacher I have found that some students become cynical about classwork and education in general. There are probably many reasons for this cynicism such as frustration with lack of autonomy, no sense of ownership in their education, and a sense of being overwhelmed. In the book Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan and his coauthors have called this a stage two tribe. Stage two tribes believe “my life sucks” and appear to be “a cluster of apathetic victims”. Of course faculty members are not immune to this attitude either. In fact I have sometimes found myself complaining about lack of time to get my job done, poor student preparation, and a lack of appreciation by my students for the effort I put into the class. When I am in this frame of mind, I have created a “my life sucks” attitude. When we, both students and faculty, engage in a stage two tribal mindset, we lose sight of the privilege we have of being involved in the education process. My goal with the work on gratitude is to raise both myself and my students to a higher level of performance.
On the first day of class this semester I gave my students a list of the values I espouse and the promises for the course. One of the promises I made to them was that I will be a learner as I expect them to be learners. I next explained to them that I want to work on gratitude and learn how to strengthen this virtue. In particular I told them I want to be thankful for the privilege of being an educator and that sometimes I struggle with this. I requested they reflect on aspects of being in school that they appreciate and then translate these thoughts into items for me to appreciate. The initial list from them included living in a beautiful location, working with talented students, and having nice facilities. I proceeded to post these ideas in the main header on a course website that is typically displayed at the beginning of class. It is a frequent reminder to me, and I hope them, to practice gratitude. It also helps prevent a stage two tribe from forming. Every four to six weeks I will ask them for new items to add to my list to keep the ideas fresh and salient.
I have found my students eager to help although sometimes I must re-direct their efforts. For example, I was told by one student to be thankful we had a short week and did not have to be at school for an entire week. In other words, I should be thankful to get away as soon as possible. We talked about how this was a negative view and more indicative of cynicism than gratitude. Overall, I know this exercise has helped me strengthen my virtue of gratitude and I sense my students are also improving. I perceive a much lower level of cynicism in my classroom.
This is one small example of how I have tried to answer the question, “What am I going to do about my character development that will have a positive impact on my students?”