Teaching through Emotions

where emotions and relationships are central to teaching and learning

Category: Relationships

Only Connect

“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.”

This is a quote from E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, a wonderful novel written in 1908 that is perhaps best known by its movie version, which is also wonderful. The quote is relevant to a hypothesis I’m working on, which is that we are living in a society in which technological innovation quietly encourages us to distance ourselves — to chronicle life — rather then to engage with each other — to practice life.

This hypothesis is important to me because my work, emotion work, requires willingness to engage with life. Yet I suspect that the momentum in the field of education, despite the increasing respect for “soft skills” and Social-Emotional Learning, continues to drive us towards the abstract, the disconnected: towards data, trends, scores, scripts, policy, programs, rules, legalese. Towards a chronicle, a narrative, about education that is quite distant from the lived reality.

Towards the thought, for example, that the quality of a teacher education program can be determined by the standardized test scores of the students their graduates teach.

Let’s step this one back: A group of students do not do well on a standardized test. Consider the many reasons why this might happen. (Hint: anxiety, inability to manage the test format well, cultural disadvantage, resistance to learning, fatigue, stress, lack of commitment, poor teaching)

If the reason or reasons for the students’ poor performance is any of the first seven, what type of response might be called for? A policy? A punishment? A ruling?

Or engagement? Like, say, looking into the students’ anxiety and stress, their relationship (yes, that’s the word I would use) to the type of test and to the stakes it represents, their resistance and level of commitment to school or to their teacher? Like, say, looking into their eyes and wondering about them?

If the reason for the test scores is poor teaching, what type of response might be called for? A policy? A punishment? A ruling?

Or engagement? Like, say, looking into the teacher’s experience of teaching: their fears, self-doubts, insecurities; their flashpoints and pet peeves; their negative self-beliefs; their relationships (again, that word) with the content they teach, the students they teach, and their colleagues? Like, say, looking into their eyes and wondering about them?

And the same goes for teacher education programs. It’s gotta be difficult to assess the quality of a program in any case, but how do you capture a program’s success in changing people? (especially when the expectation of most prospective teachers is that they will spend less rather than more time earning their credential. There is no teacher education program in the history of the world that ever demanded as much training for teachers as the most basic medical school program does. Why is that?)

How do you change people? Through a policy? A punishment? A ruling?

No. Emphatically no. People change through engagement. Not from policies or punishments or rulings. Not from forced conformity to an idealized, distanced narrative.

Here’s another E.M. Forster quote, this one from Howard’s End:

Only connect!….Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted.

Meaning, to me: Connect the abstract and the particular, the policies and the people, the chronicle and the practice. Bring the levels of experience together, let them inform each other, through connection. Just connect! Just engage! And we will all be exalted.

Unfortunately, in a world where desired “connection” is now overwhelmingly electronic, it is becoming much less likely that we will actually engage with each other as people. Instead, it seems we are free to objectify people, demonize people, anonymously act out on people, and legislate at all levels in ways that serve the legislators rather than those in need. Even in those moments when we do engage with people, it seems we are less and less willing to be honest in that engagement for fear of hurting and, importantly, being hurt back.

I am going to make a plug for engagement, for looking into people’s eyes, for reading data with our hearts, for surviving our hurt, for helping people change — whether to improve their teaching or simply to learn something new — by being in healthy relationship with them, by connecting viscerally, not electronically, with them. And I am going to shamelessly plug the value of emotion work in this fundamentally, inescapably human enterprise.

Only connect.

New Year’s Resolution

happy new yearIt’s a new (academic) year. Time for a resolution!

I know. New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time. Who keeps them? They serve only to assuage guilt and fool us into thinking we’ll actually change.

But change is a worthy goal, especially if it’s change that will reduce suffering, our own and others’. And my work is dedicated to reducing suffering, first in teachers and then (when teachers feel better) in students.

So here’s my New (Academic) Year’s Resolution: to post teacher stories on this very blog that illustrate how teachers can reduce their own (and, by extension, their students’) suffering.

This resolution is very important to me. In an age of increasing awareness of racism, mental illness, poverty, and other ills that severely handicap learners coupled with bizarrely irrelevant pressures on teachers to raise test scores, suffering in schools abounds. I know not everyone is hurting all the time; I know many people don’t feel their suffering or see suffering in others; I know the words “suffering” and “school” don’t seem to go together. But suffering is happening nonetheless.

