Our blog this week pays tribute to the amazing work that educators engage in every day.
An educator has the enormous potential to be an anchor in a child’s life, a glimpse of hope, a deep connection.
To all our educators, let’s have a look at the different attachment styles we may see in the classroom…
Take a moment to think of the students in your class.
Think of the how each student interacts with you ( the teacher), with other students, and with his work. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between relationships and behaviour.
A child’s attachment to his or her primary caregiver speaks to more than just a relationship. It is a deep and enduring emotional bond which serves to guide the child as he navigates new relationships, new experiences, and new learnings.
There are four different types of attachment “styles” which are governed by the child’s experience of his primary relationships:
A securely attached child has a caregiver who is present, warm, consistent and attuned to his needs. The child has repeated experiences of feeling connected, understood, and protected. A securely attached child believes that he is inherently a good person, that people are good, and that the world is a good place.
In the classroom, securely attached students tend to be content, engaged and on task. They are sociable, confident, and able to work both independently and with others. They are able to face obstacles that may come their way without feeling as if their world has been destroyed.
An ambivalently attached child has experienced parenting that is inconsistent. His primary caregiver is sometimes emotionally available, sometimes intrusive, and sometimes absent. Boundaries are inconsistent and the relationship feels fragile. An ambivalently attached child often feels anxious and insecure as he tries to find his way in the world. He doubts himself, others, and the world.
In the classroom, these students often have a hard time focusing on school work, they can be insecure and may ask a lot of questions. Students with an ambivalent attachment style often need constant reassurance and may be overly dependant on the teacher. They may also be quick to blame other students or the teacher when a classroom issue arises. Many of these students have difficulty sustaining peer relationships.
An avoidantly attached child often comes from a home where the primary caregiver has been emotionally absent. Cold and distant caregiving is a hallmark of this type of parent-child relationship. This child is often quiet, withdrawn, and anxious. He does not see the world as a safe place and has learnt to navigate life alone.
In the classroom, students with an avoidant attachment style prefer to complete work independently, even when they are unsure of a task. These students often have bigger “personal bubbles” and want personal space. They experience difficulty in interactions with their peers and their teacher. They do not trust in the safety of friendships or in the care of the teacher.
A child with a disorganized attachment style has often experienced trauma, multiple caregivers, and an unforgiving world. This child has often developed multiple, conflicting coping mechanisms to avoid being vulnerable. He does not believe that he is worthy of love, protection, and care. The world is seen as a dangerous, hostile place.
In the classroom, these students may be depressed, angry, or defiant. They might be controlling in their relationships and may experience difficulty in emotional regulation. They will often engage in push-pull relationships. Students may have a hard time processing new information and will often struggle with transitions in the school day.
It’s important to note that there are many factors that play into a child’s relationship with self and others ( mental health, temperament, genetics ); a child’s attachment style is just one of the significant factors. Securely attached children can still be anxious and Ambivalently attached children can still be confident!
Creating Connections in the Classroom
Now that we have explored the different attachment styles, we can see how behaviours in the classroom are often a symptom of a child’s core beliefs about himself, others, and the world. Teachers have the unique opportunity to step in and create a different experience for a child on a daily basis.
There are dozens of books and university courses on attachment. It’s important to remember that creating a secure attachment with a student is not based on education or an arsenal of tools, it’s about relationship. It’s the bond that is created when a student deeply experiences an investment in them, an investment that constantly reminds them they are strong and capable, with incredible potential. In order to learn, children need to be able to lower their defences and trust in their teacher’s ability to keep them safe and to lead.
Here are some ideas on creating connections:
Holding a space: How do you, as an educator, conveyh that you “hold a space” for a student, a space that is uniquely set aside for the two of you? Think about a teacher that impacted you. How did they hold a space for you? Here are some ideas on creating unique spaces:
Special greetings at key times ( as students get off the bus, return from recess, or finish the school day)
Take an active interest in your student’s life outside of the classroom. Find out about hobbies or special people in their world.
Leave little notes on their desk or jokes on their lunch kits.
Truly engage with your students. Get down to their level, make eye contact, and be a part of student- led play and conversation.
Express gratitude to your students and give them messages of competency, “I’m going to use your project as an example for my class….”
Make “ Connection” a class theme and an ongoing project.
Rhythm: Children thrive when their environments are predictable. Predictability goes beyond a lesson schedule. It’s the little moments that a student can count on happening every day. It may be carpet time, “yoga minutes” through out the day, or special daily partner questions which help to develop empathy.
Discipline: Think about your discipline techniques. Do they convey to your students that, even during challenging moments, you are still deeply invested in them? Are your techniques based on connection or separation. How can you reorganize your classroom to minimize a child’s experiences of separation and maximize feelings of connection. Remember, challenging behaviour is very often a cry of “ Do you see me? Do you hear me?” When we rely on time-outs, we exacerbate these cries and a self-perpetuating cycle is created. Some classrooms have integrated calming zones with tactile toys, sensory bottles and zen gardens. It’s important that these calming zones are not used as “ time-out” corners but rather a space where a student can move to when they feel dysregulated. Many children need to move to shift emotional energy. Is it possible to incorporate a stationary bike into the classroom or create exercise breaks through-out the day. Remember children will only listen to you if you have their heart. Moments of dysregulation provide an incredible opportunity to let a student know that you are invested in them during both the sunshine and the rain!
Belonging: Belonging speaks to the desire to be a part of something bigger, it’s not about fitting in, but rather about having the courage to be yourself. Think about belonging in your classroom. What do you do to foster belonging in the classroom? How do you teach courage and vulnerability on a daily basis? Be the bridge” for students, help them to find one great connection in the classroom. Set up different class kindness projects or safe environments where it’s easier to be vulnerable and take risks. Have students share their cultural backgrounds with the class.
Safe, loving, predictable relationships create an anchor for a child where they can begin to explore who they want to be in the world. Teacher’s can BE this relationship for a child.
To all our educators, we thank-you for all of the moments of connection that you build in a day.
As Roberta Ford, an educator, said, “I want students to be able to say these things when they leave me: I am a worthwhile person, I deserve a place on this earth; I am successful; I am ready for whatever the world throws a me – today or tomorrow.”
October 11, 2018 / Tania Johnson, R.Psych