Four years ago, I started this blog post. At the time, I was inspired by the story of the Canadian coach coming to the aid of a Russian athlete with a broken ski, unable to finish his race. When asked about the incident, the coach, Justin Wadsworth, said:
“I went over and gave him one of Alex’s spare skis. It was about giving Gafarov some dignity so he didn’t have to walk to the finish area.”
How much is in your classroom? How much do you give your kids? How often do you go out of your way to reach a student where they’re at and support them in a way that dignifies them as people?
- Involving them in decision-making.
- Respecting their individuality.
- Allowing them to do what they can for themselves.
- Giving them space to learn.
Broken down into these areas, it becomes easy to see how you could cultivate a dignified learning space for students. Easy to see, but not always easy to do. It is hard (and messy) to have kids make decisions. It is hard to plan for the different needs of all the kids (much easier to pitch to the middle!). It is hard to step back and let them have at it. It is hard to remember that they need their own space to think, to process, to reflect.
So how do we convey these ideas to our students? The idea that we need to build a culture of dignity amongst our students and teachers and community? One option might be to invite David Flood to your school. (Disclaimer: I don’t know David Flood nor have I seen him in real life but this video is great and his message, inspired).
David takes the concept of dignity and distills it into three points that students can connect with:
Challenge 1: Look on the inside
Everyone is the same on the inside regardless of how they might look on the outside. We all have a heart, feelings, needs.
Challenge 2: Reach out and give thanks
Look people in the eye and let them know why you appreciate them. Look for ways to help others and let other people see you being helpful.
Challenge 3: No one eats alone
Compassion and kindness = dignity.
David shares the idea with students that “your life is not about you: your life is about what you can do for others”. When we all live in this way, we build a culture of dignity in our classrooms and communities. The more our students see this in us, the more we will see it in them.
That’s what Coach Wadsworth was thinking that day on the snow: WHAT CAN I DO?
WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT WILL YOU DO?
As for me, I want to look into my use of grouping and how I group kids in the Design Pit. I want to see how I can change what I do to the best effect for the kids I teach. I want to be guided by the concept of dignity when I start to change things up. I don’t know how this will look (yet!) but it will include or at least be inspired by, these ideas: