Thursday, July 3, 2008

Classroom Weather

About five or six years after I began teaching, someone shared the following quote from Haim Ginott with me:

“I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in my classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’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 de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

By that time I already understood that my students were apt to be more cooperative if I identified something I liked about them and focused on trait instead of on the behaviors that made me nuts.

But Ginott upped the ante – and laid the responsibility for classroom dynamics squarely on my shoulders.

At about the same time, my mother-in-law gave me a T-shirt that we both found hilarious. It read simply: “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

My kids gleefully affirmed it: “Yeah, when she’s in a bad mood, we suffer.”

Ginott puts the same theory into educationalese and provides graphic examples of the “ain’t happy” part.

The T-shirt is long gone, but the quote has remained above my desk ever since. As teachers, the responsibility for the classroom weather is ours.

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