It’s happening in schools where dark-skinned children are separated from white-skinned children and forced to learn with much less. It’s happening in schools where children sit in class while their stomachs rumble or their teeth ache. It happens inside the heads of children whose parents fought violently last night or were too busy or preoccupied or self-absorbed to see anyone clearly, least of all themselves and certainly not their growing children. It happens inside teachers when they feel they haven’t reached a student or that they have messed up with a student or that they are fed up and have nothing left to give a student. It happens in a most unbearable way as a teacher approaches burnout.

I want teachers’ suffering to be addressed and palliated. Most importantly, I want teachers to learn how to utilize their emotions to figure out what is going on relationally with their students (and others) so as to re-align with them. I want schools to be places of healing, where relationships between teachers and students and among students form the proper bedrock for growth and development.

I want teachers to have the support they need to be healthy developmental partners for their students. I want it because that’s what education is: development. And if our students’ development is hampered by suffering, by senseless, needless, preventable suffering, they will grow to be contorted, and their skills and talents will lie hidden or will be channeled into self- and other-destructive acts.

This outcome is, to me, morally reprehensible. It is utterly unacceptable.

And so I resolve to do what I can here on this blog and in my face-to-face interactions with teachers to help them reduce their suffering by facing it and learning from it and then passing on their compassion and understanding to their students, thereby reducing their students’ suffering. It is, I believe, the most important work I can do.*

What is your New (Academic) Year’s Resolution? What do you think of mine?

*That and being a good-enough mother.

Reflective Function

gears-818463_1280Being reflective about internal emotional experience is crucial for teachers.

It’s March, I know. But I’m still working on my New Year’s Resolution, which is to actually read the professional journals that pile up in my home the way Hogwarts admissions letters flooded the Dursleys’ living room. I’m really on a roll! In just two journals, I encountered three articles that reinforced each other in a really nice and interesting way. The articles are

Zambrana, R.E., Ray, R., Espino, M.M., Castro, C., Cohen, B.D., & Eliason, J. (2015). “Don’t leave us behind”: The importance of mentoring for underrepresented minority faculty. American Educational Research Journal, 52 (1), 40-72.

Benbassat, N. & Priel, B. (2015). Why is fathers’ Reflective Function important? Psychoanalytic Psychology, 32 (1), 1 – 22.

Borelli, J.L., Compare, A., Snavely, J.E., & Decio, V. (2015). Reflective Function moderates the associations between perceptions of parental neglect and attachment in adolescence. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 32 (1), 23 – 35.

Here’s how these three articles are related: They all point to the importance of mentoring for young students.

The first article emphasizes how crucial (and still rare) it is for new college and university faculty who come from underrepresented backgrounds to find mentors who value their research and actively show them the professional ropes. Without this kind of support, underrepresented minority (URM) faculty, who are such critical models and mentors for URM students, can find it difficult to remain, let alone rise, in predominantly white academic institutions (PWIs). This first article also shares the finding that underrepresented minority faculty who had responsive mentors as young people were more likely to find and make use of mentors as adults.


The second two articles suggest a significant way that teachers, particularly male teachers, can be good mentors: They can “mentalize,” or utilize Reflective Function (RF).

And what, you might ask, does it mean to “mentalize”?

The term was coined by a pretty awesome psychoanalyst and researcher named Peter Fonagy. His research suggests that going “meta” on relationships – talking about one’s feelings, making guesses about others’ feelings and motivations, making the connection between feelings and behaviors, respecting the differences between people’s subjective experiences of reality – fosters in children the capacity to “mentalize,” or recognize their own internal lives as well as those of others. To be able to mentalize is to possess a “theory of mind” that notices differences in beliefs and abilities among people and provides a basis upon which to understand people’s experiences and behaviors. Utilizing this awareness means exercising one’s Reflective Function (RF) – that is, thinking about internal experience, one’s own and others’ – which allows one to be emotionally and cognitively flexible.

So Reflective Function is a really good thing.

The second article I listed above gives evidence that dads who mentalize are especially important to their children’s growth through adolescence. According to the authors, fathers’ mentalizing can help them deal authoritatively with recalcitrant teens (and “authoritative” as opposed to “authoritarian” parenting seems to promote the Reflective Function in offspring) (and, apparently, adolescence is a crucial time for the development of RF); it can help fathers figure out what roles to play in their children’s lives (extremely valuable for dads who travel, who are divorced, who have stepchildren, who didn’t have particularly active fathers themselves, etc.); and it can help them remain connected and real in their relationships with their wives, which doesn’t just contribute to a harmonious and supportive family life but also can undermine stereotypical, sexist thinking and behaving.

