I’m not one to put too much weight in appearances; I’d say I am even opposed to “Lookism”; however, caring about the way others perceive you is classy. I wrote a blog about “Standing Out” in a crowd through modeling classy behavior. This focused on several specific ways to appear classy. This time I want to dig deeper. Where does the behavior come from?
We, as parents and educators, care about our kids’ futures, but most kids are living in the here and now. It is difficult to get a nine-year-old to care about what an employer will think about him or her ten or twenty years from now. Then there is the whole, “We have no idea what 2030 will bring and what the world/job market will even be like” (thanks, Tom Murray/Eric Sheninger! 😉
People, want to be respected. They want to be taken “seriously”. A child expects to be able to speak to an adult and have the grown up believe him/her. Here is a concept to help kids, and we mature humans must model and explain it to them: The classier a person appears, the more believable he or she seems. I am not advocating that kids not be kids. By all means, be silly, have fun, act out, even, but have dignity doing it.
[I wrote and rewrote the previous paragraph ten times. It was very difficult to say what I wanted to communicate. It feels wrong to teach confidence and self-assurance on the one hand, and then put weight in paying attention to what others think of you, on the other. We want our kids to “be themselves” and not worry about how others may judge them. There should be a balance. I’ve said before, “Out of the box thinking requires a box.” Poetry is a good example. A poet will finegal words, mixing the order, reinventing phrases, dice up spellings, and disobey the laws of grammar. In order to appreciate what the poet has accomplished, one must actually know the laws that were broken. Modern artists have gotten a bad rap by producing works of art that layfolk interpret with the phrase, “Even I could do that!” But, these artists have studied the Masters, the laws, the intricacies of color, line, texture, feeling, mood, etc. What they provide is an idea outside of the box of classical art. A person who splashes paint onto canvas and calls it “Modern Art” without understanding these aforementioned attributes, is “sitting on the box that true artists are thinking outside”. Although kids should “be their own persons”, they should, at the very least, be mindful of the “box” of respectable behavior and not stray too far. A bunch of letters scattered all over the floor isn’t a poem anymore than it is art. It’s just a mess, unless an artist or poet can show “the box” that the scattered letters “came from”.]
Back to Elementary Education: More than behavior management, I attempt “Behavior Inspiration”. I am not seeking to control my class. I want to lead it. In the same way that a good teacher facilitates learning, rather than shoveling information down students’ throats, teachers can positively reinforce the behaviors that model dignity, self-respect, confidence… class.
One silly example I have for this is the way students hold their coats. It is that time of year when kids need coats for recess. The thing is, kids get warm when they run around, and they will take their coats off. Upon entering the school building, they have not cooled down completely, so they don’t want to put their coats back on. What many are inclined to do is place the hood of their coat on their head and let the rest hang behind them. They see peers doing this; Maybe they feel like it is a cape. Kids love doing this. It isn’t that I think that there is anything inherently “wrong” with wearing a coat this way. However, what I do each year is show my students the contrast of draping a coat over the arm and carrying it like a butler’s towel up to the room. It seems to me that students who walk with their coat draped over their arm stand more strait with their chins higher. They do not shuffle into the building. They parade with purpose. I told you that this was a silly example. It is simply an appearance thing, but it really works!
One more simple example is when students are working on classroom projects. Our school recently had a fundraiser where parents pledged money for laps that kids ran around a loop. In order to get students motivated, the company hosting the fundraiser, Boosterthon, issued classroom flags for kids to decorate. I always enjoy having my students draw and color the flags, but inevitably there will be some kids who are inclined to just scribble or throw color all over it. While I want the flag to be colorful, it is important to me that our classroom flag be something that we are proud of. (They get hung up in the gym in the end.) Coloring the flag is more than just an experience. It is producing a work of art. I want the students to care about what it looks like. This attitude can be applied to all classroom projects.
Last example: A person shuffles up to you. The individual’s appearance is disheveled. The eyes are shifty and not making contact. How likely are you to trust this person? In contrast, a student with coat draped across his arm, walking straight with good posture and an ere of determination, approaches you and makes eye contact. Aren’t you more likely to take the message of this last individual more seriously.
I, by no means, am advocating that teachers show less respect to students who wear their coats on their head. In fact, I allow it. I simply teach and model the better way to present yourself. If you want to be respected, command it; Look like a commander, act like a commander, speak like a commander, feel like a commander… a Commander of Class.