Learned VS Hardwired Traits, and Why it Matters…

Today I was driving to a school.  The school is in a high poverty rural school located on a country highway – a fairly busy road.  It was 35 degrees.  On the other side of the road, I passed two kids, probably 10 and 12, or around there.  Neither had coats.  Walking to school. Late. My heart just went out to them.

And I wonder how they were treated when they got to school. Were they chastised for being late? Were they distracted because they were so cold? Did they have breakfast?

Clearly this has weighed on me today.

We have been and will continue to dive into our precious students living in generational poverty.  We know that many of them live in constant chaos and stress, and that they bring a lot of this to the classroom. We know that living in this state of stress and in the difficult circumstances surrounding generational poverty take a significant toll on learning, and can actually change the way the brain responds and takes on new information.

The good news is that the brain is a wonderful organ, and given the right circumstances, the brain can always adjust!

You are the right circumstances.

Last week, we gave 4 steps to moving these students to success:

  1. Expand their perspective. Click here for some creating strategies!
  2. Teach learned traits for interpersonal and coping skills.
  3. Build autonomy.
  4. Require them to read and write.

Today we are going to focus on #2.

In Teaching with Poverty in Mind (bet you can guess what will be on #FavoriteResourceFriday, Eric Jenson asserts that there are 6 hardwired traits, and the rest are taught. The hardwired traits are

  • Sadness
  • Joy
  • Disgust
  • Anger
  • Surprise
  • Fear

That means babies are born with these traits, but everything else must be learned!

Take a look at the chart below taken from my book, Building a Bridge from “I Can’t” to “I DID!”, with the thoughts to ponder below the chart.

Most of us have learned these traits on the right hand side of the chart at some point or another, but how would your day-to-day actions be different if you didn’t learn them, or if you rarely (if ever) saw them modeled?

We can’t assume that our students know these learned traits if they are displaying them.  We have to teach them! We know that in culturally responsive teaching, three very important pieces are building an alliance between teacher and student, building a tribe or family amongst the students in the class, and facilitating productive cooperative learning. One of the key reasons that these are so important is because these are the areas where the students are learning and using these learned traits!

So how do we teach these traits?

  1. We set expectations.
  2. We model!
  3. We redirect.

We set expectations.

Before a problem arises, we set the expectations of what we traits we expect to see.

For example, “Class, before you start working with your group, I want to remind you of 2 things:

  • We cooperate with each other, meaning we take turns, listen to each other’s thoughts, and contribute to the group.
  • We have patience with our group members, which means that we wait quietly for them if they are figuring something out, and we applaud mistakes because that gave us an opportunity to learn!

We model.

This is huge!  You may be the only positive role model showing your students these learned traits.  So if they see sarcasm, and impatience, or you shame students (really, really hate this…there’s no place for this in a classroom), then how can we expect them to act any differently. So we applaud mistakes, and we show patience, and empathy, and optimism, and drive…and we instill these in our students.

We redirect.

Because your students may be in the learning curve of these new traits, you must teach them the learned traits, but we must do it in a way that is empathetic to what they are surrounded by in their day to day environments. If a student puts another student down, and you automatically write a referral and send the student out, or make the student sit out from recess, has that student learned the correct way to interact? Most students (not all, but most) put students down because they are feeling threatened or don’t know how to respond in a situation. By merely placing a punishment, we haven’t taught our students the traits to be able to handle a situation the right way!

This is not easy, but it’s super important, and teaching your students these traits will set them up for a life of success!

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