Kindness and grace in our classrooms

It is the start of another academic year in Australian universities, and colleagues around the country are caught up in a flurry of organising unit outlines, wrangling webpages, writing lecture notes, setting tutorial activities, untangling enrolment issues, resolving timetable clashes, recruiting tutors, submitting staff contracts, …

GASP!

I implore you to find a quiet moment away from the madness and ask yourself what it is that you want to achieve over the next semester. One of my ambitions — as it has been for many years — is to respect my students: to honour them as individuals, as learners, as contributors, and as mathematicians.

This is not a goal lightly undertaken. I fail at this regularly. There is always more I can learn and do, which is one reason I set the same goal every year. It is also a selfish goal; for me, building relationships with students is what turns bearable teaching experiences into enjoyable and deeply fulfilling ones.

I wrote about my five pillars for focusing on relationships a couple of years ago. They are by no means comprehensive but they’ve served me fairly well. You might also appreciate Art Duval’s recent post on the AMS Blog, ‘Kindness in the Mathematics Classroom‘ and Francis Su’s ageless blog post, ‘The Lesson of Grace in Teaching‘.

Some snippets:

“GRACE: good things you didn’t earn or deserve, but you’re getting them anyway. … Grace gives people dignity they don’t have to earn.” (Su)

“Grace amplifies the teacher-student relationship to one of greater trust in which a student* can thrive.” (Su; * I’d also suggest ‘teacher’ here too.)

“No single change I made was especially innovative or earthshaking, but the effect of each one was amplified by the others, and especially by my attitude.” (Duval)

“This is a good time to mention ‘kind’ is not the same as ‘nice’. Being kind does not mean just giving everyone A’s, or assigning less work, or never criticizing; it does mean listening to students, respecting their lives, and responding accordingly.” (Duval)

“I will continue to be kind to my students, though not because it will help them with mathematics, but because it is the right thing to do.” (Duval; emphasis is mine.)

As Art Duval asks: What can you do today to show your students a little more kindness?

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