Helping a Child Unfold: What Every Teacher Needs to Do
I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking I’ve heard it all when it comes to children and their growth. But I heard something recently that had not occurred to me before.
A commentator mentioned she considers her primary responsibility to be to help a child “unfold.” I found that image striking, and soon started thinking more and more about what it means.
Unfolding is the process of a child going from looking inward — i.e., folded up — and transforming into somebody who can grow larger and reveal more and more of themselves to the world.
To unfold from rosebud to full-flowering potential, a child must be safe, challenged and supported.
So how can a teacher make that happen?
Start with your class environment
Young people need a safe place to open up and grow. Your classroom should be a place where students know they’re physically, academically and emotionally safe. This doesn’t mean a classroom has to be “lightweight” without rigorous content. It just means expectations should be reasonable and achievable.
It disappoints me when teachers think a classroom has to be an overwhelmingly intense emotional environment for children to succeed. High expectations do not equal unreasonable pressure.
Stick with the best teaching practices
Great practice is woven into the best classrooms. Lessons and activities have a clear structure and stay connected to each other day-to-day. They also fold into larger classroom, subject and curriculum goals.
Regardless of the personal charisma or likability of their teachers, children need a highly structured environment to grow into the students they can be. As a partner to strong structure, well-organized classroom management is essential.
Creating regular patterns for classroom functions is crucial to helping students to feel safe and secure. Students who feel protected can let their guard down and begin to absorb more and more of your subjects and activities.
Apply pressure appropriately
The idea of pressure in schools has had a bad run lately. Fearing that classrooms have become pressure cookers that are making students physically ill, schools have begun to move more and more away from any type of pressure.
Unfortunately, this well-meaning desire may have the unintended consequence of putting no pressure on students at all — creating unrealistic expectations for what their lives may be like once their formal schooling ends. It’s OK to put a reasonable amount of age-appropriate pressure on students. After all, this is where success and growth come from.
Make parents your partners
The beginning of the school year gives you a great opportunity to tell parents how they can help their children use your class to unfold and grow. Your expectations should be high and your pressure reasonable, and it’s essential that parents know they can expect this atmosphere in your classroom.
My experience has been that parents overwhelmingly support teachers who create high expectations that are wrapped in caring and support for students. Parents push back only when things appear to be arbitrary and unfair to their children.
Give students time to unfold
Nothing worth having happens quickly. Slow and steady growth and change are “sticky” and last longer than anything else. Moreover, a child’s growth often comes in stops and starts, so don’t become frustrated if success is sometimes matched with setbacks.
All that matters is that growth keeps happening over time. Eventually, both you and your students will be amazed at the learners they have unfolded into.