Obviously, fathers who exercise RF can also be teachers who exercise RF. Male and female teachers who utilize the Reflective Function can be valuable mentors to students of all backgrounds, setting those students up to expect and utilize mentors throughout their lives. In addition, as the third article above suggests, teachers who use RF can help develop RF in their students whose parents did not model mentalizing. Moreover, adolescents who experienced neglect and other trauma in their early lives but who have developed RF through secure interactions with non-parental caregivers such as teachers appear to be less likely to behave in destructive ways and more likely to be able to attach healthily to other adults later in life.

It just so happens that, in reading something else (The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development, published in 1982 by Robert Kegan), I came upon a lovely way of conveying why RF is so important. Kegan makes the case that babies, with their inescapable cuteness, are able to “recruit” the attention they need not just to survive but also to thrive. “This sympathy is in great supply for newborns – and newborns share a powerful capacity to elicit it,” Kegan writes on p. 19.

“But Nature,” he continues, “having done her part when it is most needed, is not so democratic after infancy. The capacity to recruit another’s invested regard, so uniform at birth, becomes a various affair as people grow older: some people have a much greater ability to recruit people’s attention to them than other people do. This obvious fact, so underinvestigated by psychologists and so commonly denied by teachers, is never forgotten by teenagers, who could have told researchers – before huge sums of money were spent to discover it – that the greatest inequalities in education are not between schools (of different economic strata, for example) but within them; that greater than the inequalities of social class or achievement test scores is the unequal capacity of students to interest others in them – a phenomenon not reducible to social class or intelligence, and which seems to be the more powerful determinant of future thriving.”

So, to bring it back to the beginning: Students who find it difficult to “interest others in them” because, for example, they are African-American in a school that privileges whites or they are girls where men dominate or they are gay where otherness is deeply threatening or they are poor and do not share the social skills that come with being middle class – these types of students especially need mentors. (So do others, but students who “fit” better with the people and institutions around them are, like infants, better equipped to “recruit” the attention and help they need.) These students need people who show their care by seeing them and imagining what it is like to be them and engaging with them and offering support that is relevant to their particular situations.

In other words, at the very least, they need parents and teachers who mentalize, who utilize and model RF. This probably sounds super-simplistic after the moving paragraph from Kegan, but exercising RF is not as simple or obvious as it may sound. In my experience, it can take a lot of work.

What, in fact, might RF look like in a teacher or mentor? Funny you should ask. Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will show RF in action.

Invisible Work

man-person-cute-youngEmotional and cognitive development do not happen naturally; they happen as a result of hard work by caregivers, work that is, unfortunately, invisible to most.

I just finished a book that questions the traditional approach to developmental psychology. It critiques Piaget, for example, and Vygotsky, two popular theorists in the field of education. It goes into detail about Marx and Lacan and Althusser and Foucault.


I read it because I think and write about human development, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something important. And I’m glad I finished the book, because it wasn’t until the second-to-last page that I understood why the author was so enthusiastic about “the anti-developmental project.” In a nutshell, it appears to be this:

“Babies are hard work,” the author (John R. Morss) writes on p. 157. “That work may or may not be ‘rewarding’ or rewarded, and if unrewarded may well be invisible. One consequence of that work is what we call development.”

Stay with me (and John Morss): He’s saying that, however we may feel about the work of raising or teaching children — of being what I call their “developmental partners” — that work is always in danger of going unnoticed, especially by people in power. He continues,

“If the work is done by someone other than oneself, it may appear that the results of [the] work are natural changes — the sort of natural changes we call development. A father might perhaps underestimate the work of a mother in this way. In the context of the school-aged child, both parents and teachers might ‘forget’ each others’ work in a similar manner. Developmental explanation facilitates this forgetting; it explains away.”

So a mother who has borne her son’s 45-minute-long tantrum, who has survived his emotional and physical attacks and has seen him through to a calming that allowed them to talk out what he was feeling, what he needed, and how he might go about getting his needs met differently — that mother’s exhausting work is nothing while her son’s tantrums are age-appropriate and bound to stop once he’s outgrown them?

And the teacher who overcomes fear of a particularly powerful and resistant student in her classroom by attending his sporting events, inviting him to eat lunch with her in her classroom, asking him about his interests and ambitions is extraneous, really, just a prop along the student’s natural developmental trajectory?

