Peek through the window into Sarah Weir’s Pre-K on any given morning, and you’ll see 18 little learners gathered for “morning meeting.” The daily agenda always includes one very important topic: how each child feels that day. A big believer in the crucial role character plays in a child’s success, Weir talks to her students about their emotions and strategies for managing them. For many of her children, their frustrations and hurts run much deeper than the concerns of a typical preschooler. “Taking the time to invest in how the children feel and where they are coming from helps me understand them better, so I can be more effective at teaching content,” Weir explains. It’s a practice she’s developed through the Responsive Classroom approach she adopted years ago. And she knows it works.
Take for example the very angry four-year-old who arrived in her classroom nearly a decade ago. The burden of his rage and hurt overpowered him---any type of correction resulted in an eruption of tears and flying fists. But by helping him name his anger, giving him a safe place where he could process his feelings, and teaching him ways to manage his emotions, Weir helped the little boy begin to heal and open up to new experiences. “I think he felt more loved,” Weir reflects. “He developed authentic friendships. He was always very bright.”
By the spring, the little boy could sit in the school president’s office happily reading her a book. Weir smiles as she describes that once angry four-year-old, now walking the halls as a talented middle schooler bursting with promise. “I think of how mature he is and how far he has come,” she says. "He's no longer a frequent visitor to the timeout room. He spent many years in a school environment that had faith in him. Now it is wonderful to see him have faith in himself."
“As an educator, I feel responsible for the learners who are placed in my classroom. I want them to do well in their future academic endeavors, but also in their relationships. I want them to be able to be courteous at a dinner party. I want them to have empathy not just for children starving in another country, but also for their coworkers who might be having a tough day,” Weir explains. “I want them to be able to think carefully and critically about how their actions affect those around them. These character traits aren't in the textbook. They’re based on conversations and experiences in life. And when we acknowledge the children's experiences and take time for conversations, we promote their growth as a whole human being.”
The topic for this year’s symposium---The Hidden Power of Character--- aligns nicely with Weir’s hopes for her students. Featuring an expert panel and keynote speaker Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, the conversation promises to stimulate ideas and enthusiasm for tacking the tough issues in inner-city education today. We hope you can join us. For more information or to register, please visit www.gesuschool.org/2013symposium.html.