With a tummy ache, and trying not to disturb the household at 2:30 am, my daughter paced the halls of our home last night in anticipation of her first day in a new school. I noticed the lights were turned on, and I knew in my heart that something was wrong. I went to her, and I held her, and she shook and cried, and talked about her fears. What if nobody liked her, what if her teacher didn’t invite her to exist, what if they wanted her out of the school?

As I held her in her tears, not taking away what worried her, but acknowledging her experience as a real one, I wondered how many other children were experiencing the same feelings. We send our children to school in September with the anticipation that they will be loved and safe, with the hope that whoever ends up teaching them will have a sense of regard for them and see them with possibility.

elementary school teacher and student high fiveI asked my student teachers this morning to think about the most memorable and special year when they were growing up, and then helped them to tease away at the role of their adults in making this memory.

Here are some of the elements that they identified as they reflected on the elements of their teachers that had helped them to feel safe and successful:

The teacher…

I. demonstrated genuineness by
A. not being afraid to have fun
B. showing vulnerability
C. being real with their students

II. demonstrated unconditional positive regard by
A. being attentive to the child
B. demonstrating caring
C. being in tune with the needs of the child
D. providing time outside of the classroom (or offering generosity of time and being together)

III. created a safe environment
A. that was respectful
B. where the teacher acted as a model and took the lead
C. where variety and differences were valued
D. where mistakes were considered a learning opportunity
E. where the adult was approachable
F. where no questions were rejected or shunned
G. where the child was more important than rules and routines

IV. fostered an atmosphere of belief in the child by
A. setting high expectations
B. protecting the child
C. not giving up on the child when he/she was struggling
D. supporting the child in his/her struggles

It struck me as I was contemplating this list, that what these teachers were doing was making it safe and easy for their students to attach to them. What my student-teachers were remembering is something about their favorite teachers, but the success they experienced that memorable year had to do with the relationship they had developed with the teacher. This is the invisible part of the learning equation, one that is rarely put into words and thus rarely enters our consciousness. Yet as Dr. Neufeld describes in his Teachability courses, this is by far the most important factor in the learning equation.

How I hope and wish for this invitation to relationship to be felt by my daughter as she enters this new school today. How I wish this for all the children who are going back to school this week!

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