Thursday, September 10, 2009
Where do you belong? For me, although I’m retired, I feel a strong and enduring association with my old school and the teachers there. I’m “Dad” to three and “Grandpa” to four. I’m “Teacher Rich” at the golf course. I’m friend and neighbor to many who I hold dear. I belong. In each context, I’m known by what I do.
Children need to belong. Just this week I’ve been exposed to this idea from two respected sources: Charles Fay of Love and Logic and Denis Waitley in The Seeds of Greatness. In the final analysis, we form our self concept by what we do. When we help, give, or contribute, we build positive memories in our mind of who we are. Remember, the brain thinks heavily in pictures and feelings. Children who do chores, real meaningful chores, know that they are contributing. They begin to see themselves as the kind of people who help, people who are needed. It is well advised to give kids some choice in how they contribute, rather than just assigning the tasks that adults don’t want to do.
Teach your children how to contribute. Make contributing fun and a warm loving thing. I learned this best in a conversation with my daughter-in-law, a master of teaching the values of sharing the work of the family. In explaining to me how she taught my granddaughter, her firstborn, to clean up her toys, my daughter-in-law explained that at first she modeled. Slowly, she began expecting my granddaughter to do more, but with Mom’s help. Eventually, she expected daughter to do it all by herself. Each succeeding child learned easily from the model provided by their older sister.
In my classroom, students always had roles. The importance of that can be illustrated by an experience I had late in my teaching career when I was teaching 8-year-olds. The day after an absence, I ran into my substitute from the day before. She said that she loved the day. In fact, she said, “The only time all day that they needed me was when the math computer went down and they didn’t have the password to restart. They even had it restarted to the point of the password.” She went on to say that students followed the schedule without being told, knew all the routines for each subject, quickly helped her find materials, helped each other, and worked efficiently without interruptions. On the very first day of school, these kids had been told that it was their classroom - their education - and that they were expected to make the classroom work. In truth, I could never find enough jobs for them. They always wanted to do something “special.”
We develop a strong sense of security by belonging. Psychologist David McClelland called it a need, though one which varied in intensity depending on the context. We don’t really attain membership of any grouping just by birth or title, we must earn it. When children are given a role, they belong. They give value and, in their minds, deserve to receive value.