No, says Morss. The work that is done by caring adults counts. It is required. That is because human development is necessarily socially embedded. As my favorite psychoanalytic theorist, D.W. Winnicott, puts it, “‘There is no such thing as a baby’ — meaning that if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone. A baby cannot exist alone, but is essentially part of a relationship.” (This quote is from a book by Winnicott called The Child, the Family, and the Outside World, published in 1964). That is, development is “work” that is accomplished by at least two people: a baby and his mother/caregiver, a student and her teacher. It is not biologically programmed and is utterly dependent on collaboration with other human beings.

Of course, according to Morss, often the other human beings are women.  And, “in a bizarre, alienating twist [the caretaking woman] may come to perceive even the results of her own work as merely natural” (p. 157). Here, then, is one of the purposes of the “anti-developmental project”: for developmental partners, men and women, to recognize the absolutely essential work they do to enact and foster development in themselves and others. Their work is not “merely natural.” Without hard-working parents and teachers, babies and students simply would not grow.

Sorry for the academic lead-in to this idea, but I was pretty excited to find something useful in Morss’s book (which, by the way, is titled Growing Critical: Alternatives to Developmental Psychology and was published in 1996). My excitement isn’t about my eligibility to now be “anti-developmental” but, rather, to discover yet another expression of the belief that drives me in my work:

Being a developmental partner is hard work. This work, which is, at bottom, emotional and relational, must be seen. Teachers (and parents, and other caregivers) deserve support in doing this hard work. To deny this foundation and this necessity is to continue to fail the teachers whose job it is to help all their students, especially the most difficult ones, pursue their potential, grow and change, develop. Development is not “merely natural” but rests on the strong shoulders of people who think, feel, suffer, and care.

This difficult work must not be invisible.




IMG_0584Endings are important when relationships are important, and relationships are important in classrooms.

I’ve been putting off writing about endings because, frankly, I hate endings. I hate saying good-bye; I hate getting all teary-eyed and sentimental; I hate the feeling of loss and being out of control and having to do or face something I just don’t want to.

There are many ways to avoid endings. One good way is to get angry at the person who’s leaving. Fighting makes separation easier and, paradoxically, maintains connection through lingering negative feelings.  Another good way is to pretend the ending isn’t going to happen, to just go along the way you normally do until — hunh! — that person you used to see at Book Club just isn’t there anymore.

Another way, one that therapy clients sometimes utilize, is the “no show” option: setting up a final appointment or meeting and simply blowing it off. This option is masterful because (1) it allows the client to avoid the ending and (2) conveys to the therapist the client’s ambivalence and, perhaps, anger at having to rupture the relationship.

When I want to avoid an ending, whichever method I utilize, the fundamental way I justify my avoidance is to believe I don’t really matter to the person I’m parting with. If I don’t matter, they won’t notice if I’m there or not to say good-bye. So I might as well not be there.

As a therapist, I cannot fall back on this self-serving approach. The fact is that I DO matter to my clients, and they matter to me. Our work actually depends upon this mutual attachment, because the healing my approach to therapy kindles relies on the relationship between me and my client.

It is the same for teachers.

I am positive there are plenty of teachers out there who are fantastic at orchestrating wonderful endings to their classes. I’m also guessing that there are a few who try to avoid any formal acknowledgment of the end of significant classroom relationships beyond having the students clean out their desks and lockers and maybe have a cupcake before heading out for the summer.

I’m here to advocate for formal, sentimental, powerful endings in school.

Here’s why: Teachers should and do matter to their students. Any learning that took place over the school year depended on this fact, on the relationships students were able to  have with their teachers (and each other, and the subject matter, all of which ties back to the relationship with the teacher). Ending the relationship with the teacher and with the class group is a big deal and deserves acknowledgment.

I’m not a big how-to kind of gal, as I prefer to support teachers in coming up with their own plans, but here are some ways I’ve overcome my aversions and celebrated endings:

* I’ve put ingredients for ice cream into a manual ice cream ball and rolled it back and forth between me and my client. (This rolling is what turns the ingredients into a frozen delight.) Each time we push it, we say something to each other about our work. In a classroom, the person who rolls the ball can call out a positive adjective about the person he’s rolling the ball to. And then, of course, everybody can dip into the ice cream.

