As an educator, I have always strived to create a safe and positive learning environment for my students. I have taught Math for the past ten years in public and private schools in both traditional and face-to-face settings. For many students, a Math classroom is a room that brings in anxiety, stress, and fear. At the beginning of every academic year, I ask how I help my students overcome this challenge. COVID-19 is another challenge that we are all combatting, and the isolation from quarantine is hurting our children. Whether it is a face-to-face classroom or a virtual classroom that I am currently teaching, I begin by putting my student first. An effective educator is always excited about the subjects they teach, and their enthusiasm is noticeable to their students. Below are some of the strategies that I have used to build compassion and care in my classroom.

1.   Flexibility

Students need a structure and a plan to work towards their learning goals. Educators need to be aware that they always need to adapt and be flexible to change their schedule to accommodate students’ learning needs. Cultivating flexibility in your 21st-century classroom can help prepare students for academic and lifelong success. After almost a decade of teaching in traditional and virtual classrooms, I know that I need to adjust my instruction depending on my students’ needs. Flexibility is not about losing control nor lowering student expectations. It allows students to be more involved and respond according to their diverse learning abilities. Flexibility also helps them take risks, make mistakes, have fun, and motivate them to learn daily, assisting in the overall learning process. The more flexible an educator’s approach is, the higher the chances are of increased student engagement and participation. 

2.   Relationships

Positive relationships and making connections are very crucial to effective teaching. With the current situation with the pandemic, where everything is virtual, it is becoming harder to build that relationship. Few tips for creating a positive relationship include listening to others, being present with people, give and take feedback, trust, and managing how you communicate. I enjoyed reading Dr. Roger K Allen’s four principles to build positive relationships: empathy, honesty, responsibility, and shared vision. Taking some time before starting my class, opening a conversation, knowing their interests, and showing that I care about my students lays a foundation in my classroom of trust and a safe community. Every class begins with a conversation about how their day has been, what is happening, sharing some good news, or just sharing what my dog, Luke, did today! These small conversations have helped my students connect with me and an opportunity to know their peers. Positive relationships are the foundation for learning success by promoting the students to grow together as learners and giving them a space to make mistakes.

3.   Heartful Communication

Effective communication is a necessary skill for educators to connect with students. Heartful Communication is about communicating with the heart and responding to the needs of the moment. To me, heartful communication involves being compassionate, listening respectfully, speaking gently, tenderly, and moderately in a caring manner. I frequently ask myself, how is my tone (avoiding loudness or any sharpness)? Both verbal and non-verbal communication strengthen our students’ connection and are more effective when we touch their hearts with love and compassion. Even in a virtual platform, sharing a smile and showing our excitement of being there in the classroom together shows genuine commitment and promote a healthy interaction. Timely response and immediate feedback are vital in effective learning to communicate learning progress. I love this quote by Mother Teresa, which says, ‘Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.’ I communicate and motivate my students by celebrating small and big successes. Connecting with parents frequently helps them know the learning challenges that the student is having and appreciate their progress. I connect with my parents to appreciate the support that they are providing towards student success. Effective communication creates a safe and positive environment that impacts class participation, student engagement, and student achievement.

4.   Availability and Accessibility

The time we spend with our students makes a significant impact on their lives. Both face to face and online teaching makes it challenging for busy educators to figure out times to connect with their students. Teachers can use forums, live chats, and even reach out to students on their social media to connect and answer queries at their convenience. I use online booking platforms where I share my available hours and suggest meeting times with my students. It is important to me that the students get the time and information they need to ensure their progress. Providing multiple ways and means of engagement can resolve accessibility challenges. Utilizing tools such as Microsoft Immersive Reader, which makes the text more accessible, or using YouTube videos with captions might make the materials used in the lesson more accessible. The resources and tools that we share should inspire our students’ creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. Students are stressed now, and any time that we can find to connect with them will ease their anxiety and build our connection.

5.   Self-Care and Reflection

Self-care is an essential component of an educator’s mental health. As an educator, I have had several moments that were overwhelming and stressful. We need a constant reminder that practicing self-care is essential for our well-being, especially during times of uncertainty and adapting to new schedules during this pandemic. Starting with five to ten minutes of self-care practice such as meditation, deep-breathing exercises, and routine physical exercise could make a significant difference to you and your students. I start my day with a 30-minute meditation every day, which helps me feel balanced and centered throughout the day. Journaling is a great way to observe and acknowledge your feelings and emotions. Reflection is a big part of my teaching and learning, and I use this tool to improve my instruction by going over what I did and how I can improve based on evidence and data. I write down, in my journal, moments of gratitude and joy with my students and family. It is always fun to share the joyful moments with my students and connect with them amid the turmoil caused by the pandemic. Expressing yourself through writing has also been found to boost your mood, enhance your sense of well-being, reduce symptoms of depression, and improve memory. 

It is vital to take care of your mental health to be the best educator you can be for yourself and your students. Compassion can enhance the impact of any tools and strategies that we use in our classroom. Also, show the students that you care for them opens up an opportunity to trust and focus on their learning experiences. Supporting a classroom of over 30 students is hard work and can be challenging at times. I hope you find these tips to help you build a compassionate and caring classroom centered on student needs and supporting them to become lifelong learners! I leave you with a quote by John C Maxwell which says, “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”