Survival in the Classroom

February 22, 2007 at 9:46 am (children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, school, teachers)

In order to have a “Classroom of Choice,” you have to understand William Glasser’s “Choice Theory” which explains how and why human beings behave.  In essence, Glasser maintains that all of our behavior is to meet one or more of our innate basic human needs.  Therefore, all behavior is purposeful.  There are 5 basic needs: the need to survive, to love and belong, to gain power, to be free, and to have fun.  This week we are looking at the first need – SURVIVAL.

How do we define the “need to survive?”

Obviously the need to survive includes basics such as food, shelter, physical comfort and safety.  However, since we are able to imagine the future, this need goes beyond tending to our immediate physical needs.  The need for survival causes us to do things like buy insurance for future financial stability or exercise to maintain good health as we age.  Teachers should be aware that while the need to survive is primarily physical, it has a psychological component as well – the need for a sense of security.  

What things can threaten our students’ sense of security and how does it impact learning?

We have little control over some of the survival needs of our students – the food they have at home, the clothing they buy, etc.  However, we can definitely address the psychological component – the need for a sense of security.  Most of our students are clothed and fed properly, but many experience threats (real or perceived) on a daily or hourly basis – threat from peers, teachers and the system.  These “threats” take many forms: name-calling by peers, bullying, sarcasm from a teacher, fear of punishment, lack of order, …  All of these perceived threats can have a devastating impact on learning.  Threats cause stress which impairs both short- and long-term memory.  Chronic stress can trigger chemical imbalances in the brain which can increase the chances that a student will choose impulsive, even violent, behavior in their attempts to regain control over their lives.    

How can teachers address the immediate physical needs of their students?

  • WATER – Our brain is about 78% water.  Encouraging students to drink water during their breaks or allowing students to bring water bottles to the classroom can help.  The other alternative is to create a  system allowing students to go to the drinking fountain without disrupting class.  
  • FOOD – When a person’s blood sugar is low, the person tends to be tired, easily distracted, and irritable.  If you have students during a class period that is several hours away from their lunch, you might want consider allowing healthy snacks or encouraging students to eat something healthy during their breaks.
  • OXYGEN – The brain uses one-fifth of the body’s oxygen.  Doing things like opening windows or having plants in the room to provide fresh air are useful.  (Spider plans and succulents are great – they require less water and survive a lot of abuse.)  Providing breathing or stretch breaks can help.  Try the “Rag Doll”: Have students bend over from the waist and hang limply like a rag doll.  Then direct them to slowly straighten up.  As they straighten up, they are to take a deep breath and hold it for 2 counts.  Next, they exhale quickly and flop back into the rag doll position.  Repeat 2 or 3 times.  

How can teachers address the needs for a sense of safety, security, and order in the classroom?

1.  GREET THEM – Greeting students by name with a smile communicates that you care about them and want them to feel comfortable.

2.  POSITIVE POSTERS – Fill your room with positive messages about learning in the classroom.  Messages such as “It’s okay to make mistakes; that’s how we learn” tell students that they are free to take risks.  Consider the following motivational statements:

  • We each learn in our own ways, by our own time clocks.
  • It’s intelligent to ask for help.
  • We can do more and learn more when we’re willing to risk.
  • It’s not mistakes that are important.  It’s what we do after we make a mistake.
  • If it happened, it happened.  Let’s go on.
  • Everyone can learn and learn well.
  • We are all intelligent, just in different ways.

What else can teachers do to meet students’ need for safety, security, and order?

There are too many tips for me to cover in one e-mail so check in next Monday when we cover guidelines for behavior, classroom rules, and procedures and routines.

Source: The Classroom of Choice by Jonathan C. Erwin

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