When our dear alum, Christine Roy, asked us to do some consulting on learning inclusion and peer learning communities at Al Raja School in Manama, Bahrain, we took her up on a globe-trotting adventure – in return, I felt impacted more than I consulted.
When our dear alum, Christine Roy, asked us to do some consulting on learning inclusion and peer learning communities at Al Raja School in Manama, Bahrain, I’d like to say I jumped at the opportunity. How many times do you get a chance to speak into the development of new programs that significantly impact teaching and learning in another country? How many times do you get to partner with a former student on work that is truly valuable? I should have been elated. I should have.
The truth is, I was a little afraid to accept Christine’s invitation. I was afraid of traveling to the Middle East; Bahrain is on the Persian Gulf, surrounded by Saudi Arabia and near Yemen, Iran and Iraq. I was afraid of the culture, particularly how I would be treated as a western woman. I was afraid of the language barrier. I was afraid I wouldn’t understand the context of the school, and end up offending the teachers. As my colleague Derek Brower can attest, I was even afraid of the food. BUT I was more afraid of being someone who missed out on an opportunity because of fear, so I said yes.
Do you know what we found during our week in Bahrain?
Multilingual, multinational children who laugh, learn, sing, dance and play together without any perceptible discrimination. Parents wearing everything from hijabs to skinny jeans, keffiyehs to Oakleys, who openly love their children. Teachers from countries like Bahrain, Egypt, Sri Lanka, India, Canada, the US, Great Britain, and Indonesia working together in harmony and purpose—on fire for interdisciplinary collaboration and student success. A school right next to a mosque and a Christian church. Christians and Muslims and Hindus who are friends and coworkers.
Tolerance. Generosity. Kindness. Hospitality.
Kharak tea, tandoori masala, qouzi, khuboos, shawarmas and the best murgh makhani I’ll ever eat in my life. And of course, our Christine Roy, a young teacher leader who is leaning in to the work God has laid upon her heart.
We went to Bahrain to help Al Raja School, but I suspect we left with far more than we contributed: a renewed appreciation for the beautiful diversity of God’s kingdom, and the knowledge that we are as similar as we are different. I can’t wait to go back.
“When will the floors be finished from being waxed? I really need to get my classroom ready!”
For many school Custodians, this question from teachers becomes a recurring nightmare especially in early August. Creating a welcoming, safe learning environment is a well-known teaching standard expected of school educators. Many teachers spend every early August preparing their classrooms to look and feel a certain way prior to the addition of students. It is a reality for teachers to pay out-of-pocket for friendly decorations, additional resources, and even special seating to encourage comfort with their incoming students.
Establishing your Teacher Tone
In this preparation work, we also need to prepare ourselves for the work that is unseen. The reflective work that requires us to consider the tone of our classroom and what we hope to achieve with our students in the classroom. Our teacher tone. This isn’t the sound we use when we speak (although, that does matter). No, this teacher tone sets the atmosphere of the classroom, and of the people gathered in the space. A favorite educator/writer, Sylvia Ashton-Warner speaks of tone as a “climate of the soul.” Tone is the manner in which we respond to our students, the situations in our space and the demeanor we present ourselves consistently.
The most important preparation
In today’s classrooms, it is even more important for us educators to understand and prepare ourselves, and our tone – for the challenges can be overwhelming. However, there is no need to let this feeling overtake us, because God’s got it, and He continues to work it all for good. We should take heart in that truth. Those daily classroom frustrations may actually be leading our students to amazing stories ahead!
We have been told that teachers make the most impact on student’s future academic success. Why is this? It is because of the positive connections teachers make with students. Here is the tricky part though, connections require authentic presence. Students know when we are faking it. To develop strong relationships and make the most impact, we have to be present and we have to be real. Our carefully developed honest feedback will be why students connect with us and why they will make exceptional growth.
Building your connection with students
I believe there is more to the story and we, the educators, have to dig into getting to know these stories. We have to listen. We have to observe. We have to make the effort to connect, EVERY DAY.
So what about the tough ones? How do you connect with the hardest students? The ones who shut down when you approach, or the ones who become verbally or physically aggressive? How are we to connect with them? I believe there is more to the story and we, the educators, have to dig into getting to know these stories. We have to listen. We have to observe. We have to make the effort to connect, EVERY DAY. I can’t say it’s going to solve everything, but I can say that by trying, we are showing up and trusting that God truly does have it. I believe Parker Palmer has the best answer for these hardest to reach students.
“Behind their fearful silence, our students want to find their voices, speak their voices, have their voices heard. A good teacher is one who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken—so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence.”
About the Author
Carrie Thonstad is serving in the Master of Education in educational administration program, teaching graduate students who wish to earn their principal licensure. She also teaches undergraduate on-site education courses. She has experience as a teacher, mentor, reading specialist, principal and online education instructor. As much as she loves developing her abilities to connect with students, she is passionate about encouraging and guiding other teachers in their impact.
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