* I’ve done the same activity with a ball of beautiful string or yarn. Every time someone throws the ball to another member of the group, they say something kind about the person who catches the ball. After weaving this visible evidence of the connections among us, each group member can cut off a piece of the string to keep.

* I’ve handed out paper to every member of a group and asked them to put their name on the top. Each member then passes their paper to their right (or left), and the group member next to them writes something positive about the person whose name is on the paper. We keep passing the paper around until each member receives their original back. Sometimes we read our papers out loud to each other.

* I’ve done découpage on flower pots, boxes, and in frames (mimicking diplomas), choosing and creating images that represent the person the gift is for. In classrooms, students can construct their own “self-portrait” collages from images cut out, drawn, or photographed by their classmates and teacher that depict something special about themselves.

The point of all these possible ways of ending a school year is to shine a strong spotlight on the basic and essential fact that each person in a classroom is in crucial relationship to the others and that each person has been seen. And, honestly, what students will remember about school will not necessarily be the content you taught or the activities you organized but the feeling of having been seen, understood, and, at best, valued.

Feeling seen. Feeling known. Feeling valued. These are bedrocks to successful education. When this experience ends, it is a great loss that should be acknowledged, memorialized, and gently mourned.

If you’re thinking “Pffft! My kids don’t care about me or each other enough to take this kind of ending seriously,” then I suggest you start thinking about beginnings. How might you attend and attune to the relationships in your classroom next year? How might you start the school year with attachment and connection in mind? How might you remember to see, know, and value your students and encourage them to do the same for each other?

And now I have to end this blog post. Damn.

But, seriously: How do you end your school year with your students?


group-hugOne assumption that is too often missing from educational policy and practice is that learning and growing depend on relationships with people.

I was just perusing the latest Chronicle of Higher Education, and my attention lighted on three different — but, it turns out, related — articles:

* one on high school AP courses vs. new college courses that are beginning to emphasize what AP courses do not, namely, cross-disciplinary thinking;

* one on dual-credit courses in which high school students tap in to college courses (usually by watching videos of professors teaching) and get credit in both institutions; and

* one on competence-based learning, where credit is given to life experience.

This brief journey got me thinking about the myriad (or perhaps much too convergent) set of assumptions that seem to underlie education these days. Some of these assumptions seem to be that

* successful learning can be replicated on a standardized test

* successful learning can be done via video

* successful learning is evidenced exclusively by behavioral outcomes

My purpose here is not to disagree with these assumptions. Rather, it is to remark on what is for me a distressing absence: the absence of any sense of learning as fundamentally relational.

Actually, the assumptions I’ve listed above are relational in that they imply that successful learning depends on forging some sort of relationship with content, either through focused practice in an AP course or exposure to lecturing professors or actual experience in the field. And I agree that learning pretty much by definition must include a relationship with content.

But I also think learning is more than just content- or cognition-based. I’ve come to think of learning as synonymous with development, with emotional and cognitive and social and identity development. And my understanding of these types of development points to the undeniable fact that they happen through human relationships.

For me, teachers are developmental partners to students. They play incredibly valuable and difficult roles in students’ lives — as ideals, as mentors, as mirrors, as opponents, as attachment figures, as test objects. Teachers’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are structures within which students grow (or not) regardless of the subject matter. While few teachers consciously embrace these roles or know how to use them to their own and their students’ advantage, the roles, the relationships, are nonetheless at the heart of learning.

(Shameless Plug here: My book, The Feeling of Teaching, shows how teachers can use these roles and others to improve their teaching and their students’ learning.)

I just wonder what conversations about MOOCs or flipped classrooms or standardized testing or scripted curricula would sound like if this assumption — that learning means emotional and relational development — were included. After all, we don’t just want competent historians or architects or cabinet-makers or computer programmers to emerge from our schools. We want — at least, I want — mature, healthy, competent people to emerge.

What assumptions drive your teaching?

“I Don’t Want to Feel!”

feelingsTeachers should want to not feel because feeling is hard. But it’s crucial.

Recently, during a Teacher Support Group I was facilitating, the participants were airing their frustrations about working with students who had “learned helplessness,” about dancing around intrusive parents, about balancing between empathy and strictness. In the midst of the discussion, one of the teachers exclaimed, “I don’t want to feel!”

Right. Because the emotions teachers have can be onerous: frustration, confusion, anger, self-doubt, anxiety, shame, regret. Teachers who act out of compassion — say, extending a deadline when their students complain about the workload — can kick themselves when they realize they’ve been had: their students merely waited two more days before whipping the project off the night before it was due. How might a teacher feel? Foolish. Fatuous. Enraged. Vengeful.

