There are many articles and researches about how children can perform better at school. New methodologies, techniques, resources and materials are developed constantly so that our children learn more, faster and better. We want them to learn foreign languages, play an instrument, go to technology clubs, etc. And that is totally understandable, we want the best future for our children – we want them to have a good job, have a good salary so they can afford a nice house, a nice car, pay their bills without having to worry too much, etc.
However, sometimes we seem to forget that humans function through relationships and feelings. If our relationships and feelings are not ok we just can’t “function”, at least not properly. So today, I am going to write these lines to share with you an experience that changed the way I see education and the way I teach. I found it all out by chance, I wasn’t looking for it. It is just my experience. No research, no science or experiments involved. Just an experience that I invite you all to try.
What does education have to do with hugs?
Last year, I started in September like any other year. I had a new class. The children didn’t know me, I didn’t know them. I usually take over the 1st grade of secondary school and then stay with that class until the end of 2nd grade. That is a total of 2 school years. The children are between 11 and 12 years old when they start this stage of education. They have been for the previous 6 years in primary having the same teachers. So, all of a sudden, they change teachers and the school floor or area. And, in some cases, they even change school as some schools don’t offer secondary grades and children need to go somewhere else.
Two years ago, I received my new 1st grade of secondary class. A class that would change the way I see education forever:
Things went well, and I let a couple of weeks pass by to get to know my students better until I had my first parents’ conference with the mother of one of my students. In that meeting, she told me (amongst many other things, obviously) her son had told her that the class teacher (me) didn’t hug him and that he was sad about that. I was totally stunned, but after some days of reflection, I realized that primary teachers work with much younger students and are probably used to giving their students more affection in form of cuddles, high-fives and every now and then some well-deserved kisses (oh, and not to forget healing kisses, of course!). So yes, children probably noticed a change in terms of affection when they changed from primary to secondary. I had never thought about it before.
As you can imagine, I didn’t want to have the responsibility of making one of my students feel sad. But I didn’t know how I’d manage that new situation. Of course, I couldn’t start the class the next day and just say: “Hey, Victor, your mum told me you need more affection, come here, I’ll give you a hug!”. So I just made up a story:
I said my previous class gave me a hug every morning when they arrived and that I was very sad they were not doing the same. At that very moment, some students got up and gave me a hug. The next morning, some students started giving me a hug, some others shook hands and some others just said good morning and smiled. I respected that of course, I didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I didn’t have to do much, though. By the end of the first term, every and every one of my students was hugging me every morning. And with time, they started hugging me –and– each other.
I didn’t have to do anything, it just happened naturally. Even the “bad guys” and “trouble makers” were hugging everyone. At the present (March 2020), there’s even one girl who waits next to me at the door in the morning and greets each of her classmates with a hug like me. Now some of them are already 14 and still want their hug every morning. It even got to a point where I had to go to Germany for a school exchange for 10 days and the students got organized and agreed on who would be hugging and welcoming the students every morning at the door! After my trip, the girl who used to stand with me at the door to hug all her classmates was welcoming them with a hug and saying “Good morning, welcome home!”. You can imagine how proud I felt.
But as sweet as the “hug story” may seem, what’s important for me is what these hugs changed. With time, the relationship between my students and I became more intimate. They started treating each other with more respect and they weren’t afraid to show their feelings. They were more willing to help each other and showed more comprehension towards the others. They also learned to respect if someone didn’t feel like having a hug that day and learned to give them their space and time and be patient enough to let the other person come back to them when he or she was feeling ok again.
The trouble makers stopped being so harsh to others and in class. You see, in the beginning, these students didn’t get any hugs… Who would want to hug someone who bothers them? So they realized that if they wanted attention from others, they had to stop doing naughty things and, instead, be nice to their classmates. I am not going to lie, they didn’t become angels all of a sudden, but there was definitely a (positive) noticeable change in their behavior. Today, they hug and get hugs from everyone in the class. They have their moments, of course, but I do believe they have learned a very valuable lesson.
All of that, of course, has a direct impact on how students learn. If in class there is harmony, calmness and love, students learn much better. If they appreciate each other, they don’t let each other down, they help each other when they see someone struggling. So, soon, their results got better and virtually the whole class was passing all subjects.
Hugs changed my professional life and I strongly believe it changed my students’ lives, too. I encourage all teachers around the world to do that. No matter how old your students are, there will always be one or two willing to give you a hug. And that will be enough to encourage everyone else and the relationship amongst them and with you will radically change. So that, like my student said, they don’t feel welcomed to school, but welcomed home.
|Special thanks to my loving 2nd-grade class. Without them, this article would’ve never been possible and neither the change in my vision of Education and even life. Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the students.|