“I don’t want to feel!” Because a teacher can never know precisely what’s going on inside their students — when students are genuinely trying, when they’re interested, when they’re bluffing, when they’re truly needy — and can fill the inevitable gap between themselves and their students with self-blaming and despairing thoughts that can feel like torture. “Am I asking too much?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Why am I such a terrible teacher?” “Do my students hate me?”

Yes indeed: the feelings of teaching can be terrible. And the most natural response in the world to terrible feelings is to wish them away.

But if this teacher got her wish and magically lost the power to feel, she would be doomed. Why? Because, at the very least, she’d miss out on the following information:

What’s going on with her. There is always at least one good reason for any emotion. If a teacher who is feeling angry or anxious can stop and wonder about these emotions, she might discover something very useful. She might realize, for example, that she feels invaded and disrespected — hence her anger — and needs to put more protective barriers around herself with certain people. Her anxiety might suggest she’s trying to do the impossible and needs to scale back or redesign. Not feeling emotions means missing crucial signals about what one needs for psychic (and even physical) survival.

What’s going on with her students. It’s strange, but emotions can be highly contagious. If you’re lucky enough to be hanging out with someone who’s brimming over with joy and excitement, it’s quite difficult not to feel happy yourself. If you’re interacting with a student who is angry or ashamed or anxious, it can be just as difficult not to share those negative feelings. Very often, then, the terrible feelings teachers have are direct broadcasts from their students.

If, for example, a teacher is struck by how stupid he feels after talking with a student, he could wonder if the student might actually feel stupid herself. If so, what can the teacher do to address that insecurity in the student? The move the teacher makes based on this hypothesis could turn a resistant student into a much more willing learner AND relieve the teacher of an emotion that wasn’t his in the first place.

What’s going on in the relationship. Emotions can seem like private experiences, but, in fact, they emerge from relationships. Sometimes they are vestiges of old relationships, as when a feeling — say, shame — that seems inappropriate in the present context nonetheless overtakes you. When that happens, chances are good that there’s something about the present situation that reminds you (usually unconsciously) of influential past relationships. Your unexamined emotions and actions can replicate those old relationships automatically, for better and for worse.

A lot of the time, though, emotions are associated with what is going on relationally right here and now. Are you anxious about a student’s tanking grade? Are you frustrated by a student’s passivity? Does a student’s chronic whining make your skin crawl? Such feelings point to the varied and very interesting ways in which people — parent-child, teacher-student, parent-teacher — fit with each other in relationship. Attending to emotions can help illuminate the workings, or dynamics, of these relationships. Attending to the dynamics of relationships can lead to ideas about how to make the relationships better. And in a classroom, where learning depends on relationships, knowing how to make relationships better is a crucial skill.

All this to say: Absolutely. Teachers should want to not feel. It’s hard to feel.

But, gosh DARN it, feeling is crucial.

“Psychologizing” the Classroom

grit photo“Psychologizing,” or taking the psychological point of view, is helpful in domestic policy and in the classroom.

Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, is interviewed in the podcast from “This American Life” that I recommended last week. He’s also mentioned in a recent New York times op ed by David Brooks. I haven’t read Tough’s book yet, but the things that are being said about it are interesting and well worth considering.

I applaud what Brooks calls “the psychologizing of domestic policy,” as I know how fundamental psychic structure is to all behavior and relationships, whether at home, in school, in Congress, in the board room, or in negotiations between countries. We are structured to behave the way we behave, and early trauma, as Brooks (and Tough) point out, can affect that behavior into and through adulthood. Attention to students’ psychic structures — to the ways they relate to each other, to teachers, and to content — is absolutely critical to helping them learn and grow.

But teachers deserve and need that attention, too. Some teachers have experienced childhood trauma. Some teachers struggle with dysfunction, addiction, mental illness. Virtually all teachers, at one time or another, are weighed down by stress. That is, teachers are human, too.

So attention to teachers‘ psychic structures — to the ways they relate to each other, to students, to parents, to content — is also absolutely critical if they are going to be able to help students learn and grow.

Absolutely: Let’s support students in overcoming the psychological obstacles that keep them from succeeding in school and later in life. And, because this work can be difficult and draining, let’s support teachers in supporting their students. Let’s psychologize the classroom.